REVIEW: BLOOD BROTHERS (New Wimbledon Theatre)

Willy Russell’s Blood Brothers ran in the West End for an impressive 27 years, amassing over 10,000 performances.

Winning the Olivier Award for Best New Musical in 1983, the show has since developed a cult following and travelled the world from Broadway to New Zealand (where I saw it first). Affectionately christened the ‘Standing Ovation Musical’, Bill Kenwright’s touring production is back with a new cast for 2022 and audiences can once again enjoy the ‘dazzling’ Blood Brothers as it stops at the New Wimbledon Theatre.

The multi-award-winning, Blood Brothers tells the captivating and moving tale of twin boys who were separated at birth. Growing up on opposite sides of the tracks, they meet again with devastating consequences. The 2022 touring cast comprises of Niki Evans (X Factor) returning to her role of Mrs Johnstone, having previously played the part in the West End, and Sean Jones also reprising his role as Mickey Johnstone. They join Robbie Scotcher as Narrator, Joel Benedict as Eddie, Josh Capper as Neighbour, Tim Churchill and Paula Tappenden as Mr and Mrs Lyons, Grace Galloway as Donna Marie/Miss Jones, Andy Owens as Perkins, Daniel Taylor as Sammy and Nick Wilkes as Teacher/Policeman. New additions to the cast include Carly Burns as Linda, Melissa Potts as Brenda and Jacob Yolland as the Bus Conductor.

Blood Brothers remains an ensemble piece and every actor gave their all throughout, handling multiple roles with poise and finesse. Glancing at the programme before the show, this cast seems a “who’s who” of Blood Brothers royalty with most of the cast having played their roles in previous productions or in the West End.

Sean Jones gives an astounding performance as Mickey Johnstone. Captivating the audience from his “I wish I was our Sammy” speech early on, the audience grows up with him and his portrayal of drug-addled adult Mickey in the second act is very affecting. Joel Benedict as Eddie gives a sweet and grounded performance, equally matching Jones’ energy and breaking hearts as he gets older. The pair are convincing as brothers, yet their physical and personality differences emphasise their relationship further, which makes the ending of the show even more heartbreaking, “I could have been him!” Robbie Scotcher as Narrator was effervescent, sneaking in and out of each scene as a lurking reminder of the cost of living on the never-never. Daniel Taylor as Sammy was the prefect troubled older brother of Mickey, while Sammy is a bully you could tell he really loved his brother in a sweet moment where Mickey and Sammy held hands as children towards the end of the first act. Tim Churchill and Paula Tappenden as Mr and Mrs Lyons both performed with aplomb, roles they’d previously played before and Carly Burns as Linda gave a lovely performance as the dutiful friend and then wife of Mickey. Nicky Evans shines as Mrs Johnstone. Giving an emotional performance throughout as the matriarch of the piece, the audience identifies and feels with her from the start of the show. Breathing new life into many of the songs, Evan’s vocal is as powerful as it is hauntingly beautiful. Brava!

There have been rumors recently of the show making its way back to the West End. If these are true, this is definitely the cast to transfer. However, while I adore Blood Brothers and the nostalgia it brings, I feel the show could benefit from a new production. Updates such as addressing the outdated cultural depictions in the show, the lack of diversity within the cast, new orchestrations, direction and casting recent graduates as the younger cast could breath new life into the well-loved musical. While the current production of Blood Brothers would no doubt sell upon its return to the West End, I think Bill Kenwright’s new production of Blood Brothers is an attractive prospect and would attract audiences old and new to “hear the story of the Johnstone twins…” once again.

Loved by generations, Blood Brothers remains a musical theatre staple and the show is still thoroughly gripping and devastatingly emotional. With Nicky Evans leading, the current touring cast are exceptional and they deserved every bit of the standing ovation received on opening night at the New Wimbledon Theatre.

★★★★

Reviewed by Stuart James