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Review: Blood Brothers, New Theatre Oxford

The acclaimed adaptation of Willy Russell's story of twins separated at birth comes to Oxford. Did opening night of 'The Standing Ovation Musical' send Muddy to its feet?

One of only three musicals ever to surpass 10,000 performances in London’s West End – and strangely one of the few musicals I’ve never seen until the opening night of Blood Brothers at New Theatre Oxford last night.

The musical tells the tale of twin brothers separated at birth and raised in very different walks of life, eventually meeting again with tumultuous consequences.

This touring production stars Lynn Paul, who first took on the role of Mrs Johnstone, mother of the separated twins, in 1997 in the West End, reprising the role on and off ever since (incidentally, this is her farewell tour). Previously Paul was part of the New Seekers, who wanted ‘… To Teach The World To Sing‘ in those iconic Seventies Coca Cola ads, and her voice is really beautiful – pure but warm and without the squeaky helium delivery that so many musical theatre graduates seem to favour. It’s a compliment I’d also give Paula Tappenden who played Mrs Lyons, the ‘mother’ of the stolen twin. I can’t overstate how much of a difference such strong female voices gave to the performance.

There was strong, likeable acting from Alex Patmore as the rough-side-of-the-tracks Liverpudlian Mickey and Joel Benedict as his posh brother Eddie with a clutch of laugh out loud moments, particularly in the first half. And apart from an early prop issue where the wall of the living room moved disconcertingly from side to side for a few minutes and the audience held its breath, the production was slick and professional.

It’s true that a drama like Blood Brothers doesn’t have the immediate visual energy of musicals like Hair Spray or Priscilla or the vibrant gangland glamour of West Side Story, but it has its own particularly British charm – a celebration of youth and innocence, a quest for belonging and a light shone on the idiocy of class division.

The theatre, not quite full on opening night, erupted into – yup, you guessed it – a standing ovation at the end of the performance. Gotta tell you, I think they deserved it.

THE MUDDY VERDICT

Good for: Unlike many musicals that scream ‘girls night’, Blood Brothers has man-appeal too – guns, shoot-outs, schoolboy humour. Great value too – at over three hours long you get your money’s worth.

Not for: The occasional f-word and jokes about porn mags will discount enthusiastic junior school musical theatre fans.

See Blood Brothers at New Theatre Oxford until 4 Sept. Tickets from £13.

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