I feel like Blood Brothers was a play that everybody read at school, and then got a fun trip to see the touring or West End production. This would’ve been brilliant for me as I was a huge theatre fan back then, but unfortunately we studied Educating Rita (another of Willy Russell’s works) and got to watch one scene of the film. If I hadn’t have read Of Mice And Men I think I would’ve missed out on the quintessential British school life. Now I’m in my twenties I’ve corrected my missing out on Blood Brothers at school and have now seen in twice. Once 4 years ago at The Broadway Theatre in Peterborough, and again two days ago in the same theatre.
If, like me, you didn’t get the pleasure of studying Blood Brothers, the plot is as follows: Mrs Johnstone has a large family, and after her husband leaves she couldn’t possibly afford to feed the next mouth that she’s pregnant with. Except she finds out she’s pregnant with two. After much persuasion from her employer to hand over one of the twins, she separates the children and believes a superstition that twins separated in secret must never find out their true identity, or they’ll die on the same day. Suffice to say, the two boys become friends and children and the story unfolds from there. Iconic songs from the musical, also written by Russell, include Tell Me It’s Not True, Marylin Monroe and Easy Terms.
Blood Brothers has been on British stages for over 30 years, and Lyn Paul has had the honour of playing Mrs Johnstone on and off for a number of years, both on the West End and on tour. But what I didn’t realise was that this tour is the same tour that I saw in 2014. In fact, some of the cast remained the same (which I realised when I had a sense of déjà vu with one of the actors). The same show, in the same theatre, with the same cast, but four years apart. But because I knew what was coming, it didn’t have anywhere near the same effect on me this time as it did the last.
This could be simply because I knew the story, but I think there are other reasons I didn’t bawl my eyes out this time. The first is that I really struggled to hear the vocals over the music, which sounded quite tinny. The echo on the vocals was too much and rattled around the reasonably empty theatre, making it difficult to clearly understand what they were trying to sing. And the second is that I didn’t believe the characters’ stories. Mrs Lyons, the adopted twin’s mother, had a believable role. She was paranoid and scared, and would do anything to save her son. But Mrs Johnstone was a little rigid in the role; almost like she knew it to well. In the same way that I found some of the ensemble in Kinky Boots to look a little bored on the stage, it wasn’t a fresh performance that enticed me. It’s not all about standing on stage belting; I’ve got to believe you.
If you’ve not seen Blood Brothers before, it’s worth a watch. It’s an excellent musical with plenty of memorable songs. Plus, I really like The Broadway Theatre in Peterborough and honestly wish it was used more (especially since it’s only 15 minutes from my house, unlike trekking to London regularly to see shows). However, this production is identical to when I saw it previously, and at the time I wasn’t keen on rushing to return. Now I’ve sat through a repeat of it a few years later when there are plenty of other musicals for me to see instead of Blood Brothers.