🎭 Blood Brothers
📍 Richmond Theatre
🎫 PR invite

“How comes you got everything and I got nothing?”

Willy Russell’s award-winning musical, Blood Brothers heads to Richmond Theatre for an emotionally compelling production that explores family, fate and social class.

Directed by Bob Tomson and Bill Kenwright, the musical follows twins separated at birth, not knowing their relationship and leading very different lives. Russell has written a striking story, depicting nature vs nurture, class inequality and the impact this has on our lives.

This was my first time watching the production, which opened in 1983. I was eager to know more about the nation’s much-loved musical.

The story

Set in Liverpool during the 1950s, Mrs Johnstone (Niki Colwell Evans), a single, hard-working mother of 7 falls pregnant with twins and worries about the financial burden. Mrs Johnstone is approached by the rich, middle-class Mrs Jennifer Lyons (Paula Tappenden) who offers to take one of the twins and raise him as her own. Mrs Johnstone makes the heartbreaking decision and they both agree to never let the brothers know the truth.

The brothers meet when they are 7 years old, unbeknownst about their relationship, and quickly become best friends – or as they called each other, “blood brothers”. Their friendship quickly blossoms, despite the stark contrast in their lives.

Mickey (Sean Jones) youngest of seven siblings, grows up in a working-class area of Liverpool, while Eddy (Joe Sleight) is the only child of a wealthy family who lives nearby. As they grow older, their bond slowly fades. The brothers go down different trajectories and have opposing opportunities afforded to them.

My thoughts

The Narrator (Richard Munday) guides us through the story and shares a forewarning of the brothers’ fate. Munday’s intense stage presence and strong vocals paired perfectly with Nick Riching’s powerful lighting. A beautiful score plays throughout, although the music was a little too loud at times, which made it difficult to hear the lyrics. 

Jones and Sleight delivered fantastic performances; I was impressed with the range of emotions they showcased throughout the musical. Initially, I felt distracted by adults playing 7-year-olds, but I must commend the cast for their abilities to accurately portray the different life stages. Olivia Sloyan (who played childhood sweetheart, Linda), Jones and Sleight expertly captured the naivety and energetic playfulness among children. The ensemble also did brilliantly in their supporting roles, and I enjoyed how animated they were.

Photo by Jack Merriman

It was endearing to watch the two boys, whose parents tried so hard to keep them apart, become so close. The lighthearted humour balanced nicely against the more sinister and heart-rending second act. Mickey and Eddy’s social differences became more apparent as they grew older. From what they wore, to how authorities treated them, and their financial situations. 

Jones takes us on an emotional rollercoaster. He puts on a strong performance in the second act as we witness Mickey’s depression following his time in jail. It’s heartbreaking, especially as it appears Eddy has his life together. 

Photo by Jack Merriman

Evan’s flawless vocals and raw emotion in every scene made her a total standout in this musical. We smiled as she sang about her love for dancing and when the family were rehomed. We sympathised as she battled with debt collectors. The finale song ‘Tell Me It’s Not True’ was emotionally moving – I wasn’t surprised to hear a few sniffles from the audience.

Despite being written over 40 years ago, the story feels relevant in the present day as the UK faces economic hardship amidst the cost-of-living crisis. Blood Brothers is poignant, powerful and certainly a classic musical.

It’s playing at Richmond Theatre until 25 February 2023, before continuing its UK tour.