"I will always defend my brother and stand by him"

Blood Brothers

Birmingham Hippodrome


If you happen to be superstitious, you know, not stepping on cracks in the pavement, or walking under ladders, that sort of thing, then you know this is a show that is not going to end well – 13 cast at the curtain call – 13! What were they thinking!

But then superstition is the fuel that drives the fates in Willy Russell’s celebrated musical with its mix of comedy and tragedy all beneath a silhouette of Liverpool’s Royal Liver Building.

It’s 40 years this month since Blood Brothers first took to the stage as a school play at Fazakerley Comp in Liverpool and like the protagonists Eddie and Mickey, it has grown up into a fine adulthood, with laughs, tears and hard edges to become a phenomenon – while, sadly, the social issues it raised in the 1980s are still around today.

Perhaps that is what keeps it relevant, keeps people going back to see it, it is still a play for today and as the Narrator says “do we blame superstition for what came to pass? Or could it be what we, the English, have come to know as class”.

The story is simple, the weight of the world is cheerfully carried on the shoulders of Mrs Johnstone, played once again by Lyn Paul - cast members it seems can never leave, drawn back by the siren call time after time.

She is a struggling mum of seven in run down Liverpool council housing just about making things, if not quite meet, at least be within touching distance now she has a job as a cleaner for Mrs Lyons in her big house at the posh end of the district.


A sign of the times: "Unemployment's such a pleasure, These days we call it leisure"

Except Mrs Johnstone is pregnant again, and this time with twins, which will push the almost meeting ends far apart again and, attract social services to consider taking children in care.

Mrs Lyons, meanwhile, played by beautifully by another Blood Brothers regular, Paula Tappenden, cannot have children . . . and thus a fateful pact is sealed upon a Bible as we hear the story of the Johnstone twins.

“Of one womb born, on the self same day, how one was kept and one given away”.

The deception is complete with the matter-of-fact Mr Lyons, who did not want to adopt, but wanted his own son, never knowing he had been deceived. Tim Churchill plays the loving husband, dutiful father and hard-nosed businessman with aplomb.

Alexander Patmore is a likeable Mickey, who we follow from energetic seven-year-old (nearly  eight) to depressed, despondent, drug dependent adulthood with marriage, lay offs and jail along the way – you really feel for him as his world falls apart in Act II.

A huge mention here for Andy Owens, who was elevated as understudy from the minor character of eager schoolboy Perkins to Eddie, and, deservedly, was pushed forward by the cast for a solo bow after a wonderful performance. Not so much stand in as stand out.

The pair are in first a teenage and then adult love triangle with Linda played by Danielle Corlass who comes into her own as first Mickey’s girlfriend - after he eventually plucks up the courage to ask her - and then his wife as the downward spiral begins. With Eddie in silent love with Linda, but always loyal and never betraying his blood bother.


"Tell me it's not true, say its just a story, something on the news, tell me it's not true"

Daniel Taylor as Mickey's older brother Sammy, with a plate in his head, is a sort of bullying 10-year-old and a loose cannon and violent adult, the catalyst for Mickey’s fateful fall into the depths of despair.

And breaking the fourth wall, acting as a Greek chorus we have The Narrator, played by another returnee Robbie Scotcher. The Narrator fills in the gaps, adds to the scenes and warns of consequences and the price that has to be paid for every action – and Scotcher gets that balance of sinister and sympathy perfectly.

The rest of the cast have plenty to do with Nick Wilkes, for example, popping up as teachers and policemen, Grace Galloway as Johnstone daughter Donna Marie and Mr Lyons’ secretary Miss Jones and we have endless children, bus drivers and conductors, doctor and milkmen and bailiffs – when the never never becomes just never – needed to populate the stage.

Setting it all off are memorable songs such as Tell Me its Not True, Marilyn Monroe, Easy Terms and Light Romance, with music from an excellent six piece band under musical director Matt Malone.

For many this is a show has become like favourite old clothes, familiar, comfortable, something you can rely on, a timeless pleasure. No matter how often you see it, how well you know the story, it still tugs at the heartstrings, still brings smiles and the odd tear. People still want to hear the tale of the Johnstone twins once again, “how they were born, and they died, on the self same day".

Forty years on and still as fresh as ever, directed by Bob Tomson and Bill Kenwright, Blood Brothers continues to 13-11-21.

Roger Clarke


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