LOVE and sacrifice wrapped in blood, spit and tears are at the pumping heart of Willy Russell’s compelling musical that tells the story of twins separated at birth and raised on opposite sides of the tracks.

Now in its fourth decade, there is no escaping the power of this human story so graphically portrayed on stages around the world. People who don’t like musicals love Blood Brothers; people who dislike the theatre queue to get tickets for Blood Brothers. It’s far more of a drama with music seamlessly woven through the narrative than the traditionally accepted series of songs with chorus line high kicking high emotions. And it is all the more mesmerising for it. The play is a phenomenon for its durability among actors who delight in returning to it and audiences who do not hesitate leaping to their feet at final curtain.

Whether watching it for the umpteenth time or, as in the case of this reviewer, for the first time, the magic begins with the charm and innocence of the twins at age seven. They gallop around the stage, playing games with toy guns, and forging a friendship sealed with a blood handshake that ignores the social divide among the gritty streets of Liverpool – beautifully recreated by the marvellous sets. There is a lightness, some base comedy and oh, how easily we all fall in love with the brothers Mickey (Sean Jones who is captivating) and Eddie (Mark Hutchinson).

Russell writes women with breath-taking accuracy (Educating Rita and Shirley Valentine) and here he lays bare the mental anguish of the boys’ birth mother Mrs Johnstone. Outstanding in this role was Sarah Jane Buckley (Kathy Barnes in C4’s Hollyoaks) in place of Lyn Paul (voted the definitive Mrs J) who was unwell. Buckley usually plays Mrs Lyons, the adoptive mother, and her part was superbly taken by Sarah Rayner, another familiar BB hand. Together with Linda, the girlfriend (Danielle Corlass), it was a formidable female triumvirate. The ensemble deserves praise – timings and characterisations were faultless. To be picky (and risk accusations of heresy) some quieter dialogue was lost, the narrator (Mathew Craig) could have dialled up the sympathy-to-sinister demeanour. And, please, turn down the doom-laden bass drum repeats which came straight from the opening bars of TV’s EastEnders.

In the second half, the spell is cast. Now adults, one is a made-man, the other a broken man. Destiny was always going to bring the twins together and the nature versus nurture influences – the axis on which the play turns – were fated to bring tragedy... Cue tissues. Cue standing ovation. Cue the next 40 years.

  • Until Saturday Feb 24

Dorothy Blundell