Approaching its 40th year of professional performances, Blood Brothers remains a powerful and iconic musical imbedded in the memories of thousands.
Themes of unemployment, desperation, and a stark contrast between the haves and have-nots, feels all the more poignant against the current economic backdrop. But whilst it is an undeniably emotional story, it is still filled with moments of joy and humour, reminders of hope however fleeting.
Unsurprisingly, even the Saturday matinee swelled with what looked to be a full house in Liverpool’s vast Empire theatre. The die-hard fans hummed along, but it was clear that some patrons were first-timers, gasping at the revelation revealed in the final minutes. No matter how many times you’ve seen the show and know what to expect, the choreography of the last scenes still shocks.
The Narrator is an ambiguous force, ever-present and nudging the characters towards their fates. Richard Munday plays it with a quiet authority that draws your eye to wherever he stands in the shadows. Shoes Upon The Table – and all its reprises – is still one of the most striking numbers, and really shows off Munday’s vocal range.
For this particular performance, the role of Mrs Johnstone was handled by Paula Tappenden. She had a gravity that rooted her to the cards she’d been dealt, a feeling of strength yet inability to move forward which so many share. Her grief in Tell Me Its Not True was at times hard to watch, wrought with the love for lives laid out with no future.
Grace Galloway’s Mrs Lyons is in real contrast to Mrs J, bristling with nervous energy that makes her descent from reality unnerving and yet visible from the start. The two together created a mirror of the anxiety of motherhood in all its forms, making the injustice of circumstance all the more stark.
But of course, the story revolves around two brothers, and the ultimate nature versus nurture debate. Eddie, growing up with far more privilege than he realises, is played by Jay Worley with warmth and naivety. The stereotype of the Oxbridge lad can be grating, but Worley holds it lightly, becoming empathetic rather than the villain, he himself a victim of fate beyond his control.
Sean Jones’ Mickey is outstanding – from a buzzing seven (nearly eight!) year old, to a broken man, his transition was authentic and uncomfortably realistic. Watching his fierce determination fall to desolation felt as though it was verging on voyeurism, so raw and unflinching were his emotions.
If you first saw Blood Brothers in its original runs, you will still recognise it today, from Andy Walmsley’s simple yet effective designs, to Nick Richings’ dramatic and contrasting lighting choices. It remains a classic, a proud piece of Scouse heritage, and a show that will move you with every performance.