BLOOD Brothers started out as a short play that toured Liverpool schools in the early 1980s.

"They'd point you in the direction of the hall and you'd find 200 truculent, resentful kids," recalls Willy Russell. "Five actors would walk into that space and without lights or scenery and a minimum of props, just go bang! and grab them. And I have to say it never failed to do that."

Russell's powerful musical about the class divide had a tearful standing ovation at the Alhambra this week, and many of those leaping to their feet were schoolchildren. It's a GCSE staple - "my son had no interest in English at school but the one thing he liked, and still remembers, is Blood Brothers," said a woman I chatted to in the interval - and one of the world's most beloved musicals.

I've seen it countless times but it still moves me. In the haunting opening scene, a group of people gather around two bodies in the shadow of the Liver Building - what follows is a devastating morality tale of twin brothers separated at birth. While Mickey grows up in a cramped terrace, raised by a single mother "living on the never never", Eddie has the privileges of a comfortable middle-class upbringing.

Fate brings the brothers together, first as children then teenagers, but by the time Eddie is at university, with a bright future ahead, Mickey is unemployed, desperate and drifting towards crime and mental illness.

Set in 1980s Liverpool, the show's themes of class and poverty still resonate.

Mrs Johnstone is just about managing to feed her brood when she discovers she's expecting twins - "My husband only has to shake hands and I'm pregnant.

"Well, he must have shaken hands with me just before he left..."

With the bailiffs on her back, she gives one of her babies to her wealthy, childless boss; a decision that will haunt both women.

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: Mother and son: Niki Colwell Evans and Sean JonesMother and son: Niki Colwell Evans and Sean Jones (Image: Jack Merriman)

As the late Bill Kenwright, who produced the show, once said, "Blood Brothers is a very simple story, but everything about it is epic."

The score is terrific - including Easy Terms, My Child and the showstopper Tell Me It's Not True - but at heart it's a powerful, universal tale.

It relies on a strong ensemble taking on multiple roles, including children, and this excellent cast did it proud.

Niki Colwell Evans lit up the stage as Mrs Johnstone, with her powerful singing voice and endearing portrayal of a desperate mother.

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: Niki Colwell Evans gave a powerful performance as Mrs JohnstoneNiki Colwell Evans gave a powerful performance as Mrs Johnstone (Image: Jack Merriman)

The brilliant Sean Jones is the definitive Mickey. His exquisite performance, taking Mickey from cheeky kid to awkward teen to broken man, made us laugh and broke our hearts.

Eddie can be quite a dull character, forever in Mickey's shadow, but talented Joe Sleight brought more depth to the role than I've seen before.

Great performances too from Danny Whitehead as the Narrator, Gemma Brodrick as Linda, the girl loved by both brothers, Sarah Jane Buckley as Mrs Lyons, a woman spiralling out of control, and Timothy Lucas as Sammy.

A must-see show - just don't forget the tissues.

* Blood Brothers runs at the Alhambra until Saturday.