I can’t describe my excitement when I found out, back in the beginning of March, that Blood Brothers was going to tour and return to Cardiff’s New Theatre. I instantly booked tickets and was lucky enough to get some for opening night. Starting its setting around the 1960s Willy Russell’s Blood Brothers follows the fraternal twins Mickey and Eddie who were separated at birth, leading to a presentation of nature vs nurture as one is raised by a wealthy family and the other is raised in a poor family. Their separation by the class system at birth continues throughout their childhood and into their adulthood as they are simultaneously constantly separated and united.
Personally, I love the story of Blood Brothers and particularly the character of the narrator. I saw the previous touring production which featured Marti Pellow as the narrator. So, for this reason, I will mainly be focusing on this performance and cast in this review rather than the story of Blood Brothers particularly as I plan to do other blogs on the general story and what I think of it.
An interesting part of this viewing experience which I’m going to have to get used to is the sensation of comparing casts when I’m seeing a professional production for the second time. As I said I loved Marti Pellow as the narrator so I was nervous to see someone else perform one of my most loved roles of all time. However, I was pleasantly surprised by Dean Chisnall, who I have previously seen as Shrek in the previous UK tour of Shrek: The Musical. Chisnall amazed me with his ability to be subtle and sinister while also belting so powerfully and effortlessly. He is a very smooth narrator as he sneaks around the stage and you have to concentrate to even realize that he is there at all, making him quite different to the stylish Pellow as the narrator.
I feel that this new style brought to the narrator by Chisnall is perfect for the new angle this production takes on his relationship with Mrs Lyons and Mrs Johnstone. He focuses far more on Mrs Lyons and her psychosis which shifts from simply getting what she wants to manipulative, paranoid and downright destructive. I found myself focusing on her so much more than Mrs Johnstone at some points as her relationship with the narrator was given more development by Chisnall and Sarah Jane Buckley.
However, the narrator doesn’t ignore Mrs Johnstone. An interesting change this production brings from the 1995 London Cast Recording is that many points which were sung by Mrs Johnstone and the general ensemble are now changed to duets between Mrs Johnstone and the narrator. I feel that this represents Lyn Paul’s particular style of Mrs Johnstone. She leans towards the more subtle motherly side of the character rather than the tough, gritty and aged woman. These new duets show that Mrs Johnstone’s relationship with the narrator is far more subtle than his relationship with Mrs Lyons. While at some points this means I’m left wanting more of a reaction from Mrs Johnstone, Paul shows that she is simply keeping the best for her rendition of ‘Tell Me It’s Not True’ which brings the grit to the forefront as it rightly should.
Speaking of ‘Tell Me It’s Not True’, this arrangement has also been slightly changed from the cast recording which many people may be familiar with. Again, rather than the whole ensemble joining into the chorus straight away, in this production the different principles join in with Mrs Johnstone one by one, starting with the narrator, then the Lyons and finally Linda before the other members of the ensemble join in. I love this shift as it shows that the effects of what has happened and the grief go far deeper into the cast than just Mrs Johnstone but she is still at the forefront. The finale is wonderfully heartbreaking.
Now, on to the twins. These two actors have to be able to play almost every age from 7 years old onwards progressing to the teenage and into early adulthood. However, Sean Jones had to go the extra step as Micky becomes far older than his time as his life begins to deteriorate before his eyes and he spirals into depression and reliance on pills. Sean Jones is Mickey. His acting and ability to shift so smoothly into each phase of Mickey’s life are unbelievable. I can not imagine anyone else playing Mickey in all honesty.
I also love how casual Sean Jones can be during the final confrontation which shows how much Mickey’s opinion of life, whether it’s his own or anyone else’s, has deteriorated. My only complaint is that I wish that Mark Hutchinson was given more room in this final confrontation. He simply doesn’t seem to get an opportunity to talk. When the reveal is finally made he only gets to look at his mother before everything happens. His moments at this point simply seem just too short for Hutchinson’s abilities which should be highlighted.
Overall, this performance just seems to be effortless. You get the feeling that the cast truly knows how much this show means to some, if not most, of their audience and they truly do it justice. If you do nothing else, go and see this show simply to see the performances listed above especially Sean Jones, Dean Chisnall and Mark Hutchinson. This show also holds a beautifully deep and intriguing story which can be read into as much as you like; take the narrator’s relationship with Mrs Lyons for example.
I very rarely get up for a standing ovation as I want to save the sensation for something truly special but for this show I got up straight away!
The show plays at Cardiff’s New Theatre until the 30th of September and then continues on its UK Tour until the 2nd of December. You can book tickets through the official Blood Brothers website here: http://www.kenwright.com/index.php?id=590
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