Bristol Hippodrome

Blood Brothers February 2012

  • Bristol audiences got a second helping when Blood Brothers returned to the Bristol Hippodrome in April 2014. It also starred the marvellous Maureen Nolan and Sean Jones. This is a musical depicting Liverpool across the class divide told as a story mirroring the life of Marilyn Monroe. The first half is more manic and funny before depression and drama dominant second half - cast given well deserved standing ovation

I wondered what relevance a musical about a disenfranchised working class community tackling issues like poor housing, unemployment and religion would have on a post millennium audience.

Having seen many, many, all-singing and all-dancing shows I am sorry to admit that until very recently I had never heard of Blood Brothers.

A bit like the characters in Blood Brothers I was too busy with childcare, trying to feed my family and keep a roof over our heads that the 1980s just disappeared into a domestic black hole.

Then I watched the three-part BBC 4 series called The Story Of Musicals which rated Willy Russell’s Blood Brothers as the best British musical ever made.

So when it opened on Tuesday night for a two week run at the Bristol Hippodrome I took my seat with some anticipation.

And I wasn’t disappointed – it is the best musical I have ever seen.

It is funny – hilarious actually; sad – pitifully so; all in equal parts but the script, score and set make it what the television programme claimed – the best ever British musical.

The memorable songs includes Bright New Day, Marilyn Monroe and the emotionally charged hit Tell Me It's Not TrueThe first night audience, made up of the young and the not-so-young, gave it a well-deserved standing ovation and clapped and cheered for a full 15 minutes as the final curtain came down.

The show written more than a quarter of a century ago is set in Liverpool and covers the life span of twin brothers separated at birth and brought up in two diverse households – one of privilege and one of poverty.

The cast is headed by Maureen Nolan as Mrs Johnstone, a God-fearing

Catholic mother-of-many, forced to give away at birth one of her sons in a mix-up of superstition and swearing, both on and off the bible.More usually thought of as part of a band of woman either singing with her sisters or making guest appearances on the lunchtime TV show Loose Women it was a sterling performance by Miss Nolan.

Sean Jones plays the role of the working class hero Mickey from age seven to 30-something with energy and pathos aided and abetted by his goody, goody chorister brother Eddie (Matthew Collyer).

There is lots of adult humour about sex based on contraception and propagation and lots of child play with catapults and toy guns.

The last time I saw adults successful portray children was in the Comic Strip Presents television comedies of the early 1980s when Peter Richardson, Adrian Edmondson, Dawn French and Jennifer Saunders romped across the screen in a parody of an Enid Blyton tale called Five Go Mad in Dorset.

This was of that ilk and it was absolutely fabulous.

The adopted mother Mrs Lyons (Tracy Spenser), girlfriend Linda (Kelly-Anne Gower), big brother with a plate in his head Sammy (Daniel Taylor) and all the supporting cast from the policemen to milkman, court judge to absentee dad all deserve a mention.

The satanic narrator who acts as the conscience of the main characters is menacingly played by seasoned West End actor Craig Price.

What surprised me most about this musical is how it has stood the passage of time as the laughter from the students seated all around me will testify - but then I suppose jokes about sex never date and fashion has a 30-year cycle.

Blood Brothers is at the Bristol Hippodrome until Saturday, March 3. Tickets £14.50-£38.50 with concessions available at certain performances.

Carol Deacon