REVIEW: Blood Brothers, Mayflower Theatre, Southampton, until Saturday, November 14.

Maureen Nolan as Mrs Johnstone and Sean Jones as Mickey Bill Kenwright production of  BLOOD BROTHERS by Willy Russell Directed by Bob Tomson
Maureen Nolan as Mrs Johnstone and Sean Jones as Mickey Bill Kenwright production of BLOOD BROTHERS by Willy Russell Directed by Bob Tomson
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It’s the strangest thing. Every time you see it, even after all these years, Blood Brothers gets just a little bit better.

With its huge emotional oomph and its brilliant songs, with its humour and its tragedy, with its optimism and its despair, it’s absolutely the complete package, and the changing casts down the decades never fail to deliver.

Yes, it’s just a little bit manipulative, but there’s never a false note as it makes you laugh and then goes all out for the heart strings, tying them up in a knot you won’t undo. The measure of the piece is its sincerity; and when you watch Maureen Nolan at the end, you know there’s absolutely nothing fake here.

Nolan, just like her three sisters before her, is monumental in the role of Mrs Johnstone, the over-fertile mum who gives away a twin at birth, just knowing the consequences are always going to catch up with her.

Nolan, again just as her sisters before, is superb as the struggle turns to hope, only for the hope to crash and burn, just as you know it was always going to. You see the final scene at the start; but it’s no less shocking when it arrives.

Similarly brilliant are Mickey veteran Sean Jones and Joel Benedict making his professional debut as Eddie, a fantastic pairing. Ask adults to play children on stage, and it’s almost always toe-curlingly excruciating. Never in Blood Brothers, though. Jones is terrific at capturing the playfulness of the young Mickey and the self-consciousness of the teenage Mickey - preludes to the utter hopelessness of the adult Mickey. Benedict is every bit as impressive as the posh kid entranced by his devil-may-care new mate.

Willie Russell’s contemplation on nature versus nurture, on superstition versus class, hits home every time, Marti Pellow spelling it out as the narrator in a high-impact role he makes his own.

Rarely has such huge commercial success been so richly deserved.

Phil Hewitt

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