Blood Brothers at The Bristol Hippodrome
Posted on: 2023-08-30
‘Blood Brothers’ is a cornerstone of the west end and has been for over 30 years. Written by liverpudlian Willy Russell when he was a teacher in 1981 with Merseyside Young Peoples’ Theatre, the play was first performed in Liverpool in 1983. Now in his 70s, he has a legendary back catalogue including ‘Shirley Valentine’ and ‘Educating Rita’.
In a 2012 telegraph article, written when blood brothers had finally finished its west end run, Willy Russell said “I want to talk about things that matter”. This is clearly visible in ‘Blood Brothers’. It’s a post war look at the importance of social class, drawing on elements of the classic British ‘kitchen-sink drama’. It focuses on the everyday troubles of normal people of different classes.
Mrs Lloyd, the wealthy wife of a businessman and Mrs Johnstone, the single mother on welfare with 7 children and twins on the way.
The play spans twenty five years, covering the life of the twins Mickey and Edward; separated at birth due to circumstances beyond their control. We watch them grow up with extremely different lives. Edward with his rich parents, plummy accent and private school uniform and mickey with his thick liverpudlian drawl and worn out clothes.
Sean Jones shines as Mickey. Which is not surprising when you learn he’s played the character on both the UK tours and in London's West End. We first meet Mickey with a charming and funny monologue. It’s an intimate and sweet introduction to the baby we are now seeing at 7 years old. This could have easily been a song, but instead Mickey recites a five verse poem. It focuses on his frustration of not being able to do the same things as his older brother Sammy even though “he is seven and nearly eight”. Mickey sits on the edge of the stage and it draws the audience in for a welcome moment of quiet before the raucousness of the neighborhood kids interrupts him.
The Narrator, Danny Whitehead keeps everything on track throughout the play, and breaks the fourth wall to draw the audience in. He also joins various cast members in the chorus and his voice is a credit to the production.
The single mum Mrs Johnstone (really pulls on your heartstrings. Especially when she’s visited by bailiffs taking back toys she got for her children but now can't afford. She is the quintessential matriarch that most working class people can relate to or lived with. Firm but loving, feisty and tender and above all, hard working.
A large theme in the play that will also resonate with a working class audience is superstition. From saluting a single magpie, to not stepping on the cracks, superstition is essentially how the twins are kept apart. A mental fence, much more effective than any physical barrier that they inevitably get around. The juxtaposition between Mrs Lyons making Mrs Johnstone swear on a bible, whilst Mrs Johnstone is petrified of shoes on a table bringing bad luck harks back to the pagan and christian divide, which has kept ‘barbarians’ and the ‘upper classes’ apart for millenia.
Nature vs Nurture is also an obvious theme. Even though the boys are twins, Edward has whatever he likes, as shown when he gives Mickey all his sweets. Mickey grabs for the majority of them desperately, as he has so many brothers and sisters to share his with. Edward later accidentally tells Sammy Mickey has sweets as they bear no value to him, and this bothers Mickey. Mickey also teaches Edward a swear word, which Edward later gets a slap around the face for, when he says it to his mother. This is a theme so relatable and universal, that the production has been performed across the globe and translated into many different languages. It seems the poor are demonised and feared not only in the UK, but all around the world.
The skill of the cast is noticeable as they switch from tragedy to comedy, and still boom out rousing showtunes. A trait that means despite the sadness that tinges the production, the audience is kept laughing and guessing.
The stage design smoothly transitions from the gritty neighborhood of Mickey, with two up two down houses and graffitied brickwork to the plush mansion of Edward. The scenes slip down from above and the limited space on the stage is utilised fully into a believable living set. ‘Blood Brothers’ is a must-see for anyone who appreciates a good carry-on film, a nostalgic throwback and a sweet well-crafted story.
To say the play is for everyone would be dishonest. There are references to ‘buying things on tick’, bobbies on the beat and kids playing out until the street lamps come on. There are outdated references to Marilyn Monroe, mocking Adolf Hitler and playing ‘cowboys and indians’ that show the play is a product of its time. Russell will have grown up in the 60’s and this is very much reflected in the production. As a millennial, the references wouldn't be lost to you if you were close to your grandparents, but if not a lot of the charm would be a mystery, or simply offensive.
“Do you wanna be my blood brother Eddie?”— The Bristol Hippodrome (@BristolHipp) August 29, 2023
The legendary Blood Brothers opens tonight! How many times have you seen the show before? If you've not seen it yet, now is your chance!
???? Until Sat 2 Sep
????? https://t.co/iS3VQNO4bj pic.twitter.com/129aRhpTt9
If you are a younger child that enjoys a classic musical and a story that is easy to follow, or an older audience member who can enjoy the hark back to the ‘good old days’ the play offers, then ‘Blood Brothers’ is a delight.
The play runs for 2 hours 50 minutes including an interval. You can see the play at the Hippodrome and all around the UK at various locations.
Blood Brothers runs at The Bristol Hippodrome until Saturday 2 September 2023 - tickets can be found HERE.
Talicza has only lived in Bristol for three years, but has been reviewing gigs, shows and albums for decades as well as writing her own true crime podcast Transatlantic Crime.