Sunderland Empire – until Saturday 24 September 2022
I’ve seen Blood Brothers many times, but the show in Sunderland this week is possibly the best version I’ve ever seen.
Telling the story of the Johnstone twins, the boys, Mickey and Edward, grow up on opposite sides of the track and disaster is predicted should they ever meet … but destiny draws them together and without knowing they are siblings, they become blood brothers.
Niki Colwell Evans is phenomenal as matriarch Mrs Johnstone. Her Scouse accent is not as pronounced as it could be which gives the image of a nice convent girl gone bad after meeting a man. And having her dreams of glamour and Marilyn Monroe destroyed after never ending pregnancies. To see her visibly age with the last few scenes is amazing. The mixture of weariness and warm affection with which she regards her children is palpable throughout. And at the end, with her twin sons lying dead before her, her face is a clenched mask of grief as she sings the climactic anthem with a power and bitterness that sends shivers racing down the spine. The standing ovation as the theatre rose as one after Tell Me It’s Not True and the five curtain calls were all totally justified.
The show, overseen by Richard Munday as the narrator, is overwhelmingly emotional and extremely unique. Munday deserves a mention for looming over the proceedings, a Devil in a sharp suit with menace and a wonderful singing voice.
Sean Jones is wonderful as the cheeky, irrepressible Mickey and was hilarious in the first half as the short-trousered kid. Jay Worley plays his “twinnie” Edward. His measured tones, courtesy of a privileged upbringing, are in direct contrast to the Scouse lilt of Mickey.
Jones is a stand out performer. From his first appearance as a childish seven-year-old, “almost eight”, he had the audience laughing out loud. His portrayal of riding an imaginary horse while playing cowboys and indians with his older brother Sammy (Timothy Lucas ), resonated with the older members of the audience.
But the silliness is gradually shed as the second half gets under way as the boys grow older and become interested in girls – and in particular Linda, (Carly Burns) and their care-free naivety gives way to stark reality as Mickey gets sucked into unemployment, crime and drug addiction.
Jones’ amazing portrayal of the spiral into depression is matched only by Mrs Lyons’ descent into madness. Paula Tappenden as the desperate Mrs Lyons is outstanding. Her desire to have a baby leads her to make the pact with Mrs Johnson for one of the twins, and the guilt for what she has done shapes her life and causes the inevitable mental breakdown. But Mrs Lyons plays the final fatal part in telling Mickey about Linda and Eddie’s friendship and planting the seeds of doubt in Mickey’s fragile brain. She might as well have shot the gun herself for the part she plays in this terrible tragedy.
This show is an emotional roller coaster, funny, joyous and emotional – do not attempt to see it without a stack of tissues. In Sunderland until Saturday 24th September and on tour around the UK