Blood Brothers Oxford Playhouse Review


Reviewed by Dottie Rood

What a treat, me, a Liverpudlian, being invited to review the renowned play Blood Brothers (sometimes known as a Liverpudlian Folk Opera) , I couldn’t wait!
Blood Brothers has a fantastic musical score which started with a small section of Tell Me It’s Not True being sung in the opening scene, and when the whole song is sung all the way through at the end it is so emotionally charged it is breath-taking!
Talking of the opening scene, it gives you the ending straight away as two bodies are moved from the floor onto stretchers and then covered completely, so you know that they are dead. The play then takes you back in time using fantastic narrator Danny Whitehead, a brilliant cast and fantastic musical score to tell you the story of what happened to the Johnstone twins!
You are taken to a Liverpool street in the mid to late 60’s and a young, unmarried ‘Mrs Johnstone’ (played by Niki Colwell Evans) is ‘liaising’ with her boyfriend (who she goes on to marry) about dancing and having a good time (musical number Marilyn Monroe). But! She quickly falls pregnant, gets married, gets pregnant again (and again!) and he leaves her! The story then unfolds of poverty, buying goods on the ‘Never, never (musical number Easy Terms), owing the milk man, rent man, and everyone else and struggling to make ends meet, this was the real hardship in Liverpool at that time.
Mrs. Johnstone manages to her a cleaning job in a house at the ‘posh’ end of town and things start to look up……. except Mrs. Johnstone is pregnant with twins and she really doesn’t know how she is now going to manage.
She is in work when Mrs. Lyons (the ‘lady’ of the house played by Sarah Jane Buckley) comes in and on seeing Mrs. Johnstone visibly upset asks her what is wrong, when Mrs. Johnstone tells her she immediately says, “give one to me!”, and the beginning of the end begins!
The play then follows the story of the twins, Mickey (played by Josh Capper) and Eddie (played by Joe Sleight) through their childhood (with some hilarious play/actions that was very true to the time, my husband, who grew up in Liverpool in a very poor part of town and played these games when he was younger can attest to that and could be heard laughing out loud at these sections!) Then through adolescence (with Linda, brilliantly played by Gemma Brodrick for the first time, being ever present in both their lives) and eventually to adulthood.
As the story goes on it becomes more and more obvious that there is a class divide between the twin’s upbringing however they do spend lots of time together building up a three-way friendship that is used later on to devastating effect. I often think my job as a reviewer is to give an outline of the play (to give additional insight and information to whoever reads it) and not to give away the whole plot so I will stop there!
I will, however, say if get chance please go and see this play. As mentioned, I am a Liverpudlian (of a certain age so can remember Liverpool at that time and it was very true to how it is portrayed) so perhaps I am biased, but I don’t think so. I think this play and its fantastic musical numbers is thought provoking, entertaining and so emotionally charged it is invigorating!
It has to be said it is a sad story but is told by such brilliant actors with such enthusiasm, professionalism and emotion it leaves you stimulated as opposed to sad.
Blood Brothers was written by Willy Russell and directed by Bob Tomson & Bill Kenwright. It was a school play originally and was performed at a Liverpool Comprehensive School in 1981. It then opened in the Liverpool Playhouse in 1983 and has been performed across the globe, in the U.S, Australia, Canada, New Zealand and Japan. It has won four awards for best musical in London and seven Tony nominations on Broadway. Blood Brothers saw a revival in 1987 and had over 10,000 consecutive performances during its 24year West End run! (one of only three musicals to achieve this). At the same time it was touring in the UK and internationally (two years on Broadway bringing it further critical and public acclaim).
Willy Russell, who was born in Whiston near Liverpool in 1947 began writing whilst at St Katherines College. His first professional work for theatre was a commission for the Liverpool Everyman, When the Reds… in 1972. He really made his name in 1974 when he wrote a musical about the Beatles, John, Paul, George, Ringo … and Bert, again performed at the Liverpool Everyman which ran there for eight years before moving to the West End where it ran for over a year. He went on to write a number of other stage works and proved himself a gifted and accomplished screenwriter. Most memorable are probably Educating Rita, Shirley Valentine, Our Day Out and many many more. Willy Russell continues to be one of the most celebrated and widely produced writers of his generation with works regularly being produced throughout the world as well as in the UK.
Blood Brothers is currently on at Oxford Playhouse from Tuesday 12th to Saturday 16th September 2023 every night at 7.30 pm plus matinees on Wednesday/Thursday and Saturday.
Address: 11-12 Beaumont Street, Oxford, United Kingdom. OX12LW.
Box office: 01865305305 Monday to Saturday 12 noon -6 pm (closed Sunday)
Email: boxoffice@oxfordplayhouse.com.
Ticket price: £10.00 to £45.00

Rating: 5/5 (and I would give it more if I could!)

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