'Beautifully entertaining and compelling' - Blood Brothers theatre review
A PASSIONATE, powerful and heartrending performance from a cast brimming with immense talent and boundless energy left a lasting impression on all those who saw it at the Cheltenham Everyman on Monday evening.
More than a few theatre-goers must have been reduced to tears on the opening night of Blood Brothers, as a stirring production was received with audible sniffles, fervent applause and an impassioned standing ovation.
The massively popular musical, which runs at the theatre until Saturday, proved an emphatic hit with those in attendance, tugging at the heart-strings whilst delivering a damning indictment of the British class system.
Playwright Willy Russell’s enduring creation was once again brought to life by director Bill Kenwright who masterfully rendered the story of two twins separated at birth and brought up in families on opposite sides of the class divide.
Sean Jones was superb in the role of Mickey – the street-wise and mischievous tyke who grows up on a Liverpool council estate.
Playing a care-free child, Jones was charming and amusing, as an adolescent endearing and convincing and as an unemployed husband struggling to make ends meet he was phenomenal, portraying with brutal realism the shame and psychological degradation which can result from a life on the dole.
Mark Hutchinson was equally impressive as Mickey’s privileged and privately educated twin brother Eddie, who enjoys a sheltered and affluent middle class upbringing, oblivious to the hardships faced by his sibling and biological mother Mrs Johnstone.
The poignant and truly authentic interaction between Jones and Hutchinson was a particular highlight and both hilarious and moving. So polished and accomplished were the performances, in fact, you quickly forgot that you were watching adults playing infants.
Maureen Nolan was simply majestic as Mrs Johnstone, the hard-up but caring working class mother who toils tirelessly to provide for her many children. Her booming voice and stellar performance was enrapturing and a treat to watch.
Indeed, it would be easy to lavish superlatives on every single member of the cast for they all played their part in a quite magnificent production but the narrator Craig Price must be singled out for special praise.
Stalking the protagonists and lurking in the background, the narrator is a constant reminder to the characters that they are incapable of escaping their pasts and Price fulfils his role exceptionally well with an ominous air which conjures up a lingering sense of foreboding.
The ‘nature versus nurture’ debate and the key theme of class division which defines the play makes Blood Brothers more relevant now than ever.
In the current climate of austerity Britain with the ever widening gap between rich and poor it is very much in tune with the zeitgeist and the plot is likely to resonate with audiences.
One can easily imagine Mrs Johnstone being hounded by pay-day loan companies rather than traditional debt collectors and Mickey relying on foodbanks to get by instead of his Giro payments.
As contemporary British society becomes more polarised and the gulf between classes more pronounced, the play forces theatre-goers to think and reflect on the desirability of such deep, scarring, social divisions.
With a Government currently using the binary rhetoric of strivers versus skivers, and shirkers versus workers, Blood Brothers also serves to challenge this simplistic narrative, revealing instead a world which cannot be characterised in terms of black and white, right and wrong, and one in which if you are poor and out of work it is not necessarily your own fault.
Blood Brothers is nothing less than a theatrical tour de force because it conveys such potent political messages in a beautifully entertaining and compelling form.
Put simply, it is a musical masterpiece, a must see.
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