Review: ‘Blood Brothers’ @ Birmingham Hippodrome, 22/10/12.

‘Blood Brothers’ take two: still featuring the stellar vocals of Niki Evans and this time showcasing the voice of Marti Pellow as the Narrator, ‘Blood Brothers’ remains a heart-wrenchingly tragic tale of brothers separated by birth but united by fate.

Having seen and reviewed this before, the focus lies on what was different about this telling of the tale of the Johnstone twins. Marti Pellow seems the obvious starting point: a Scouser he ain’t. I struggled to understand what he was saying sometimes because his accent was quite thick and at points indecipherable – I’d have definitely preferred him to ditch the Scouse in favour of being audible. That’s the only critique I can make about this Narrator though – he was intimidating, comforting and a constant lurking presence reminding us of the debt to be paid. In a weird way, Marti Pellow was an outstanding lurker: he never looked out of place, and constantly existed as a dark and menacing presence behind every twinge of happiness and friendship. His voice, as in his music and in a performance of ‘Jekyll and Hyde’ I had the pleasure of seeing him in, was astounding – he’s one of those rare pop musicians whose voice translates from CD to stage with ease, in fact I’d go as far as saying he’s better off out of the charts and treading the boards. He’s got a clear talent for manipulating his voice to suit the emotional rollercoaster that is ‘Blood Brothers’.

Niki Evans was, once more, fantastic. She has this uncanny ability to change from happy-go-lucky to ageing and troubled in a heartbeat whilst remaining hauntingly convincing. Her voice, without a doubt, was the best in the show: it’s so powerful that it’s beyond her X Factor roots, and was definitely meant to tell a story rather than belt out any old tune.

The only criticism I have to make about ‘Blood Brothers’ this time around was the sound choices. If it had been every now and then, I could have coped with reverb and echoes, but every song containing echoes was too much to deal with at points, and sometimes made the words hard to understand. It lost that haunting effect, and turned into a stage tool without meaning. It also made the singing sometimes seem like a competition: for instance, the Narrator and Mrs Johnstone’s duets were hugely complimentary to one another’s voices, but when that reverb hit it was like the Narrator faded and lost his significance in the face of Mrs Johnstone, when he is supposed to be the thread that ties the story together.

That aside, the opening night at the Hippodrome was a stunner. The highly translatable themes of family, social and emotional divides, and of inviable class systems deepened the tragedy felt by everyone in the Hippodrome. Besides those things mentioned above, ‘Blood Brothers’ remained as it I saw it in my original review: beautiful, haunting and tragically moving, and worth every tear shed.


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