Blood Brothers @ The Phoenix Theatre (13.07.11)

Willy Russell’s Blood Brothers is now into its 21st year in the West End. It’s a musical that has quietly run and run, touching thousands of theatregoers without the expectation of an all star cast or flashy special effects. Indeed, Blood Brothers manages to be gritty, engaging and impressive all at the same time with the help of its intensely hummable tunes.

I found the experience of watching Blood Brothers to be akin to sitting in front of the TV after a long day at work. You relax in your seat – simply allowing the action to unfold in front of you – safe in the knowledge that the cast’s roles come so easily to them that you barely question your transportation back to 1960s Liverpool. Not that the production lacks intensity or drama, you just can’t ignore the slickness of the staging, set changes and professionalism of the cast.

There’s a stigma that comes with being a pop star in the West End. All too often tickets are sold by the promise of a famous face on a tube station poster, but then when it comes to the performance there’s little gravitas. I was thrilled to see the same cannot be said regarding ex-Atomic Kitten star Natasha Hamilton who is more than capable in the lead role of Mrs Johnstone. Hamilton is an incredibly talented actress who brings her natural motherly instinct to the role as well as her emotive singing voice in Tell Me It’s Not True.

Conversely I found less to like in the role of the Narrator (Philip Stewart). Perhaps it stems from my fear of anything too sinister but I found that the role’s constant references to the tragic conclusion hindered the lighter moments from really taking off. Stewart certainly played the storyteller with authority, however I found his presence a little unnecessary.

Stephen Palfreman’s portrayal of Mickey reinforced the sense of being in a safe pair of hands. It was obvious to see that the role of the poorer twin is a second skin to him. He certainly has the energy of an eight year old; throwing himself around the stage in his holey jumper and with his dirty face he has a freeness that his richer, more sheltered twin, Eddie, lacks.

Undoubtedly, Blood Brothers is more than a musical, it is a social commentary on the rigid class barriers. Yet it still skilfully manages to be genuinely funny and, despite the tragic climax, allows you to leave the theatre feeling uplifted by the protagonists’ friendship.

Originally published on TheatreFixblog.co.uk

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