A touring production of Blood Brothers, the landmark musical by Willy Russell, is an energetic, moving and perceptive show.
It is both universal, a riff on the Biblical story of Cain and Abel, and particular, reflecting the social conditions of the author’s early life in Merseyside. At the very beginning we are told the outcome of the story: rather than detracting, this adds to the tension of the narrative.
Mrs Johnstone, achingly portrayed by Lyn Paul, is a woman torn by circumstances, witty, resilient, mixing superstition with religion, doing her best, despite making poor decisions under the stresses of poverty.
The brothers of the title are two of her sons, twins, who unknown to each other are brought up in very different circumstances. Sean Jones (Mickey) and Mark Hutchinson (Eddie) embody the brothers – from the age of seven onwards. Their portrayal of these characters as children and adolescents is uncannily believable. In time the effects of unemployment on Mickey have a devastating impact on their friendship.
The importance of environment is reflected in the meticulous sets; the lighting is atmospheric; the music, singing and dialogue are full of passion and commitment.
There are elements of melodrama and emotional hyperbole – but all in the service of a clear-sighted analysis of the tragic impact of class divisions in England
in the second half of the last century.
At the end the audience, made up in equal measure of those old enough to remember the times, and those much younger, rose to applaud the cast.
Blood Brothers is on at the Lyceum, Sheffield, until Saturday, February 4.