Theatre Review: Blood Brothers, Edinburgh

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BLOOD Brothers doesn’t get off to an auspicious start, not least because Maureen Nolan’s world weary Mrs Johnstone is manipulated into giving away one of her newborn twins.

Edinburgh Playhouse * * * *

It’s almost as if the opening scenes setting up the show’s story have been neglected by the director in favour of building up the final act into a gripping denouement.

While Nolan’s single mum is vocally strong throughout, Nolan herself, pictured, quite often seems at sea alone in the centre of the stage as she delivers her part of the narrative in the first act, and not in a way that enhances the loneliness and isolation her character must be feeling.

The overly exuberant synth drums and overall emptiness on stage when introducing the teeming Liverpool slums, all set the scene for ominous 80s “Drama” in the vein of Brookside or EastEnders, rather than a thought provoking bittersweet musical with moments of warm familial humour.

It isn’t until the children arrive on stage with a rendition of Kids Game that veers dangerously into Muppet Babies territory, that the show begins to find its feet.

Sean Jones’ cheeky street kid Mickey is beautifully constructed, his development from carefree boy to tortured man both compelling and affecting. Playing lost twin Eddie, Mark Hutchinson is suitably naive and engaging. While the company make an excellent job of conveying moments of genuine familial intimacy, as ever the “twins” do not convince as being alike as “two new pins”. Their mannerisms are confidently mirrored here and there, but never does the audience get that uneasy sense of seeing something in the other that is an unconscious, genetic habit of the first.

Warwick Evans’ Narrator handles the challenging vocal score with ease, Evans and Nolan’s voices complementing each other in range and power.

The second act sees a marked improvement in atmosphere and direction. As the play draws to its inevitable, tragic conclusion, Jones’ depiction of Mickey’s decline becomes increasingly dark and believable. The production’s finale, although inevitable, still gives the audience a sudden surprise, something that not every version of the musical has managed to pull off so well.

• Run ends Saturday.