“Have you heard the story about the Johnstone twins?” The famous first line from Willy Russell’s enduring classic Blood Brothers still has the power to move audiences nearly a quarter of a century on.
The theatrical juggernaught continues to pack them in up and down the country and this run in Glasgow is certainly no exception: for two weeks only Marti Pellow returns both to his hometown and the role of the narrator and the pull of the show and a local star is evident in the packed auditorium.
The classic tale of nature versus nurture tells the story of Mickey and Edward, twins born to single mum Mrs. Johnstone who already has her hands full: abandoned by her husband, she’s pregnant again and this time it’s twins. The solution to her problems comes in the guise of her employer Mrs. Lyons who offers to take one of the twins and raise him as her own. Mickey is raised in a happy but poverty stricken home with his natural mother and Edward in middle class privilege with the Lyons, but the two meet in childhood and bond instantly with tragic consequences.
Sean Jones is a fantastic Mickey, echoing the original West End performance of the outstanding Con O’Neill and as twin Edward, fresh-faced Joel Benedict is effective. Maureen Nolan is a delight in the pivotal role of Mrs. Johnstone, she shows the necessary personality to carry off the role convincingly and she’s surprisingly strong-voiced. Mention must be made too of Danielle Corlass, who imbues childhood friend Linda with more life than is usually seen in the role.
For all the playfulness of the first act, one never escapes the uneasy feeling of impending doom that pervades and as the Narrator Marti Pellow is a suitably menacing presence throughout, and for a Glaswegian, makes a decent enough stab at a Liverpudlian accent. One thing that should be mentioned though is the ear-splitting amplification with reverb which was utilised in the production – instead of enhancing the dialogue it rendered much incomprehensible.
Blood Brothers has endured for very good reasons, the themes of nature versus nurture, the Class divide and the devastating consequences of long-term unemployment are as relevant today as they always were, those coupled with a great script and score, has meant that this was always going to be a winner. Not an easy show to watch at times, it can leave the audience emotionally wrung-out but it really is a must see to discover how much more a musical can be if it has substance.
The entire auditorium rising as one in a standing ovation is testament to the quality of the show – get along to see it if you can.
Runs until Saturday 15 November 2014 at the King’s Theatre, Glasgow