'LIVERPOOL ECHO' - 10 January 1983 (Review by Joe Riley)
Willy Russell has done it again: that is, take a commonplace issue, forge it in the white heat of growing social awareness and then present it to the world, via Merseyside, as a masterly piece of theatre.
It is a triumph for all concerned... For Barbara Dickson, launched into big time singing by Mr Russell's Beatles show nine years ago, there's much deserved acclaim for her first singing-acting role as the mother. She really gets to the show's emotional heart in a most beguiling way... a London transfer should be assured. In the meantime make a Playhouse ticket a certainty for yourselves.
'THE GUARDIAN' - 12 April 1983 (Review by Michael Billington)
Willy Russell's 'Blood Brothers' which sails into the Lyric from the Liverpool Playhouse, is brilliant melodrama. Indeed it owes less to the modern British musical than to The Corsican Brothers or The Force Of Destiny. But it is melodrama done with such power, such intense belief in itself and, above all, such a wealth of good music, that it carries one along with it in almost unreserved enjoyment.
The achingly romantic songs...tell of grief and loss rather than the usual musical trivialities.
Many of these fall to Barbara Dickson as the mother, a riven figure in a headscarf rendering the lyrics with stunning clarity. But there is good work from the whole cast, including Andrew Schofield as the hawk-like chorus and George Costigan as the deprived Mickey.
'DAILY EXPRESS' - 13 January 1983 (Review by Gerard Dempsey)
The girl from 'John Paul George Ringo...& Bert' took another rocket-burst musical into orbit with this dazzling Saturday night launch.
Nine years ago Barbara Dickson achieved instant stardom as the songstress-narrator in Willy Russell's hit version of the Beatles story.
It is a slice of pure theatre magic that these two shining talents are together again for the singing star's acting debut in a tale of murder, madness and wild Scouse humour. For both, it is a triumph.
Barbara is a slumland Mother Courage, pressured into giving away one of her newborn twins to her middle class employer. It is an astonishing performance, alternately sad, wry, waspish - and always hauntingly sung.
Willy Russell has fashioned a musical as sharply professional as 'West Side Story', and a good deal wittier and grittier... a simplistic class war tale saved from banality by a liberating humour and a musical score of folk song plaintiveness and operatic intensity.
'John Paul George Ringo...& Bert' won two West End awards as the best musical of 1974; 'Blood Brothers' is my odds-on favourite for parallel honours in 1983.
'CITY LIMITS' - 15 April 1983 (Review by Diana Simmonds)
Very occasionally, an unforgettable thrill accompanies a person to a stage. The sight and sound of Barbara Dickson unobtrusively at a piano at the back of this same platform in 1974 ('John Paul George Ringo... & Bert'), is one such indelible memory. Since then that young woman has become a successful rock-balladeer... Now she is back on stage, again in a Willy Russell-Liverpool Playhouse production; once again, it is a triumph. But there the similarity ends. The first production was about the Fab Four and their music - hauntingly interpreted by Dickson, but with little need for originality or revelation of self. 'Blood Brothers' is a fiction but it contains everywoman's truth.
Billed as a musical, perhaps because 'opera' has such lousy connotations and 'rock opera' bears an even worse burden, that is exactly what it is: melodramatic, moving as only carefully manipulated narrative and chord sequences can be; and totally beguiling.
The cast is a spectacularly good ensemble in which the band - high above the action - and the stage crew have to be included. But it is Dickson's arena, as Mrs Johnstone, with her tragic bunch of brats and armful of superstitions, move inexorably towards a very modern but timelessly ancient conclusion. This is an extraordinary show from an extraordinary team. Do see it.
'DAILY EXPRESS' - 17 April 1983 (Review by David Roper)
This morning the pages of musical history are going to have to be rewritten to include the names of Barbara Dickson and Willy Russell.
That will probably mean erasing some that have been at the top for quite some time.
...Unlikely though it may seem for a show that has a downbeat opening, middle and end, Blood Brothers is not just another Liverpool hard luck story. Blood Brothers is a rags-to-riches story that makes a haunting musical tragedy of our times, bursting with the talent of George Costigan as Mickey and Andrew Schofield as the many faces of the demonic narrator.
But more than anything the memory swells with the sound of Miss Dickson's tragedy-filled voice begging the world to "Tell Me It's Not True" and watching helplessly as life tears everything away from her.
'THE SUNDAY TIMES' - 17 April 1983
In the West End, Willy Russell's musical 'Blood Brothers' has arrived at the Lyric from Liverpool, and it is very welcome. This contemporary tale of twin brothers separated at birth should be taken at the level of folk story, rather than the class war. There is indeed a keening, Irish-Liverpudlian folk song tone to Russell's tunes which have been given a pleasant "Strawberry Fields"-like orchestration.
Andrew Scofield makes the best of his multiple roles as narrator, but the whole show is movingly held together by Barbara Dickson as the long-suffering Liverpudlian working-class mother.
'PUNCH' - 20 April 1983 (Review by Sheridan Morley)
Willy Russell's 'Blood Brothers' (at the Lyric) ... is undoubtedly the most exciting thing to have happened to the English musical theatre in years.
'Blood Brothers' is essentially a folk opera, a Liverpudlian West Side Story, about twin brothers who grow up on opposite sides of the social tracks without realising their fraternity until one inadvertently kills the other.
Like Sondheim's Sweeney Todd, this is an angry musical about blood and death and social corruption: Russell (the author of such gentler shows as Educating Rita and John Paul George Ringo and Bert) has here written and composed a marvellously grainy, tough and very black show which suggests that the musical can still be used by the British as a contemporary theatrical form of considerable power.
Dominating Blood Brothers, and singing most of its best songs, is Barbara Dickson as the back-street mother of eight who gives her ninth child away to the rich woman whose house she cleans. The boy then grows up in affluence, knowing his twin brother only as a back-street playmate: as however we move from the 1950s through into the 1980s, and as the Depression then comes, times turn more violent and what began as a three-and-sixpenny opera ends as full-scale musical tragedy.
What makes Blood Brothers such a triumphant evening, above and beyond the acid singing of Miss Dickson and the brilliant playing of the twins by George Costigan and Andrew Wadsworth, is Russell's realisation that a small cast, most of whom double and treble up (especially Andrew Schofield as the narrator who also goes from milkman to gynaecologist with the simple explanation that he has changed jobs) can form themselves into a hit squad capable of slamming this music across.
In the end it's a show about superstition and age-old guilt and modern urban blight: but it's also one that drags the London stage musical kicking and screaming into the 1980s and for the impact of its production (by Chris Bond, original begetter of Sweeney, and Danny Hiller) it is I reckon unmissable and unbeatable.
'THE WALL STREET JOURNAL' - 22 April 1983 (Review by Ned Chaillet)
There has rarely been so much joy in heartbreak and so much laughter in the telling of tragedy as in Willy Russell's musical 'Blood Brothers'... His story has the simplicity of myth, a quality that the directors, Chris Bond and Danny Hiller, take advantage of from the beginning...
Mrs Johnstone is portrayed by Barbara Dickson, a singer who first came to notice in Mr Russell's Beatles play, and her purity of voice and wealth of expressive warmth do much to make the play as effective as it is. She is an overseeing figure, happy to know that one son should go on to university and succeed in business, and happy that he should remain friends with Mickey, who faces the temptations of crime and the frustrations of unemployment..
In Mr Russell's songs, remarkably proficient musical compositions, there is a heightening of experience that goes far beyond the limitations of dialogue and offers us something of the spirit of Liverpool. Extremely well played by both musicians and actors, it is the proudest adornment to reach the West End this year.
'PLAYS AND PLAYERS' - June 1983 (Review by Steve Grant)
...Willy Russell's musical, 'Blood Brothers', which opens at the Lyric Theatre some nine years after his first such success, 'John Paul George Ringo and Bert', was unveiled in the same theatre.
In that show London audiences first became aware of a bespectacled, long-haired Scottish pianist-singer from a folk background called Barbara Dickson. In 'John Paul' Dickson lent a bitter-sweet beauty to the songs of Lennon and McCartney in a musical which for all its great goodwill and humour was a sad celebration of the passing of time and the end of a musical era.
Now Dickson returns in a show which has neither Lennon nor McCartney to sustain its melodic character, but in which she moves from talented singer to impressive dramatic actress and in which her voice soars to new and impassioned heights as she celebrated more than nostalgia: poverty, superstition, parenthood and death.
In the final analysis, 'Blood Brothers' is a thrilling piece of theatre which takes an often intractible genre and breathes new life and (dare one say it?) relevance into it.
Of the cast a word must be said about Dickson's performance: tousle-haired and good-natured, mocking, mourning or fidgeting, her Mrs Johnstone is a fine achievement for a woman making her serious acting debut, while her singing voice is as clear and as eloquent as a Liverpool cathedral bell.