Blood Brothers received a standing ovation. It is clear to see why; the show’s plot, although as Frank Rich of the New York Times said in 1993 it is a little simplistic in order to be didactic, still packs a powerful punch.
Firstly, the music. Praise must be given to the cast for a varied, engaging and powerful vocal performance all round. With the exception of a few dubious high range notes the classic songs of Blood Brothers are effortlessly delivered with passion and energy. This musical has attracted criticism in the past for perhaps having a score stretched too thin, though here each tune and their (admittedly, sometimes numerous) reprises are sung in a manner which compels the narrative, musically drawing the audience into the dramatic finale.
However, there was one problem with the show that cannot be left unmentioned: the fact that the volume of the music was often so overpowering that the vocals were hard to distinguish. Having said that, there is no doubt that in future performances this problem will be addressed and it is worth noting that the band, though too loud for the singers, was very good. The sound they produced was very tight rhythmically and was very sympathetic to the action on stage.
In terms of staging, the set although relatively minimalist was effective and evoked a nostalgic view of Liverpool. The twinkling backdrop of the city’s skyline centred around the Royal Liver Building was beautiful and the permanent houses that make up the set were easy to act around whilst promoting the image of a personal home-based story; but it was the removable set pieces that were most impressive: the inside of the Lyons’ house, the school walls and the garden wall by the Lyons’ house in the countryside really helped the set to become versatile. Although the set could have been more impressive and changing (for instance it would have made more sense for the estate not to be on stage when Linda and Eddie said they could see it from a hill in the countryside) it is not necessary.
The lighting design, like many of the show’s set pieces was understated yet effective. The characters were always spotlighted when necessary and fade outs were well timed. The lighting designed for the narrator’s part was particularly impressive, with many spotlights framing the stage around him as well as the character himself on his most portentous lines, creating a satisfyingly ominous atmosphere.
The actors themselves were wonderful. Maureen Nolan (Mrs Johnstone) gave a rousing performance in the final scene which moved some to tears (though this could have been helped by the fear elicited by the impressively loud gunshots). She also tactfully participated with the audience when caught in a small laughing fit; an impressive and endearing skill. Warwick Evans (the Narrator) captured the tone of his sombre role perfectly and Olivia Sloyan (Linda) successfully made the transition from acting as a child, to a comical love-struck teenager, then to her more tragic, complex adult self. Her turmoil over Mickey taking anti-depressives was particularly convincing. But for me the prize for best dramatic performance must go to Sean Jones (Mickey) whose gradual shift from a carefree child to a haggard, worn down, life-weary depressive was staggering though heart-breaking. Luckily, the show is not without some comic relief such as the brief but entertaining roles of the milkman/doctor and the judge.
Overall I would definitely recommend seeing this show, it’s powerful and heart-breaking with a beautiful score and tragic plot. The staging is effective and the lighting emphatic or subtle as required. My only major complaint is that the sound balance must be addressed, as this rather detracted from the show. Putting this down to technical teething problems, this run looks to be great success and a triumphant Liverpudlian return for Blood Brothers.