Blood Brothers Edinburgh Playhouse

I love a good musical. Blood Brothers, written by celebrated playwright Willy Russell in 1982, and performed to great acclaim to audiences worldwide since then, should have ticked all the right boxes for me. However, my heart sank as the opening bars of music began – it was way too loud and over produced. I’m sure the actors are all excellent singers but it was difficult to tell as they were performing in competition with the deafening din of the musicians and the sound was strident and tinny. Unfortunately it didn’t get much quieter until well into the second half when the story reaches its climax and the acting comes to the fore.

I would love to have seen the original version performed at the Liverpool Playhouse in 1983 with Barbara Dickson in the lead role. I think this is a show which would work much better in a more intimate setting where the power of the story can come through. But hey, what do I know? Last night, the audience gave this production a standing ovation so it obviously appealed to everyone else.

Having got that major gripe out of the way, I have to say there are lots of good points. The storyline is gritty and strong, set in Liverpool in the 70s/80s with all of the social problems of its time on display. Mrs Johnstone (Maureen Nolan) is a working class mum, deserted by her husband, and struggling to bring up an ever increasing brood of children. Discovering she is expecting twins and despairing that she will be able to support them, she is persuaded by her childless employer Mrs Lyons (Tracy Spencer) to give up one of her babies to her. Although brought up in very different circumstances, the twins find themselves drawn together and, without knowing their true relationship, become “blood brothers” and swear undying friendship. As well as the nature v nurture theme, there is also throughout a strong influence of fate and superstition and the tragic inevitability of the conclusion is highlighted in the very first scene.

The role of the narrator (Warwick Evans) is key, he acts as an observer and commentator on events as well as driving the story forward in time. There is a classic love triangle with childhood friend and sweetheart Linda (Olivia Sloyan) and there are moments of both comedy and pathos, taking the audience on a real rollercoaster ride of emotions. This all builds up to a genuinely shocking final scene and highly emotional finale where the ensemble rendition of “Tell Me It’s Not True” is guaranteed to get a lump in the throat of even the most cynical of critics.

But just one final plea from me – please, turn down the volume!

Irene Brownlee