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Review of Blood Brothers at Royal & Derngate (Derngate), Northampton

A theatre in the east midlands, a thousand people stand applauding and cheering towards a stage where fourteen people stand. There on the stage, they bow, and bow, an inordinate number of times. They depart after a time and the lights come up over the capacity audience.

So did you hear the story of the Blood Brothers show, how people flocked and came to see them play?
Did you never hear about how we came to be, standing applauding the brightly lit stage this November day?
Come judge for yourselves how this night did come to be.

Blood Brothers was a significant show for me back in 2014, being the first musical that I saw live. Hiding up in the upper circle of the Derngate back then, not really sure what to expect, it was it turned out perhaps the perfect show to graduate me from play to musical that I could choose as Willy Russell's gritty and solid story is as confident as a straight play that perhaps any musical is. So strong is the story of the Johnstone's twins, that it lived a life before as just a play, and one which I have also seen and credit equally in exceptional quality.

This version of Russell's tale has at it's heart a tremendously strong vocal performance from Lyn Paul. Sshe creates the rollercoaster this show is through her brilliant delivery of both songs and the dramatic life moments that are thrown at her character of Mrs Johnstone. Paul, delivers the quite brilliant tunes with power and of course the required emotion. From the many versions of Marilyn Monroe, through to Easy Terms, Light Romance and the finale Tell Me It's Not True. Really one of the best lead performances vocally I have heard personally on tour.

Lyn Paul as Mrs Johnstone and cast
Beyond the emotional heart of the show are perhaps two of the most challenging, yet for a performer surely most rewarding roles you could hope for, that of the twins themselves Mickey and Eddie. Very rarely, do roles offer such dynamic opportunity as these, playing characters of nearly eight through the traumatic teens and into the early twenties of the eventual sad ending. As Mickey, Sean Jones is a tremendous talent returning to a role he has played frequently before, playing the bouncing and energetic youngster with amazing skill. Slowly evolving over two hours into a lovestruck, and then troubled young man drawn into doing terrible things.

Mark Hutchinson provides the perfect opposite in character of the twins as Eddie, all posh and "soft" and happy to be led astray by his best mate and blood brother Mickey. Their adventures and misadventures are constantly fun and once they have the wonderful Linda (a vibrant Danielle Corlass) in tow, the fun really begins, as does the love triangle.

Dean Chisnall is a solid narrator, bringing his very much rock eighties tunes to proceedings including the brilliant Shoes Upon the Table. He also successfully skulks in the shadows or looms with suitable menace throughout many of the scenes.

The musical numbers are all very well staged as they were in my previous encounter, with the busy and exciting Kids Game one of the obvious favourites. Personally though, my favourite will remain the upbeat nature of the subjectively downbeat song Miss Jones. The set remains generally the same with little changed from the previous production, although I did admire the rather realistic brick effect if that doesn't seem weird.

It's a class show which generally appeals to all as clear from the reception it received and this touring version is stronger than my previous encounter with a better-suited lead, so if you have never seen the show, this is clearly the best opportunity to catch this "musical play", just don't expect the usual happy-clappy end to the average musical.

A stirring production of one of the most poignant musical shows out there.
⭐⭐

Performance reviewed: Monday 6th November 2017 at the Royal & Derngate (Derngate), Northampton.
Derngate runs at the Royal & Derngate until Saturday 11th November 2017 before continuing its tour. Details at http://www.kenwright.com/index.php?id=590

For further details about the Royal & Derngate see their website at http://www.royalandderngate.co.uk


Danny Taylor as Sammy and Sean Jones as Mickey

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