book music and lyrics by Willy Russell.
Phoenix Theatre To 31 July 2010.
Mon-Sat 7:45pm, Mat: Thu 3pm, Sat 4pm.
Runs 2hrs 30 mins One interval.
TICKETS : 0870 060 6629.
Review: Geoff Ambler 7th December 2006.
It’s not true, it’s just a story … but what a story.
This stalwart of London shows nestles in the West End at the Phoenix Theatre, an unimposing edifice on the Charing Cross Road. But don’t let the building’s discreet façade deceive you. There’s a powerful beating heart in this musical with its compelling story, and a cast who will leave you, as they themselves seem left, emotionally bereft. Except they experience it eight times a week.
Set in a bleak Liverpool, the story centres on a single mother of many, Mrs Johnstone, who makes a decision that is to have far reaching consequences, when she finds out that the next child she is expecting, which will itself leave her on the verge of poverty, has a twin. Her decision will affect many lives, as she allows one twin to be raised by her childless employer Mrs Lyons as her own.
The performance is haunted by Steven Houghton’s Narrator, the conscience for the 2 mothers and observer of events that build up to the intensely violent outcome, an outcome that opens the show. This doesn’t lessen the drama in any way, helping emphasise the perception of the twins’ fates being decided the day they were separated.
There is a lot of humour and pathos in the scenes surrounding the estranged brothers’ childhood; the actors’ childish manner is acutely observed and extremely affecting. These scenes conjure endless memories of games and fights, memories most of the audience will share. The simplicity and innocence of these familiar games, and the acutely profound effect they have on the eventual outcome, is overpowering. Nikki Davis-Jones playing Linda, stands out during the childhood scenes as the soulmate of Antony Costa’s Mickey, who unexpectedly impresses as the troubled underachieving sibling. Maureen Nolan’s Mrs Johnstone belts out the belting numbers and brings tears to your eyes in the emotional scenes.
There’s humour in the show, while the story’s tragedy hits hard at the end. It shocks and throws you to your feet during the encore. The company deserve the adulation in this emotionally charged that’s every bit the modern musical drama even at the ripe old age of 20.
Cast from 2 April 2007
Mrs Johnstone: Maureen Nolan. Helen Hobson.
Narrator: Steven Houghton. Steven Houghton.
Mickey: Antony Costa. Jay Roberts.
Eddie: Mark Hutchinson. Joe Fredericks.
Mrs Lyons: Vivienne Carlyle. Joanne Zorian.
Linda: Nikki Davis-Jones. Debbie Eden.
Mr Lyons: Stephen Pallister. Stephen Pallister.
Sammy: Kieran Gough. Michael Southern.
PC/Teacher: Graham Martin. Adam Tedder.
Perkins: Simon Turner. Simon Turner.
Donna Marie: Caroline Hartley. Amy O’Neill.
Bus Conductor: Alex Harland. Alex Harland.
Brenda: Suzanne Carley. Emma Nowell.
Neighbour: Michael Everest. Michael Everest.
Directors: Bob Tomson, Bill Kenwright.
Designer: Marty Flood.
Musical Director: Rod Edwards.