Prepare to shed a tear as hit show Blood Brothers returns to Sheffield theatre

Linzi Hateley, starring in Blood Brothers
Linzi Hateley, starring in Blood Brothers

Willy Russell’s ever-popular show about twin boys who are separated as babies and have very different lives is back in Sheffield next month.

Here, star Linzi Hateley, who plays the boys’ mother Mrs Johnstone, talks about the show.

Mrs Johnstone is one of the all-time great theatre roles. Have you been longing to play her?

Absolutely. It’s a show people know and love and I’ve seen it a few times myself, and it’s one of those parts where you hope at some point you might fit the bill. It’s been a secret dream to get the opportunity to play her and now I am.

How do you hope to make the role your own?

It’s going to be an interesting process and I hope I can bring something of myself to it. I’m a mother myself and I’m working class. When you have natural connections to a part then hopefully you can bring a lot of yourself to it because that way it can be as truthful as it can possibly be.

What do you feel makes her such a coveted character?

There are more these days than there used to be but there still are very few iconic female parts in musical theatre, where you think ‘I’d love to have a go at that at some point’. It’s got everything. It’s comedic, it’s incredibly tragic, she’s strong but she’s vulnerable - it has it all in one big package and it’s written so brilliantly by Willy Russell. In a way, with a lot of his writing, it’s almost shocking that it’s written by a man because he has such an understanding of things from a female perspective. To get that sort of writing, particularly in a musical, is a very rare thing.

Why do you feel the show continues to enthral and move audiences 35 years after it premiered?

It is without doubt the best British musical there has ever been. It appeals to everybody. I’ve had that question asked of me many times when I’ve been in musicals that are so successful and I think the most successful ones tend to be the ones that appeal to an absolute wide range of people who can all relate to it in some way or another. It’s also nice when you have a musical that’s sort of more of a play than an actual musical. Sometimes the women might have to drag the men along but with Blood Brothers I think the men come out loving it just as much. It’s just a very collectively satisfying night.

Can you recall when you first saw it?

I think the first time I saw it was the production starring Stephanie Lawrence, which I think was when it came back to London. Funnily enough years later I worked with Joanna Monro, who played the other mother in it. I worked with her in Mamma Mia! so it was nice to be able to chat to her about it because the production she was in was such a great one.

Did it move you to tears as it does everyone else?

Yes it did. It just has that effect on people, doesn’t it? Even though you watch it from the beginning knowing what the end is it still gets to you. It doesn’t make any difference. You’re just on this rollercoaster and [laughs] it just kills you. It’s going to be hard to play. I’m hoping I can get across what I need to and still be able to do it. In the song Easy Terms when she’s about to give one of her babies away I just hope I can get through it because, being a mum, I can’t begin to imagine having to give a child away.

Did you always know you wanted to be a performer?

I did, yes. [Laughs] I sort of came out singing, I think. I don’t come from a theatrical background at all but from a very young age it was obvious I had a good voice. I wasn’t very academic so it seemed like a natural thing for me. I’ve got very supportive parents but they didn’t know what to do with me back in the late 70s and early 80s because in Tamworth, where I came from, there wasn’t a great deal for someone like me. Nowadays I think locally there’s much more sort of geared up for people in the arts but in those days it was a bit like ‘What can we do with her?’ I eventually went off to theatre school and it went on from there, plus I’d done Annie as a kid at Birmingham Hippodrome and a few different things. It was just in my bones.

What do you have to have with you on the road?

Throat sweets. And actually it’s my husband this time. He can work from wherever so he’s coming on tour with me, which is great. So it’s throat sweets, the husband and the dog. It’s going to be a lot of fun.

Blood Brothers is at Sheffield Lyceum from February 11 to 16. To book, visit the box office, call 0114 249 6000 or go to sheffieldtheatres.co.uk/whats-on/blood-brothers