Blood Brothers – review
X Factor alumnus Niki Evans is a revelation in silver anniversary tour of Willy Russell favourite
Willy Russell’s long-running and popular musical about class, superstition and the nature/nurture debate has featured a host of sparkling chanteuses in the central role of Mrs Johnstone, notably Barbara Dixon, Carole King and four of the Nolan sisters. Bill Kenwright’s decision to sprinkle the show’s silver anniversary tour with some X Factor magic – by choosing reality TV alumnus Niki Evans for the challenging role – is an interesting idea and one that ultimately pays off.
As a mother who enters a pact to give one of a pair of twins to her boss who can’t have children, Mrs Johnstone is a strong female character with a strong voice, both figuratively and musically. Yet our first-act realisation of the horrific reality of the situation is compromised by the dramatic warblings, smarmy, repetitive narration and exaggeration at almost every turn.
While initially the plot may stretch the imagination to near breaking point, the cast’s sterling performances, particularly those of the Prince and Pauper-esque titular brothers, lift the veil of incredulity sufficiently to evoke sympathy and fondness for the pair, stuck in lives that spiral in opposite directions. Fortunately, the OTT aspects settle down after the interval, allowing truly comic asides to mix with mournful undertones as the show speeds to its macabre climactic scene in which Evans’ turn as bewildered mother unable to avert an impending tragedy is finally beautifully acted.