Newest Review: ... other as two new pins Of one womb born, on the self same day How one was kept and one given away?" Blood Brothers is a very power... more
Not a dry eye in the house
Member Name: pmcds
Advantages: Powerful acting and great second act
Disadvantages: A bit slow to start with; distractions in your peripheral vision
This time last year, I took my wife to see We Will Rock You for a 30th Birthday present. We went on Boxing Day and had a fantastic time. Although we were too far back to see everything clearly it was still a great show. Yesterday, we went along with her brother and his girlfriend to Leicester Square to see what was on cheap price, and Blood Brothers is something I have wanted to see for a long time. We picked up four tickets which were 7 rows from the front, for £30 a ticket, which is very good value considering their initial price was more than double. We were sat on an aisle, which is handy for my legs.
The matinee performance started at 3pm, and the theatre entrance is down a side street and looks very cosy from the outside. The Phoenix Theatre has beautiful decor inside, and is actually quite small compared to the other theatres I have been to. The rich reds and golds and the beautiful chandelier really make you feel like you're about to experience something beautiful. When the lights went down and the music started, I was really in the mood, despite the usual exorbitant prices for a drink and a snack.
Blood Brothers is a bit of a powerful emotional tale. Although it has elements of comedy and there are some laugh out loud moments, the majority of it is a heart wrenching tale. We kick off with Mrs Johnston, the lead role of a single mother with too many kids, so much so that she can't afford to have them with the meagre wage she gets from cleaning a rich neighbour's house. When she finds she's pregnant with twins, the rich neighbour's inability to conceive seems to present them both with a dilemma - one of the twins should be handed over at birth, the secret to stay with the two women.
Inevitably, this causes more problems than are foreseen, and the two boys grow up destined to be kept in the dark about each other's true identity. Despite the efforts of both women, the tale is one of heart wrenching class differences and two boys who grow up each wanting the other's lifestyle, despite being the best of friends. As they go through various ages, from 7 year olds to teens to adults, the tale is whipped along with an impressive level of music, led mainly by the recurring Tell Me It's Not True, quirky Marilyn Monroe song and the narrator launching into the dark and powerful superstitious devil tune.
On that note, although this is a tale of woe with some comedic elements, you've really got to hand it to the cast to deliver it. The main lead role of Mrs Johnston is currently being played by Maureen Nolan, now the fourth Nolan sister to star as the mother of the tale. The first act of the show is very much focused on her more than the other characters in terms of the music, and is a big test for the vocal chords. If anything though, I found that the first act, despite having its excellent moments and being a really interesting story, dragged a bit in places and I was willing it to have a bit more of a powerful edge to it.
In the interval, we went to have our preordered expensive drinks and discussed it. My brother in law felt it would get a lot darker in the second half, and sure enough it did! As the curtain came up for the second act, the mood was instantly darker and you really felt like things were about to get interesting. They sure did, and I have to say that the music stepped it up a notch and the performers edgier too. The two unsuspecting twins, Mickey and Eddie, were played by Stephen Palfreman and Simon Willmont, and the two of them were excellent. It was amazing to see the two of them playing 7 year old boys - they did it brilliantly. However, it's as they get older and tension mounts that the acting really comes to the fore. Before this point, it's just good acting to provoke some laughs from the audience. Here, though, the emotional side of things comes through, and by the final roaring rendition of Tell Me It's Not true (led by Mrs Johnston and joined by the rest of the cast), the emotion really hits you. Suspense, drama and some thoroughly well performed music actually left me on the verge of tears, it was that moving and well performed.
I loved the fact that the various supporting cast members played a number of various roles throughout the show, and the instant interchangeability and that fact that we could see the brief set changes as the characters brought on their own props meant that you feel more a part of it. The orchestra were up in the wings, and this meant there was more chance of being closer to the stage, but what often happened is that, because they had lighting up to top, the occasional riveting moment was disturbed by movement in your peripheral vision, a bit annoying but not enough to spoil it.
Overall then, the only two negatives I had were the pace of the first act and the distractions from movements behind the scenes from the orchestra. Other than that, I was thoroughly entertained and felt it was great value for money. I think shows like this are often made by the performers - you'd like to think the play itself is quality, but the delivery has to be nailed. The cast here were phenomenal, and as they took their third encore of bowing to a deserved standing ovation, Nolan was visibly crying and the two lead actors, Palfreman and Wilmont, were drained emotionally. They really got into the characters and it was amazing to see.
I'm so glad we went to see this. If you get the chance to see it, make sure you do. The Phoenix Theatre is beautiful, and the show itself is powerfully performed. If we didn't have other things to get on with, I probably would have suggested going to see another West End show, that's how much I wanted to carry on by the end. Not perfect, but would definitely see again. Recommended.
Summary: Willy Russell's stage emotionally powerful musical performance in the Phoenix Theatre
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