THE King’s. The Festival Theatre. The Playhouse. No one would blame the Capital’s Blood Brothers fans for double-checking the venue for Willy Russell’s evergreen tale of Mrs Johnstone and her twin boys as it returns to the city this week.
For the record, it’s at the Playhouse, the second time it has played the Greenside Place venue, although for Maureen Nolan, the fourth of the Irish siblings to star in it as Mrs Johnstone, it is a first.
“It’s my absolute favourite role, in my favourite musical,” says the 59-year-old.
“Actually, I’m a little bit of a stalker of Mrs Johnstone but I last played her in Edinburgh at the Festival Theatre... although I might have played her in the King’s as well,” adds the last of the Nolan Sisters to take on the role.
Hailed as one of the best musicals of all time, Blood Brothers premiered in Liverpool in 1983 before transferring to London’s West End. There it won the Olivier Award for Best New Musical. Today, with a 24-year run on the West End behind it, the epic tale of Liverpool life continues its mammoth tour, which started way back in 1995.
The show itself tells the story of twin boys separated at birth, only to be reunited, by a twist of fate and a mother’s haunting secret.
When Mrs Johnstone, a young mother, is deserted by her husband and left to her own devices to provide for seven hungry children, she takes a job as a housekeeper in order to make ends meet.
It is not long before her brittle world crashes around her when she discovers herself to be pregnant yet again – this time with twins. In a moment of weakness and desperation, she enters a secret pact with her employer, which leads inexorably to the show’s shattering climax.
“I was going to say that for a woman of my age,” says Nolan, before correcting herself, “but for any person, Mrs J is a strong and funny character.
“There’s so much tragedy to play out. You get the chance to explore every facet of human behaviour. It’s a meaty role and she gets to sing great songs.... I love her. She kind of reminds me of my own mum; we grew up on a council estate in Ireland and my mum had eight children, and her bark was worse than her bite... all of that.”
The other three Nolans to have entered the world of Blood Brothers are Bernie, Denise and Linda, with Maureen the last to don the pinny.
“I went to see all the girls in it,” she recalls. “I went to see it 18 times before I was in it because I just love the musical anyway.
“Of course, I never thought that I would actually do it. But when I got it, and looked back, there were things I’d seen that made me think, ‘Oh I like that, I’ll nick that’ or other things that made me think, ‘I wouldn’t play it like that, I’d do it slightly differently.’
“When I was asked to audition, the pressure came from how embarrassing and humiliating it would it be if I was the only sister who didn’t get the part,” she laughs.
However, through the years that she has ‘stalked’ the role, Nolan has found the character change with her, something that helps keep it fresh.
“There is a blueprint. It is directed and produced in a certain way, but it does grow with you,” she explains.
“I was thinking this the other night. I opened in the show on the West End in 2005 and there are definitely things I have seen differently as time has gone on.
“Little tweaks here and there. You do something and think, ‘Why have I never thought to do it like that before? It’s so much better. So you do find your way as you go along.”
This week marks the end of the current leg of the tour and Nolan can’t wait to return to the Capital.
“We are so looking forward to coming to Edinburgh. I know everybody says that, but we love it. We try to get really nice digs, we do the ghost tours - it’s like being on holiday really. Who wouldn’t enjoy Edinburgh? It’s just so gorgeous, vibrant and brilliant.”
Blood Brothers is back on the road in September, but Nolan reveals there’s no guarantee she’ll still be in it.
“It’s always touring really, but we’re only contracted to the end of Edinburgh. We won’t find out until very late if we are back. But that’s show business.
“I’m hoping everyone will be renewed because this really is one of the best casts I’ve worked with - Warwick Evans and Mark Hutchinson, the Narrator and Eddie are amazing and Sean Jones is just one of the best, if not the best ever, Mickey. It’s just a top-notch cast.”
Blood Brothers, Playhouse, Greenside Place, until Saturday, 7.30pm (matinees 2.30pm), £17.90-£43.40, 0844-871 3014