From the very first production of Willy Russell’s, in my view, masterpiece, this has sat at the top of my list of favourite musicals. I first saw it with Barbara Dickson playing Mrs Johnstone, George Costigan as Mickey and Andrew C Wadsworth as Eddy. That night I left the theatre humming the tunes. Now fourteen times on I leave singing the words.

As a piece of theatre it is almost perfectly formed, a great story, beautiful tunes and lyrics that actually are worth listening to. The script is taut, the set works, the sound is polished and it is beautifully lit. Yes I am a fan.

And hat’s off to Bill Kenwright who, after an award winning but short lived west end run in 1983, saw the future and revived the show in 1988. Since then his production has been almost nonstop and rightly so.

But what you may ask am I looking for when reviewing this show once again? The answer is of course easy, it is performance, both individual an ensemble. And when you have seen great and role defining performances from those already mentioned and the likes of Lyn Paul and no less than four of the Nolan sisters there is much to live up to.

Niki Colwell Evans as Mrs Johnstone, Sean Jones as Mickey. Jack Merriman Photography

Last night we saw Niki Colwell Evans take on the role of Mrs Johnstone and deliver it with style, a stunning musical performance and a moving dramatic rendering too, care-worn and weary, this was the part played true to life.

Sean Jones continues to embody the role of Mickey, from an endearingly naughty scallywag to the defeated victim that we see at the end. It’s a comic masterpiece that ends in tragedy.

Sean Jones as Mickey (left), Joe Sleight as Eddie (Right). Jack Merriman Photography

Joe Sleight joins the cast as Eddie and delivers a new edge to the part particularly in the second act. He also has the most delightfully light but still powerful voice when delivering the songs.

Gemma Brodrick‘s Linda is so believable, at times the tart with a heart but a heart that rings true as the story progresses. And Timothy Lucas as Sammy gives a brilliantly disturbing portrayal of the damaged brother Sammy mixing comedy with menace to great effect.

Mrs Lyon’s is beautifully played by Sarah Jane Buckley who brings a refined elegance to the part in act one and a dark decline into depression as the plot unfolds.

At the core of Russell’s piece is a narrator, for this tour played by Danny Whitehead. Whitehead brings to the role a chilling serenity, his clipped scouse tones and piercing eyes, his stillness and reserve lend a disturbing air to the whole, topping and tailing the often comic moments with an icy presence that is haunting. Add to this a simply perfect voice, one that delivers not only every note but every word with clarity. He is by far the best narrator I have seen.

The entire cast is excellent with each one of the marginal characters well realised and the ensemble singing pitch perfect. So fourteen times, would I go again, too right I would, I’d go again this week to see this remarkably good company.

Andrew Kay

Theatre Royal Brighton

3 October

Rating: ★★★★★

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