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Blood Brothers visits Sussex

One of the most diverse audiences I’ve been part of for a long time gave Blood Brothers a standing ovation at The Hawth in Crawley this week. A coach load of teens plus pensioners, and those of us in between, were catching the West End hit on its tour.

For many of us it was not our first time seeing Willy Russell’s long-running musical. Mine was in London over 20 years ago, but I still went into The Hawth humming the songs. What stuck in my mind besides were the terraced street with a clever perspective, adults playing children and an outrageously sweary put down involving a doughnut!

The story, set in Liverpool, follows twin boys separated at birth, as a result of a pact between two desperate mothers, who grow up living very different lives that intertwine with fateful consequences.

That the story doesn’t end well is foreshadowed from the start and there’s an unusual use of a rather doom-laden narrator who walks among the characters singing of superstition. In fact he’s most chillingly effective as a figure of fate when simply watching the action play out from an upstairs window or the top of a wall.

Not that it’s a miserable watch, far from it. A large chunk of the first half has adults playing children – spitting, squabbling and riding imaginary horses, something that was more unusual when Blood Brothers first debuted but is still hilarious.

Mark Hutchinson as Eddie, Linzi Hateley as Mrs Johnstone and Sean Jones as Mickey

Sean Jones is particularly excellent as ruffian child, shy teen and then reduced adult Mickey while Mark Hutchinson has a beautiful wistful singing voice as his more privileged but still envious twin Eddie. Both also played the parts in the West End version.

The other key role of the boys’ birth mother Mrs Johnstone is taken by seasoned West End star Linzi Hateley who plays her with warmth, confidence and a belting signing voice. The ensemble cast members also excel, making numerous outings as assorted kids and adults, and Danielle Corlass is hilarious as flirty teen Linda with a skirt like a belt, who finally gets her man for all to brief a time.

Willy Russell himself has called it a ‘musical for people who hate musicals’ so don’t go expecting big song and dance numbers. The songs instead weave through and further the story. It’s a strength of the casting that even when the lead of Mrs Johnson has been played by a series of celebrities, here and abroad, over the years (among them Mel C, Carole King and various Nolans), they’ve always been singers foremost.

Each song has several reprieves with variations so they quickly become earworms, though some refrains  can feel a bit too repetitive. I chuckled as I came out hearing one teen ask ‘what was with all the Marilyn Monroes?’ I’ve always thought myself that the numerous references become rather strained.

It’s certainly a musical that teens will enjoy so long as you’re happy for them to hear some four letter words in creative contexts.

Huge laughs and more than a couple of tears. If you’ve not seen it yet, don’t leave it to fate – you don’t want that scary narrator outside your window singing about the mistake you’ve made.

Blood Brothers is at The Hawth, Crawley, Tues 16 – Sat 20 Oct, including matinees on the Thurs and Sat. Tickets are from £30 and there’s already limited availability.

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