Phoenix Theatre, London WC2
Opened 27 August, 1988 (Albery Theatre, London WC2); reviewed October, 2000

Willy Russell's musical tale of twins separated at birth ought not to work, but somehow it does, and continues to work after twelve years.

Russell set out, with no musical track record to speak of, to write the entire show himself: book, lyrics and music. His score is efficient, but nothing special, inclining more towards adult-oriented rock than a stage-musical idiom. His lyrics are often outright annoying, with lazy rhymes and scansion (and if I never hear another couplet about Marilyn Monroe in my life, it'll be too soon!). Yet something about the show carries it beyond these weaknesses and makes it a genuinely stirring experience.

The story of twins Mickey and Eddie, who are separated at birth when penurious Mrs Johnstone gives Eddie away to a well-off family but meet several years later to become best friends before tragically falling out, is treated with a deft blend of sentiment and grit so that neither gains the upper hand. It is both a hymn to the human spirit and (dating as it does from the Thatcher era) an indictment of a society which grinds that spirit down. It may date eventually, but it has not done so yet.

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Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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