Highbury Players stage a winning production of Willy Russell’s hit story about twin brothers separated at birth.
The musical version of this story is loved by many theatregoers, including me, so I was intrigued to see whether the play version, also written by Russell, had the same emotional impact. It does. The production is bookended by two of the most famous songs, ‘Marilyn Monroe’ and ‘Tell Me It’s Not True’, but the rest of the story is a straight play performed by a talented cast.
Blood Brothers was developed as a school play, first performed in 1981. The subsequent success of the musical version has overshadowed the play so the opportunity to see the story in its original form is a welcome one.
Naturalistic and non-naturalistic elements are fused in director Laura McLaurie’s pacey production: a giant painting of a blood oath handshake is suspended above the stage as a constant reminder of the fated and fatal bond between blood brothers Eddie and Mickey. Eléna Serafinas’ narrator is a foreboding presence throughout, lurking in the background and nicely inserting herself into the play world on occasion by presenting various objects of significance: a pair of shoes, a bible, a shawl, money.
Katie Ho’s likeable and caring Mrs Johnston is full of maternal warmth. Her performance nicely balances the joys of motherhood with the harsh economic realities of raising a large family as a single parent. Themes of social class and inequality simmer under the surface in the strained relationship with her employer, Mrs Lyons, who persuades her to part with one of her twin boys who she cannot afford to keep. Sharon Clayton brings a brittle, nervous quality to Mrs Lyons as events unfold and she becomes increasingly unstable.
The gender-blind casting of Lily Philpotts as Eddie, one of the separated twins, works well. Raised by the wealthy Lyons family, by the time he unknowingly meets his brother at the age of seven, he is already markedly different. Philpotts brings sincerity to the role throughout but the early scenes as children with brother Mickey provide the comic highlights of the production.
Leighton Coulson’s Mickey bursts with cheeky charm in the early part of the play: the reciting of ‘I wish I was our Sammy’ is pitched perfectly. Transitions into teenagers and adults are convincing: Amarpreet Manwaha’s Linda, Mickey’s eventual girlfriend, is strong as both protective and feisty teenager and desperate, worldly wife.
Combining humour and heartbreak, this professionally staged production offers much to enjoy for both newcomers to the story and Blood Brothers fans alike. Book now to avoid disappointment.
Blood Brothers is playing at Highbury Theatre Centre in Sutton Coldfield from 25th April to 6th May 2023.