08:44 Friday 19 April 2013

Tears and heartache on stage


MAUREEN Nolan must have to buy mascara by the lorry load.

After an emotionally-charged final scene in the award-winning musical, Blood Brothers, Ms Nolan wasn’t alone with her tears and heartache.

With make-up streaming down her cheeks, her performance of the down-trodden and constantly broke Mrs Johnstone was as exceptional as it has ever been.

Playing to a packed theatre – and receiving a well-deserved standing ovation – there were no weak links within an ensemble of just 14.

However, for me – and this is the fourth time I have seen him in the role of Mickey – it is Sean Jones who steals the show, portraying the ‘blood brother’ who was brought up by his birth mother.

Based loosely on the 1844 novella The Corsican Brothers by Alexandre Dumas, Willy Russell’s Blood Brothers tells the tale of twin boys who, because of their birth mother’s financial desperation are separated at birth.

Mrs Johnstone (Nolan) has a brood she can hardly cope with and when she falls pregnant for the umpteenth time, not only does her husband walk out on her, she finds she is expecting twins.

Unsure how she is going to be able to feed two more hungry mouths, Mrs Johnstone makes a pact with her employer, the wealthy Mrs Lyons, to give her one of the twins. They swear on the bible to seal the deal however, once the babies are born, separating the two proves to be more difficult than first expected. Mickey stays with Mrs Johnstone who struggles to make ends meet while Eddie is brought up in the Lyon’s household where money is no object.

Growing up at the opposite ends of the social spectrum, Mickey (Sean Jones) and Eddie (Mark Hutchison) have a chance meeting at the age of seven - although they are nearly eight - and bond instantly.

Not only do the pair become firm friends, they become ‘blood brothers’ and the story follows the trials and tribulations of not only the twins, but also ‘the girl next door’ Linda (Olivia Sloyan), Mickey’s older and ‘never out of trouble’ brother Sammy (Daniel Taylor), and Eddie’s ‘parents’, the wealthy Mr and Mrs Lyons (Paula Tappenden and Tim Churchill).

Once puberty hits it’s clear that Mickey and Eddie are both in love with Linda, however it is Mickey who she marries while Eddie is away at university.

The story moves from the light-hearted innocence of childhood when all the boys needed to worry about was keeping out of the way of Mickey’s older brother Sammy and his ability to ‘spit in your eye at 20 yards’, to much darker days of high unemployment. When Mickey is made redundant from his dead-end job he is finally led astray by his older brother and ends up serving a seven-year jail sentence for his part in an armed robbery.

While in prison Mickey becomes addicted to prescription anti-depressants and the once happy-go-lucky character plummets into the depths of depression and paranoia.

Blood Brothers is a musical masterpiece by one of the country’s most talented writers featuring a memorable score which includes Bright New Day, Easy Terms, Marilyn Monroe and Tell Me It’s Not True.

Russell originally wrote the play in the 1980s to cover a timeframe from the 1960s to the mid-1980s, however the story is resonant of any era making it a timeless account of nurture versus nature.

Caught Live at Nottingham Theatre Royal

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