IT IS an unfortunate fact of life for performers playing the lead role in Blood Brothers in the Portsmouth area that they have to compete with the memory of Stephanie Lawrence.
But even if Niki Evans cannot match that West End star from Hayling Island, who died so tragically young in 2000, the former midlands housewife certainly makes the role of Mrs Johnstone her own at the Kings.
Ms Evans is stiff in movement but uses the considerable vocal power that took her to the semi-final of The X Factor to convey the character’s pain – achieving her best results when standing stock-still to give the fullest impact to words and music.
And unlike some previous performers (though obviously not our Stephanie), she has the degree of sexiness to make it credible that the character is irresistible to men – the quality that ultimately leads to tragedy.
That tragedy is foreshadowed at the start of Willy Russell’s musical about twin boys separated at birth, brought up on opposite sides of Merseyside’s social tracks but fated to be repeatedly reunited.
The thread of fatalism, embodied in the person of the Narrator (words not always clear on the first night), is central to the show from the orchestra’s first dark, pulsing notes to an ending that remains truly shocking.
But Blood Brothers depends also on broad comedy as the children grow up, and that is played with entertaining relish by young adult actors in Bill Kenwright’s long-running and long-to-be-remembered production.