Review: Blood Brothers, Phoenix

“Tell me it’s not true, Say I only dreamed it, And morning will come soon”

Full disclosure: I love this musical lots. Lots and lots. It’s one of the earliest musicals I remember seeing and I had a copy of the soundtrack taped onto an orange cassette which accompanied many a family car journey. That said, I hadn’t actually seen Blood Brothers for quite a few years since even just thinking about ‘Tell Me It’s Not True’ brings a tear to my eye, so when the slightly surprising announcement that Melanie Chisholm, formerly of the Spice Girls was taking up the lead role, I decided it was time to revisit this stalwart of the West End.

Written by Willy Russell, this musical pits nature versus nurture in the story of two two non-identical twin brothers, Mickey and Eddie, who are separated at birth due to the financial difficulties of their mother and end up following completely different lives. Adopted by the mother’s well-off employer Mrs Lyons, Eddie becomes an Oxbridge-educated success whilst Mickey languishes on the breadline, struggling to maintain employment and to stay out of jail, yet their unexpected friendship manages to survive. However, when they both fall in love with the same girl, it proves to be a strain too far.

First things first, how does Sporty Spice fare? Having signed up for a six month contract as the matriarch Mrs Johnstone, she is clearly taking this seriously and it seems a natural fit, she’s the first native scouser to take up the role! And vocally she is superb: she always was the strongest singer of the Spice Girls and her singing performance here reflects that. She uses a pop voice, which brings a lovely clarity to her songs and a refreshing lack of showiness which works really well in her flirtatious opening numbers and importantly in the final showstopper. Her acting was fine, though clearly not her strength, but this is an accomplished debut.

Despite the star billing though, for me the heart of this musical is Mickey and Eddie’s relationship, depicted beautifully here by Stephen Palfreman and Richard Reynard. Normally, the thought of adults pretending to be kids on stage gives me the chills, but here it is done with such genuine warmth and humour, it really is quite affecting. One really feels the spark of friendship between the two despite their disparate upbringings and it is done with restraint and never becomes silly. There is also good support from Vivienne Carlyle as Mrs Lyons, helpless to stop the truth from affecting her relationship with her adoptive son, and from Louise Clayton as Linda, caught between the two brothers.

If I’m being picky, then the only real complaint I have is that every other character is aged effectively throughout the show, Chisholm’s Mrs Johnstone seems to simply put on a coat and so it didn’t feel like they had made sufficient effort to show the passing of time on her character. Whilst it is clearly easier to show the transitions from childhood to late teens, even Mrs Lyons goes through a transformation, which made it even more obvious.

I have to say I was somewhat bemused by the warning notices dotted around the theatre warning of two gunshots in the second act, I know the show starts by foreshadowing the final scene but there’s nothing like giving the ending away is there?! Anyhoo, I would heartily recommend this musical, there is a reason it has lasted for over 20 years, but make sure you take plenty of tissues with you.