BLOOD Brothers doesn't so much tug at the heart strings as pluck them with a plectrum to within an inch of breaking point as the Willy Russell classic musical makes a welcome return to the Grand.

In an emotional journey that shows it is not always merry across the Mersey, an assured cast effortlessly lift the writer's northern grit and Scouse wit from the page to the stage.

Steven Palfreman and Craig Whiteley play the two central characters Mickey and Eddie who are twins separated at birth and brought up on different sides of the track.

The result is two boys who seem chalk and cheese - but while Eddie believes he has the blue blood of aristocracy, he is really as red-bloodied as his estranged sibling.

Palfreman and Whiteley steal the show, seamlessly swapping their hilarious portrayals of adolescents to their poignant interpretations of adulthood as the plot switches from comedy to tragedy.

Lyn Paul is wonderful as Mrs Johnstone, skilfully using melodies and movement to symbolise the hope that replaces the drudgery of being a single mother and the guilt of giving away a child to her boss.

And the special effects are so vivid that half the audience, let alone the main protagonists, think they have been shot when the action reaches its dramatic conclusion. MK