Blood Brothers 2014
Maureen Nolan gives a powerful and emotional performance at Darlington Civic
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 which rivals most other shows. Little has changed in the 29 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.
Maureen Nolan 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. Maureen starts the show light on her feet, twinkle in her eye and a cheeky smile, yet, by the time of the final scene we have watched her grow old before our eyes, lose the joys of life and finally witness the spectre of death that has haunted her throughout. I defy there to have ever been as powerful and emotive lead seen at Darlington Civic and this was borne out by the sight at the very end of the sell out audience rising as one to give one of the most rapturous and intense ovations.
Of course, the story is not just Mrs Johnston, the rest of the cast are brilliant in their delivery too. Kristopher Harding 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 (Micky) and Joel Benedict (Eddie) 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. Danielle Corlass, 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 Maureen Nolan takes centre stage as the linchpin of the story, Danielle is the perfect foil to remind the audience that this is not a one dimensional story about the boys.
If there are any who have yet to see Blood Brothers, this will be the best and most memorable show you will see this year, for those who have seen previous productions you owe it to yourselves to go and see this one and marvel at the best Mrs Johnston - just remember a large supply of tissues.