Life. Love. Blood. Brothers. Death. In an ideal world that would be my review of the latest staging of Willy Russell’s Blood Brothers at Edinburgh’s Festival Theatre, but this impressive new version does deserve at least a few more words written about it.
Starting off in early 80s Liverpool, Mrs Johnstone (Maureen Nolan) is standing between two dead bodies in the street, surrounded by friends and police. Her twin sons are dead.
Don’t worry, that’s not a spoiler, but a pivotal plot point given away in the opening moments that will hang over the rest of the story like a cloud.
Swiftly moving back in time to the 1960s, Mrs Johnstone is now a young girl, falling in love with a boy, having babies, dreaming of Marilyn Monroe, having more babies, dancing, and having a few more babies.
When she finds out she’s pregnant with twins, Michael and Edward, Mrs Johnstone makes a pact that will affect the lives of many, sending the story off in an explosive direction.
At the heart of the narrative are the brothers Johnstone, two boys who must never find out they are related. Sean Jones as Mickey is superb, taking the character from childhood to adulthood with ease.
Watching Mickey change from a carefree boy, running wild through the streets of Liverpool, to a man with bigger problems (to say more would be to spoil the plot) is at times difficult, Jones hitting the right note each time.
Simon Willmont does well with the role of Eddie, but his character feels like he has less of a journey to go on, certainly a less showy one than Mickey’s, however important he is to the story.
Maureen Nolan is a strong Mrs Johnstone, carrying the early scenes with Tracy Spencer as Mrs Lyons. The dialogue given to Lyons is slightly too melodramatic at times to be taken seriously, letting Spencer down somewhat, but then the play is never subtle.
Memorable songs pepper the production, the Marilyn Monroe theme a constant. Dialogue in one early number, Kids Games, does get drowned out thanks to the sheer speed the large cast have to move at, but otherwise the music is impressive throughout.
With the themes of class and society reiterated many times, clear parallels made with the recession we’re constantly told we’re in today, this is perhaps a socially relevant piece, but that’s not the lingering message that I was left with.
The larger message is a more simple one, that families should stick together no matter what. Blood Brothers makes the point crystal clear and entertains at every turn. It’s bloody good stuff.
Until 14 February
Find out more on the Festival Theatre website.