She’s been hailed as the ‘definitive Mrs Johnstone’ and now Lyn Paul will be donning the iconic apron once more as Blood Brothers returns to the Sunderland Empire stage.
This year marks 30 years since Bill Kenwright’s moving production of Liverpool twins who are separated at birth first toured the UK.
And to mark its return to the stage, which includes a Wearside run from November 27 to December 2, Lyn Paul is reprising her role as their tortured mother.
Lyn – who rose to fame in the early 1970s as a member of the New Seekers with hits including I’d Like To Teach the World to Sing – is to Blood Brothers what Elaine Paige is to Cats. This tour sees her return to the role she helped make famous in 1997 and one she played in the final West End performances at the Phoenix Theatre in 2012.
Penned by award-winning playwright Willy Russell, the musical which began life as a play has scooped numerous awards for best musical in London and seven Tony Award nominations on Broadway.
It tells the moving story of twin boys separated at birth, only to be reunited by a twist of fate. When Mrs Johnstone, a young mother, is deserted by her husband and left to her own devices to provide for seven hungry children she takes a job as a housekeeper in order to make ends meet. It is not long before her brittle world crashes around her when she discovers herself to be pregnant yet again – this time with twins. In a moment of weakness and desperation, she enters a secret pact with her employer which leads inexorably to the show’s climax.
The memorable score includes A Bright New Day, Marilyn Monroe and the emotionally-charged hit Tell Me It’s Not True.
After its inception, the musical went on to run in London’s West End for 24 years, exceeding 10,000 performances, one of only three musicals ever to achieve that milestone.
Lyn says she’s delighted to be stepping back into the shoes of the mother who’s haunted by her decision to separate her boys.
Speaking about the show’s enduring appeal, she said: “It’s just so well written and directed and as a story it really stands the test of time. It’s a story that people can relate to today: people have financial struggles, they struggle to have children, they get into trouble with the police. At the end there’s silence and it’s because the audience is crying, it’s incredibly moving. It’s such a small company that we become like a family, we have a close bond and I think that comes across.”
She added: “There’s so few parts for older women, especially older leading roles. But Willy Russell is excellent at writing those roles, such as in Shirley Valentine and Educating Rita. They’re gritty, Northern characters too and I’m from Manchester so it’s perfect for me. It’s so well received everywhere, but I think particularly so in the North.”
Lyn says it was this role which helped her to find a new direction in her career following the success of New Seekers, in which she was the featured vocalist on their 1972 Eurovision Song Contest entry, Beg, Steal or Borrow, and lead vocalist on the 1974 number-one hit You Won’t Find Another Fool Like Me.
She explained: “A friend of mine had come to see me in Cabaret and suggested I audition for Blood Brothers, even though I wasn’t an actress. I told my mum and she suggested that I write to (producer) Bill Kenwright. I got a reply and within three weeks I was on stage rehearsing for the show in London. He put a lot of faith in me, no one knew if I could cope with a three-hour show. I told him that I couldn’t do the Liverpool accent but he told me just to be me, just to be Northern. Now I get compliments on my Liverpudlian accent but I think being around the other actors has just rubbed off on me.
“I’m not a believer in going back but I will always go back to Blood Brothers. Bill Kenwright gave me my big break, he welcomed me with open arms even though I hadn’t acted before, and I’ll always be grateful that he gave me this career.”
The run is a return to the Empire for Lyn, who has fond memories of the venue. “I appeared at the Empire with The Krankies in panto and we had a brilliant time,” she said. “It was before the extension and I still remember the old dressing rooms. We would all go to the pub over the road after shows to play darts. I’m really looking forward to be being back.”
Blood Brothers will be at Sunderland Empire from November 27 to December 2 – and you could be there for free.
As well as Lyn Paul, the show features Dean Chisnall, who returns to the role of the Narrator. He has performed in a number of musicals including Shrek the Musical and Evita. Meanwhile Sean Jones reprises his role as Mickey, which he has performed in the West End, including as part of the final cast at the Phoenix Theatre in 2012, and on tour.
To win a pair of tickets to the opening night, answer this question: in which band did Lyn Paul rise to fame?
Send your answer and contact details on a postcard to Blood Brothers Competition, Katy Wheeler, Johnston Press North East, 2nd Floor, Alexander House, 1 Mandarin Road, Rainton Bridge Business Park, Houghton, Sunderland, DH4 5RA. Alternatively, email your answer and details to Katy.Wheeler@jpress.co.uk. Closing date: November 22.