Blood Brothers, what’s the secret of its success?

Blood Brothers is something of a phenomenon, one of only three musicals to have more than 10,000 performances in London’s West End, known as the Standing Ovation Musical because it brings audiences to their feet. It’s a huge hit. And it’s current UK tour seems to be heading the same way, it’s a hot ticket. If you are looking for a seat you’d better be quick because they are in short supply.

It’s currently at the Everyman Theatre in Cheltenham where I am off to see it on Monday and you can find more details about it here.

Blood Brothers is a piece of work which has a big issue at it’s heart and that’s a fine thing to have in writing of any kind I think. The story of two twins separated at birth, one going to a rich home, the other living with his poor birth mother. How do they work out? Does their difference in circumstances affect their destiny, despite them being as close at birth as two human beings can be? It’s a piece of theatre about nature versus nurture – are we what we are born to be or what we are made?

But big issues themselves don’t make good art, or hit musicals. I believe that as a writer if you lose the audience which comes to you for pleasure then you have lost the only audience which was ever worth having in the first place

Willy Russell knows this, he didn’t write a New Statesman essay on nature versus nurture, he wrote a cracking piece of entertainment. He chucked in a few jokes, and catchy tunes to get those crowds up on their feet. The fact that it’s about something bigger lends it depth but we’re not expected to sit through a lecture. That’s the way to do it, you can go along to be entertained and come out thinking as well as humming the tunes.

It was written in the 1980s but would it have been written today? Seems to me that writing about the working class, what our politicians delight in calling ‘ordinary people’, is a dying art, in novels certainly and in theatre too maybe. It’s partly down to commercial considerations I guess. I know who the core audience is for books these days, who my audience is – older people rather than younger, middle class rather than working class. When I look out over theatre crowds I often see similar people. When I look in the mirror too.


But maybe there’s an element of fashion as well. Social realist writing, with a political edge, was popular during the Thatcher years – think Alan Bleasdale, John Godber, Willy Russell himself. For novels the golden age for writing about the common man and woman was even earlier, Alan Sillitoe, Barry Hines, Keith Waterhouse and so on in the 1960s. Where do you see it today? Diluted down into TV soaps?

Yet Blood Brothers is fixed in this supposedly outdated world and it is hugely popular today – what’s its secret? On paper it shouldn’t work, but then, on paper, bumblebees shouldn’t be able to fly.

Well, here’s the thing, it works because it’s done very well – I think that’s the key. People love it because it works. Maybe the message is that if you write well enough you can make your own fashions and your own rules.

If you have enjoyed this post and want to find out more about my writing, click here to download a free sample of my award winning novel Song of the Sea God and see if you agree with the rave reviews.

It’s difficult for a short review to convey the quality of writing in this astonishing story … I also found myself considering whether this is one of the cleverest allegories I’ve read.

Reader review

2 thoughts on “Blood Brothers, what’s the secret of its success?”

  1. I’ve never actually heard of it, Chris, but I think you’re right, the subject of the working classes seems to have died out. Is it maybe just not PC anymore?

    1. I wonder if there just isn’t the audience or readership for it anymore Val, or perhaps it is simply fashion and will make a comeback. A Facebook friend made an interesting point, he said that in hard times people often turn to escapism in their entertainment. If the economy in the UK were to take a dive, which could happen, I guess escapism could be the next big thing rather than anything more gritty.

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