Everyone knows the story of the Johnston twins, as identical as two new pins, and as such, almost everyone who comes to see Willy Russell's Blood Brothers does so with a degree of expectation to rival all other shows.
Little has changed in the 40 years since the show first hit the stage; the songs, the set and the mood all remain instantly recognisable, and yet the brilliance of the writing and the complexity of the characters provide each production with an opportunity to add their own special take.
Set in Liverpool over 25 years it plots the course of the lives of twins who, having been separated at birth, remain fatefully linked through common loves, shared struggles and ultimately both unknowing of their own secret. To many, the underlying story is one of nature versus nurture, but it's far more complex than that; no two humans are identical, despite them being twins and as such it is emotion that separates the two boys more than miles or money.
Niki Evans (Blood Brothers super star, Loose Women) plays the boys' mother, Mrs Johnston, and is simply perfect. She brings a worldly-wise element which deepens the belief that she has lived through all she sings of. She has a brilliant maternal embrace for the part, blending the love only a mother could have with the strength to defy the odds and fight against the cruel hand of fate.
The chalk to Mrs J's cheese, Mrs Lyons was played by the wonderful Paula Tappenden (another Blood Brothers superstar ) - brilliantly acted as the over protective, self obsessed snob who cannot bear to accept her part in the ultimate tragedy of the story.
Of course, the story is not just Mrs Johnston vs Mrs Lyons, the rest of the cast are stella in their delivery too. Robbie Scotcher (Miss Saigon, Footloose, Anything Goes) as the narrator is the ever present shadow of conscience, skulking in the dark, sliding through scenes as the fore-mentioned spectre and constantly reminding us that this story is destined to be an unhappy one.
Sean Jones as Micky and Joel Benedict as Eddie (both long standing Blood Brothers alumni) have great chemistry and play off each other like brothers always do. In particular, Sean’s portrayal of Micky as he descends into depression and pill dependency is a huge shift from the care free, rebel with a smile Micky he plays earlier and demonstrates a wonderfully deep appreciation of the role and human nature.
The North East’s Carly Burns as Linda, undergoes perhaps the biggest shift in character; starting as a 7 year old tom boy, she morphs into a giggling adolescent, then a lovestruck teenager before becoming a newly wed and ultimately a heartbroken widow. For all that Mrs J takes centre stage as the linchpin of the story, Carly as Linda is the perfect foil to remind the audience that this is not a one dimensional story about the boys.
The full house standing ovation t the final curtain was filled with a wonderful release from the difficult times we've been through - give yourself permission to cry with everyone else.