Being in the audience at the last night of Blood Brothers at the Phoenix last year was one of my most memorable evenings in a theatre. However, almost a year after it closed in the West End, the touring production of Blood Brothers returns to its home of Liverpool to packed out standing ovations at each performance. We saw the midweek matinee at the Oxford New Theatre back in September.
‘If you haven’t seen it go… if you have, go again’ is the press quote so often used on the posters for Bill Kenwright’s and Bob Tomson’s production of Willy Russell’s epic musical of class and superstition. This current tour proves that now is certainly the time to see it as it is better than ever. Original narrator Warwick Evans returned to the show back in April (when we saw it twice) after the final fortnight in London last year. He plays this everyman character with a dark side as well as compassion and his voice stands out just as well as it does on the 1988 and 1995 cast recordings. His renditions of Shoes upon the Table and Madman (which I have seen live five times now) are different every time and are simply brilliant. The dulcet tones of Mr. Evans are no less compelling in Summer Sequence, in which Russell explores the elations and misbegotten dreams of growing up. And finally in the closing moments before the ever-powerful and strangely rousing Tell Me It’s Not True, Evans looks down at the bodies, his voice breaking, gives a fist of solidarity and walks away before stopping himself when hearing Mrs. Johnstone’s opening lines of the song. For GCSE students who still believe that the narrator represents the devil, you need to see the utter humanity of Evans’ portrayal which exemplifies what a complex character it is. Not meaning to shadow any other cast member of the show, it is worth seeing for him alone. Let’s hope that they ask him to return to the tour next year as well.
Maureen Nolan, one of the finest Mrs. Johnstones, gives a powerhouse of a performance and shows that her acting range is just as strong as her singing range. I’m glad she can finally play the role in Liverpool! Original Broadway Eddie, Mark Hutchinson, brings out humour and a touching nature of a role normally shadowed by the fast-becoming definitive Mickey, Sean Jones. Olivia Sloyan also does as fine a job as former long-running cast members Jan Graveson and Louise Clayton as the unsung girl in the middle of the pair. Sloyan’s Linda brings warmth as well as humour and devastation. Of the supporting cast members, Graham Martin, Daniel Taylor and Tim Churchill stand out amongst this extremely impressive company.
Since I last saw it in April, the programmes have been nicely uplifted and the band sound extremely strong. I’m not sure if new Musical Supervisor Tom de Keyser has made changes, but the drums in Shoes upon the Table were excellently striking and the guitar staccato in Summer Sequence was nicely touching.
For such a long-runner to be this fresh and popular is testament to the work happening on and off stage and the power of having original cast members return to a production brings this much-loved show back to its roots as well as keeping it moving forward. Maybe it is time the producers rest the News of the World quote from above as there are many other superlatives about this show. And here’s another: if you never see another piece of theatre, then go and see Blood Brothers.
Blood Brothers is touring the UK into 2014.