Blood Brothers is Willy Russell’s masterpiece and is currently in its 23rd year at the Phoenix Theatre in London’s West End. It is a touching yet hilarious musical set in Liverpool from the early '50s to the late '70s. I had seen the play in Liverpool in 1996 and had always wanted to see it again. After a run of disappointing outings to West End musicals, I finally decided to head for a play that I knew wouldn’t disappoint me.
Opening with the line “So did y’hear the story of the Johnstone twins?”, Blood Brothers tells the tale of two brothers born to the same mother but separated at birth. Mrs Johnstone is a working class woman who has five children by the age of 25. Destitute and abandoned by her husband, the pregnant Mrs Johnstone discovers that she is expecting twins and confides in her employer in a moment of desperation. The scheming (and barren) Mrs Lyons suggests to Mrs Johnstone that she doesn’t need two more mouths to feed and she convinces her servant to give up one of her babies. The deal is sealed when Mrs Lyons makes Mrs Johnstone swear on the Bible that she will uphold their deal.
All too soon after the birth, Mrs Johnstone realises her mistake but Mrs Lyons reminds her of her promise and takes one of the babies, leaving her with Mickey. Insecure and jealous of Mrs Johnstone, Mrs Lyons eventually terminates her employment in order to keep her away from ‘her’ baby Edward. She warns the suspicious Mrs Johnstone of an old wives' tale (which she has conveniently fabricated) that if twins are ever separated, then they must never know of their sibling status, for if they ever discover the truth then both of them shall die on that very day.
Despite the intentions and scheming of the mothers, Mickey and Eddie meet at the age of seven and begin a friendship that will span the next 20 years.