Last week, the world-famous ‘Blood Brothers’ arrived in Belfast on the Grand Opera House’s hallowed stage. The Belfast stop is part of the show’s 30th anniversary tour spanning the length and breadth of the UK. In its history the musical has made a sizeable impression on the West End stage, with it being one of London’s top five longest-running musicals. It may have left the West End’s Phoenix Theatre after a lengthy 24 year tenure but it continues to draw in audiences not just in Belfast, but across the globe.
Its global reach is no doubt down to its captivating story of twins, separated at birth, one staying with his poverty stricken mother, Mrs Johnstone (Lyn Paul); the other going to the well-to-do Mrs Lyons. (Sarah Jane Buckley) These two contrasting maternal figures help establish a narrative of social struggle as the two twins’ lives collide with unexpected consequences.
The play’s humble beginnings in Liverpool are still alluded to with the industrial skyline of the city providing a backdrop, along with Liverpudlian accents that subtly appear throughout Willy Russell’s impressive musical score, including the heart wrenching number “Tell Me It’s Not True.”
While the narrative would have rung particularly true in an 80s Liverpool under Thatcher, this social narrative is still highly relevant in today’s society where inequalities remain, even if less prevalent than previous generations. Any theatregoer would struggle to ignore this societal commentary, no matter their background. Similarly, I would struggle to imagine any audience member not feeling even a little emotion at the tragic ending.
The Opera House was packed for this performance, many of whom had seen the musical before, telling of the virtues of past leading ladies in Mrs Johnstone’s shoes including the likes of Spice Girl Mel C and four of the Nolan sisters. Lyn Paul certainly brings experience to the role from her career in the band ‘New Seekers,’ to her solo career and multiple West End credits, including multiple previous stints as Mrs Johnstone.
Undoubtedly audiences will continue to leave the ‘Blood Brothers’ teary eyed at a story seemingly eternal in its ability to capture people’s hearts in Belfast and beyond.