Theatre ReviewBlood BrothersNewcastle Theatre Company NTC Theatre, Lambton. Ends May 6BLOOD Brothers is a very down-to-earth musical, as it follows the birth and lives of twin brothers who are separated in their first weeks because their mother has seven children and cannot afford to keep two more after her husband leaves her. She agrees to give one to the wealthy woman whose house she cleans, but at the age of seven the two boys meet in a park and, learning that they both have the same birthday, decide to become “blood brothers”. The mothers try unsuccessfully to keep them apart, but over the next two decades circumstances increasingly lead to their relationship becoming fraught.
Willy Russell, the musical’s writer and composer, grew up in the story’s setting, Liverpool, and his background helps make the characters very moving, while drawing on the styles of the Beatles and other songwriters of the tale’s 1960s and 70s. Director Adelle Richards and her cast, together with musical director Benjamin Lambert’s band in the set’s background pub, add to the pleasures of the humorous moments and the heartaches when things go wrong.
The use of a narrator to comment on events in dialogue and song works well through Jason King’s performance, and his intent presence at the rear or side of the stage between scenes and his movement of set pieces as times and locations change help to keep the story flowing.
Jacquelyn King as the twins’ mother, Mrs Johnstone, affectingly brings out the woman’s hopes and frustrations in her musical numbers, including Marilyn Monroe, which reveals on its several appearances the dreams she had about the future after her husband compared her to the beautiful movie star. And Melinda Smith as the adoptive infertile mother, Mrs Lyons, is touching as she desperately tries to hide the truth about her son’s parentage from demanding businessman husband Richard (Luke Power), who was working overseas when she offered Mrs Johnstone money for one baby.
Luke Baker, as Mickey, the son retained by his mother, and Brayden Weber, as Eddie, the more upmarket twin, put a lot of humour into the relationship of the boys after they meet in a park and soon after deliver a bouncy My Friend, but they increasingly often have watchers on the verge of tears as the surging demands placed on them as they grow into adulthood impact on their lives and friendship.
Maddie Richards is a charmer as Linda, the girl both boys are attracted to when they encounter her in the park, Dain Watts is unnerving as Sammy, an older brother of Mickey who entices him to be an aide in ever more dangerous crimes, and Stephanie McDonald, as Donna Marie, one of Mickey’s sisters, shows the problems faced by the girls in the large family. The ensemble – Luke Aspinall, Justin Charlton, John Franks, Freddy Hellier, Megan Connelly, Alison Murphy and Gabbi Newland – are involved in most of the musical numbers and play roles including a policeman, judge, bus conductor and milkman.
Dannielle Gee’s choreography gives the movements realism, and the set, designed by the director, Robyn Greenwell and David Murray, helps to bring the various locales in and around Liverpool to life.