Blood Brothers is famously set in Liverpool – but it also has a Canterbury connection.
Next week, our theatre will be playing host to Bill Kenwright’s classic production of Willy Russell’s Blood Brothers. Since it was first created nearly thirty years ago, this production has notched up more than ten thousand West End performances (one of only three musicals to achieve this) and been seen by hundreds of thousands of people. But when the performers step on stage at The Marlowe, they’ll be back where it all began.
How come? Well, twenty eight years ago, legendary producer Bill Kenwright was looking for a theatre to trial and perfect his new production of Blood Brothers. He approached The Marlowe (then of course still in its old building) who were more than happy to help out.
Bill says: “I went to see the original incarnation of Blood Brothers in London – which wasn’t doing so well – and like everyone who sees it, I fell in love with it, and I just felt that I knew how to do it. I felt, instinctively, I knew what the key might be to make this a success. I approached Willy, but I think he was a little bit scarred by the West End run, because it hadn’t been a hit, and the rights weren’t available. I have to say, I badgered him for a few years, and then a friend of mine got a rep licence, to do it at Hornchurch, and Willy and I went to see it together, although we didn’t really know each other. And it wasn’t great. Willy and I drove back from Hornchurch together, and I said, ‘Give me the rights, and I swear to you, I’ll get it what you want it to be.’ And at the end of the journey, he said ‘Alright Billy, do it. I will come and see the first production, wherever you do it, and we’ll take it from there.’ And we opened in Canterbury, I think in 1987. My journey with Blood Brothers began there, and I’ll never forget it. It was an odd auditorium, and it was an odd place to start Blood Brothers, Canterbury rather than Liverpool, and yet it just felt like I was home, I felt like I was at the Liverpool Empire! I’ll never forget the feeling. The staff were all fantastic. And on the opening night at Canterbury – look, you never know you’re going to get a thirty year run, of course you don’t – but I knew I had something special. It didn’t have a huge advance at Canterbury, but it built and built and built throughout the run, and I totally fell in live with Canterbury during the time it was there. And that was the beginning.”
The rest, as they say, is history.
If you’re a Marlowe Friend, you’ll be able to read more from Bill Kenwright in the next issue of our Friends magazine Spotlight, which is out in November.