REVIEW: Blood Brothers, Sunderland Empire, until February 15

Bill Kenwright's production of Blood Brothers.
Bill Kenwright's production of Blood Brothers.
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The grittiest of musicals packed a punch as it stirred a full house at the Empire.

Jazz hands and saccharine stories have their place in musical theatre, of course, but Blood Brothers serves up a more substantial offering.

It deals with heavy issues: class, the nature vs nurture debate and even fratricide. But what Willy Russell’s words and music also does with aplomb is to blend these plot lynch pins with great comedy.

Act one is brimming with delicious rib-ticklers, especially from Sean Jones as tyke Mickey. He bounds around the stage with youthful abandonment, galloping on his make believe horse, regaling the audience with tales of his big brother’s worm collection, in between wiping his nose on his saggy jumper and spitting at anyone who crosses his path.

You can’t help but delight in his capers, which makes his transformation into the troubled, torn adult Mickey all the more gut-wrenching.

At his side is his greatest friend and ultimately his foe: Eddie, played by Mark Hutchinson. Together, the pair are an acting powerhouse who reel you into becoming totally enthralled by their captivating tale.

At the helm of the tragedy is Maureen Nolan as Mrs Johnstone, a mother who faces the unimaginable decision of having to give away one of her twins.

Nolan is superb as the Liverpudlian working mum who is left broken by a choice she never wanted to make.

She is utterly believable in the matriarch role and her singing covered a gamut of emotions with great range.

You could hear a pin drop during her rendition of Tell Me It’s Not True, one of the theatre’s great Kleenex moments.

The cast deserved every second of their standing ovation.