To say that Willy Russell’s BLOOD BROTHERS is one of the most successful musicals of the last 40 years would be an understatement. The show isn’t one of those hi-tech, glamorous, flashy all singing and dancing productions, although there is a lot of singing, (not much dancing). This is a proper British show filled with pain, passion, grit and drama, and probably the most relatable story you’ll find on any stage.
So when Blood Brothers opened at the Wales Millennium Centre last night I was curious to see how it would stand up against the recent run of glittery spectacles we’ve had recently. Also, I have seen this previously on many tours and during its 24 year run in London’s West End.
I can tell you now, everything which made this show a multi-award winning triumph back in the day, right across the world, still applies. It remains one of the most unique theatrical experiences you’ll see.
Before you read any further, the show is simply unmissable and a celebration of musical theatre at its best. As tickets are going fast, head to the bottom of the page and get yours, then come back and read the rest of our review.
Which is why I want to begin with some audience reaction from last night’s performance. We also spoke to one of the stars of the show. South Wales performer JAY WORLEY, who plays one of the Blood Brothers – Edward. He was born in Rhyd-y-felin, so this really is a homecoming for him.
Jay graduated from the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama in 2014 with a BA in Acting, and as you’ll see in our interview, getting to perform on the Donald Gordon stage is something very special for him and his family.
As with most of Willy Russell’s work (Educating Rita and Shirley Valentine) it is a woman at the heart of the story and Mrs Johnstone (NIKI COLWELL EVANS) is a heroine like no other. She’s a a single Mum, cleaning the house of a ‘well to do‘ woman, Mrs Lyons (PAULA TAPPENDEN) who she gives up one of her new twin babies to. She has another seven kids at home so her decision is easy to accept.
Despite the secret pact between these women, the boys, Mickey and Edward, the one who was given away, (JOSH CAPPER and JAY WORLEY), are drawn together through the most unlikely of friendships. They may be two brothers separated at birth and disconnected by class, but time and time again their paths collide.
We follow the boys through their lives, going from the Liverpool slums to the wealth of the Lyon’s household. I love how we watch the characters develop through the years, and to see these two talented actors take us from young 7 year old lads (almost 8), through to their teens and into adult life. To see the separate upbringing of the twins, with differing pains and privileges, is not only a joy to watch on stage, but a reminder of the real world we live in too.
I want to mention Niki who plays the real Mother. Her pain, and love over the boys she was forced to tear apart is heartbreaking. You can’t helped but be moved as Mrs Johnstone watches her ‘boy‘ being brought up by another woman. I’ve seen a few ‘Mums‘ over the years and Niki is as good as the best of them.
You may know the story of Blood Brothers if you studied it for GCSE, or indeed have seen it on its last visit to Cardiff back in 2019. If you haven’t, and the show is to be a new experience for you, I will keep this review as ‘spoiler free‘ as I can. Blood Brothers will take you on an emotional journey, to use a well-worn cliche, but believe me, the climax will move and shock you, in equal measures. I knew what was coming and it still shook me.
I said at the beginning this show is relatable, and all these years later it’s still as relevant as it ever was. For as long as Blood Brothers plays, that will always be the case. Its heart is firmly rooted in family, class, separation and desperation, something many of us have felt throughout our lives. There isn’t one element of this incredible show which won’t touch you in one way or another.
Having said all that, it is of course a show and a damn fine musical one at that. Vocally the cast are brilliant, working their way some of the better known numbers such as ‘Tell Me It’s Not True‘. And the spine chilling ensemble will leave you breathless.
There are some brilliantly catchy tunes too – ‘Bright New Day‘ and ‘Marilyn‘, but as I said earlier, this is not your all singing and dancing musical, despite what you think from the picture below.
The show is also incredibly funny, Willy Russell does brilliant ‘real life’ humour so well. There’s also a lot of swearing, and I only mention this because some people still flinch at the ‘F‘ bomb. But in the context of the show, the setting and characters it is anything but gratuitous. In fact, I’d go as far to say that the swearing retains the authenticity of the story.
The set designed by ANDY WALMSLEY is incredibly effective and is the council street where Mrs Johnstone lives. But with the help of cleverly brought in backdrops, furnishings and great lighting by NICK RICHINGS we are cleverly transported to places more glamorous.
The band too are superb and under the direction of MATT MALONE capture the mood and tone brilliantly and fill the huge auditorium with an awesome sound.
I did say this review will be spoiler free, and it will, the show however begins at the end, so from the get-go you have an idea how it’s going to finish. That journey, told in flashback and narration (RICHARD MUNDAY) will draw you so deep into the lives of our characters that I can assure you what comes will still be a shock.
The entire cast are superb with fine performances from TIM CHURCHILL as Mr Lyons. CARLY BURNS is Linda. TIMOTHY LUCAS is funny and brotherly evil as Sammy. NICK WILKES doubles as the Policeman and Teacher. GRACE CALLOWAY is Donna Marie and Miss Jones. The cast is complete with ANDY OWENS, CONNOR BANNISTER, MELISSA POTTS and JACOB YOLLAND.
I know of people who have seen the show something like 10 or even 20 times and on every occasion leave the theatre emotionally drained at the end of the performance. A little warning – you will cry, of that there is no doubt. Even if this is your 21st time seeing it, you’ll need the pack of tissues close to hand. There aren’t many shows where you have a completely silent auditorium as the heartache pours from the stage, last night we had just that.
The show was written during a period of huge changes in our society and political landscape. Blood Brothers draws us in to the impact and detrimental effect that social inequality can have on people’s lives.
The story may be rooted in class but this production is an absolute classic. You might be telling me ‘but I don’t like musicals‘ this show, I promise you is different. It’s a play, a musical and a blast of real life emotion all rolled into two hours 45 minutes of sheer delight on the Donald Gordon stage. Don’t miss it.
Last night’s audience we’re completely engrossed in the story, and twists and turns of the plot. This is the show that standing ovations are made for.
BLOOD BROTHERS is at the Wales Millennium Centre for the rest of this week, till Saturday, with 7:30pm performances each evening and a 2:30pm matinee on Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday. Tickets start at around £17.50 and you can get yours HERE. I can tell you that some of the performances are showing low availability, so get in quick.
There is an age guidance: 12+ as the show does include violence, strong language and sexual references. If your kids are studying this at school for GCSE then seeing it on stage is a great way to spark some discussion, which this production most certainly will.