Review: Blood Brothers at Leeds Grand Theatre

A five-minute standing ovation with at least half a dozen curtain calls is very rare in the theatre these days. However, this is what happened at the opening night of “Blood Brothers” at the Grand Theatre. The show is on for a full two weeks and on its opening night the theatre was full.

This is an excellent musical with the words and lyrics by Willie Russell, most famous for his play “Educating Rita”, and the show is again set in his home town of Liverpool during the 1950s and 1960s.

The story centres on Mrs Johnstone a working class catholic Liverpudlian with a large family who shortly after her husband has left her discovers that she is again pregnant. To her dismay, she finds she has not one baby on the way but twins. She is working for Mrs Lyons, an upper-class lady, as a cleaner. Mrs Lyons and her husband have not been able to have any children and hearing of Mrs Johnstone’s dilemma, Mrs Lyons suggests that as her husband is away abroad for six months that she takes one of the babies when they are born. She can then convince her husband on his return that she was pregnant before he left and it is their child.

This duly happens, and whilst Mrs Johnstone is not happy about giving up one of the children after they are born, Mrs Lyons threatens her that if she does not do so, some of her other children will be taken into care as she cannot afford to keep them all.

The show moves on to when the two boys Mickey Johnstone and Edward Lyons are seven years old and they eventually meet in a play area between their two houses. Mickey is a typical working class youngster whilst Edward is much posher but despite their class differences they admire qualities in each other and become good friends. They discover that they were born on the same day but never realise they are twins. They form a pact, cut their thumbs and join them together to become “Blood Brothers”.

Their mothers discover they now know each other and Mrs Lyons persuades her husband to move out of the area and into the country on the outskirts of Liverpool. The boys are distraught at being parted and Mrs Johnstone realises she will never see Edward again so gives him a locket with a picture of her and Mickey.

Some five or six years later, the Johnstone family are rehoused and end up living close to where the Lyons had moved. The inevitable happens and the boys again meet. So follows their teenage years with music of the 1960s and girls becoming part of their lives. To reveal more of the rest of their lives would give away the culmination of the story.

The acting and singing in this production are brilliant! Mrs Johnstone is played by Linzi Hateley who I last saw on the stage at The Grand playing the part of the Narrator in “Joseph”, and she plays this dramatic part to perfection. Her scouse accent is absolutely spot on and she has a superb singing voice. Likewise, the two boys of Mickey played by Alexander Patmore and Edward played by Joel Benedict are both excellent. I particularly enjoyed the parts of the show when they are youngsters and the antics they get up to at that age. The other principal to greatly impress me was Robbie Scotcher as the narrator and his sinister interventions during the story were extremely dramatic. However, there is also much humour in the show, as one would expect from Willie Russell’s writing. But there is also much pathos as well. This combines to blend together into a great production.

As well as the three main characters, there is excellent support from the other 11 members of the cast in the various parts they play ranging from school friends to policemen, teachers, milkmen etc.

This is a show to bring an ache to your ribs from the laughter and a lump to your throat from the sadness. It is a tale of class divisions, united but then divided, and shows how as youngsters we can accept others but when older we become less tolerant of those from other classes and races.

Out of the six occasions now that I have see this show This is probably the best performance I have seen and I would recommend anyone to get to see it during its run over the next couple of weeks.

John Burland