WATERSIDE THEATRE AYLESBURY WATERSIDE THEATRE
13TH-17TH FEBRUARY 2018
Most people are a sucker for a good story and with or without music Will Russell's masterpiece is a wonderful exponent of the human condition. It's akin to Shakespeare in the way it encompasses, love, loss, birth, death, poverty, wealth, depression, loyalty, violence and superstition. These universal themes in part explain why the show has endured for over three decades and gets standing ovations no matter where it plays around the world. The other reason for its success lies in its simplicity when compared to traditional big-scale musicals. Russell's tragic tale of two brothers separated at birth relies first and foremost on the story and the music helps encapsulate the emotion that the spoken word cannot.
The role of Mrs Johnston on the current UK tour is played by the absolutely brilliant Lyn Paul, who has performed the role on and off for twenty years. She was voted by Blood Brothers fans as being definitive Mrs Johnstone and that must be a huge honour considering some of the other actors that have played the role. Seeing her back in the role again, it's not hard to understand why fans hold her in such high esteem. She brings an effortless and magical pathos to the part and comes across as totally natural without the usual musical theatre glitz. Her singing voice carries with it the ability to make pain and loss tangible and that is a rare gift that many performers lack. It's also clear that she connects deeply with the material and nowhere is this more evident than during the show's heart-wrenching finale Tell Me It's Not True.
The play highlights the huge social and obvious differences between the haves and have-nots in late 1960's Liverpool, a theme oft repeated in most inner-city sprawls. The class divide is a key theme of the show and makes it as pertinent today as it has ever been. Whilst Mrs J deals with her plight with humour and optimism her counterpoint, the middle-class Mrs Lyons is paranoid and unstable. Sarah Jane Buckley's portrayal of Mrs Lyons, who is constantly teetering on the brink, is superb. Her breakdown is scarily real and an absolute testament to her fine acting skills.
The endlessly discussed nature-nurture theory is once again played out by the fabulous characterisation of twin brothers Micky and Edward. Separated at birth but inextricably linked, their empathy for each other is obvious from the moment they first meet as young children. Sean Young is hilarious as the young Mickey and really allows us to sympathise with him during his teenage years. However, it's Young's brutal portrayal of Mickey in his early 20s, destroyed by depression and an addiction to anti-depressants that adds to the darker tone of the show. Mark Hutchinson is another Blood Brothers stalwart who has long been associated with the production playing Eddie Lyons. Like Lyn Paul, Hutchinson was also made for the role. His boyish charm and soft nature are a perfect contrast to the portrayal of his brother.
The linchpin of the show is The Narrator, a sinister soothsayer who reminds us and the characters of their fate whilst underscoring themes of superstition throughout the show. Played by Mathew Craig, his Narrator is brooding, almost thuggish at times which makes him fit in with ease to the gritty Liverpool back streets. The supporting cast is, as ever, impressively solid and able to switch between characters with ease. Daniel Taylor's Sammy and Danielle Corlass as Linda, are particularly notable performances.
The Aylesbury Waterside Theatre is a beautiful building with a technical spec that does the show justice. The staging is pretty much the same as it has always been and those who saw the show during its long West End run will notice the similarities. Even if the cast change one thing that will never alter is the power of Blood Brothers to move audiences and always be relevant.