WHAT if twin brothers are separated soon after birth and live contrasting lives in poor and middle-class homes?

As many theatre-goers know by now, that is the central premise of this phenomenally successful musical play by celebrated Liverpool writer Willy Russell.

This touring version of a show which has been a hit in London and New York received an immediate standing ovation last night - a fairly typical response, apparently.

It could be simple, genuine appreciation or maybe it is sheer relief that the emotional cranking has reached its limit.

Whatever, it works well on various levels and deserves its top ranking alongside other Russell classics such as Shirley Valentine and Educating Rita.

It is sad, it is funny, it is political in a social sense and it is totally absorbing from start to finish.

Mrs Johnstone, the Liverpool mother of seven who gives one of her new twins away to the childless woman who employs her as a cleaner, is played by Bernie Nolan, the former lead singer of The Nolans.

She handles the songs as well as you would expect and makes a decent fist of the acting.

But the central energy comes from Paul Crosby - a member of the original London cast - who is outstanding as Mickey, the scally twin who lives an unprivileged life which contrasts sharply with that of Eddie (Tom Fairfoot).

We know Eddie is posh because he knows what a dictionary is at the age of seven. Alan Calvert

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