REVIEW: Blood Brothers, Sunderland Empire, until Saturday (December 2)

Lyn Paul is back in the role of Mrs Johnstone
Lyn Paul is back in the role of Mrs Johnstone

The instantaneous and prolonged standing ovation at the end of Monday's opening night at the Sunderland Empire said it all - Blood Brothers is bloody brilliant!

While the temperature outside had plummeted, inside, the atmosphere was electric. The pure drama throughout a clever story, poetic script and catchy score, all by Willy Russell, and a super-talented cast had the audience absolutely gripped.

Sean Jones (Mickey) and Simon Willmont (Eddie, played at the Empire by Mark Hutchinson)

Sean Jones (Mickey) and Simon Willmont (Eddie, played at the Empire by Mark Hutchinson)

And entertainer-in-chief was the matriarchal figure of Lyn Paul, a member of the chart-topping pop group the New Seekers in the early 1970s, and now 68, still with a pure, note-perfect voice.

Lyn is reprising the iconic role of Mrs Johnstone she first played in 1997 and made her own in the West End, in fact she was the show’s final leading lady when it closed at The Phoenix Theatre in 2012.

Blood Brothers started as a play, performed at a Liverpool comprehensive school in 1981 before opening at the Liverpool Playhouse in 1983, completing sell-out seasons around the world. It ran in London’s West End for 24 years, exceeding 10,000 performances, one of only three musicals ever to achieve that milestone.

So quite how I've managed to miss it all these years when those around me have seen it multiple times is beyond me.

Blood Brothers tells the captivating story of twin boys born to Mrs Johnstone and because she cannot afford to keep both of them, she has to give one of them up. The twins are brought up at different ends of the social spectrum, Mickey (Sean Jones) in poverty with his natural mother and Eddie (Mark Hutchinson) in the plush surroundings of his new home with Mr and Mrs Lyons (Tim Churchill and Sarah Jane Buckley). They are later reunited after a chance meeting, despite their respective mothers' best efforts to keep them apart.

Their lives entwine, along with mutual friend Linda (Danielle Corlass), but Mickey's struggles to find work land him in prison and on a downward spiral to depression and ultimately destruction.

It was performed beautifully at Sunderland, with great staging and some outstanding acting and singing - the humour and carefree lives of the children in the first half contrasting with the depths of despair after the interval.

Many others matched Lyn Paul's stellar performance. The excellent Sean Jones showed great acting skills, taking us on a emotional rollercoaster with his character Mickey - from child to troubled adult, it was such a convincing portrayal that you felt his growing pain.

He was ably supported by Mark Hutchinson and Danielle Corlass as the relationship between the trio became the crowd that spelled their demise.

Dean Chisnall was suitably sinister as the haunting narrator, hanging around in dark alleyways, observing, and Sarah Jane Buckley played the neurotic Mrs Lyons to perfection.

The supporting cast was equally faultless, with special praise going to Daniel Taylor and Amy-Jane Ollies, as the twins' siblings Sammy and Donna Marie.

Blood Brothers is not a light, clap-along musical, it is raw, emotional and, at times, heart-wrenching to watch and in the same bracket as the likes of Billy Elliot. I could watch this production over and over, now that I have finally managed to see it, and I don't believe anyone going along to the Empire this week would be disappointed.