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Theatre review: Blood Brothers/Empire

Mel C plays a mother of nine - with a dash of girl power. Is Vicky Anderson convinced?

Published on November 13th 2010.

Theatre review: Blood Brothers/Empire

US SCOUSERS love a home-grown success story more than most, but it’s been barely six months since Blood Brothers last took to the Liverpool stage.

It would need some gimmick to get the bums of the city’s theatregoing faithful back on seats so soon. Enter ex-Spice Girl Mel C, fresh from the West End, performing in her home town for two weeks only just for us and nowhere else. Yep, that should do the trick.

When home-grown smash meets homecoming superstar, Liverpool can get giddy with the results. And despite all best efforts, this production is all about Melanie Chisholm

Willy Russell’s melodramatic story of twin boys separated at birth has become an international hit over its 25 years, and with a backdrop of recession and working class desperation, hits home now as much as it ever did.

When home-grown smash meets homecoming superstar, Liverpool can get giddy with the results. And despite all best efforts, this production is all about Melanie Chisholm. Like Kim Cattrall, just about to finish up her Playhouse run in Antony & Cleopatra, she’s a quite distracting figure on the stage just by measure of being so recognisable.

However, her familiar and distinctive breathy warble brought a refreshing new dimension to the character of Mrs Johnstone. Following in the footsteps of Barbara Dickson, Marti Webb, most recently Lyn Paul and even Petula Clark, it’s been said, at 36, Chisholm could still be too young to bring the gravitas required of such a gritty role (it’s certainly hard to believe she could have popped out some nine kids).

But the relative innocence with which she played it made a marked difference to some previous Mrs Js - older and wiser and resigned to the character’s fate. And fate, as we know, has a lot to answer for in the world of Blood Brothers.

Although she did pull a blinder in the all-important closing moments of the show, it was near the beginning, singing Easy Terms, where Chisholm was at her most poignant, and Marilyn Monroe suited her charming demeanour down to the ground. She played Mrs J with an eternal hope, and her lack of naff drama college sheen worked vastly in her favour.

So while some suspension of disbelief is necessary – she constantly looked as fresh as a daisy – as a performer,

Chisholm has always had a genuine Liverpudlian warmth about her, which she transfers well into a very maternal, always positive character, and while slightly shaky in parts, she actually got better the more demanding the role became.

Apart from Chisholm, the cast remains largely the same as the touring production that passed through Liverpool in the spring. Of these, it is Sean Jones as Mickey who has not only the most to do, but has to meet the challenge of convincingly spanning the character’s life from age seven to his pitiful demise (Paul Davies, as privileged twin Eddie, is more a foil for this and is a quietly competent support).

Jones’s anguish as Mickey’s life fell apart was almost too painful to watch. But of course, it is supposed to be, and the pay-off is barely a dry eye in the house and the requisite standing ovation. Last night, it could have been assumed from the huge cheers of the audience that Chisholm probably would have got one anyway.

As can usually be expected at the Empire, the sound quality varied throughout the performance, at turns leaving characters booming or just audible, increasingly during the Narrator’s (Robbie Scotcher) oft-reprised number Shoes Upon the Table, which became annoying in the end. And at times there did seem to be heavy effects on the singers, giving an over-polished, X-Factor studio style to some of the vocal work that made it all seem a bit too showy, rather than gutsy.

As ever, Willy Russell’s writing is a joy, a real masterclass in building up real, sympathetic three-dimensional characters – not to mention the emotions of his audience.

Casting Mel C is a canny move on behalf of directors Bob Tomson and Bill Kenwright, injecting a breath of fresh air into a show that while never likely to go stale, must still move with the times.


Blood Brothers is at the Liverpool Empire until November 20.

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AnonymousNovember 11th 2010.

Good review of a good show. Mel C does look as though she has had a very hard life on that picture!

Dig?November 12th 2010.

Blood Brothers???? Oh crap. I thought I'd scored front row tickets for a Spice Girls gig tonight.

Herb BoysNovember 12th 2010.

And you were pleased Dig ?????

DigNovember 12th 2010.

Not really. I was looking forward to screaming throwing my purple y fronts at Sporty. Suppose I still can.

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