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Presentation Transcript
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Willy Russell was born just after the Second World War (1947) in Whiston on the edge of Liverpool. He was born into a working-class family and environment that was to shape much of his development and literary work. Like Arthur Miller, another playwright with a working-class background, he would also draw on his childhood and early adult experiences for the subject matter of his work.

Russell did not perform particularly well at school and there was no clear indication of a literary career ahead — although Russell does admit he enjoyed reading, and apparently thought about this as an occupation at a young age.

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Russell ended up becoming a ladies’ hairdresser, and running his own hair salon. Sound familiar? Although he found this unfulfilling, it gave him time to read and write (much like Rita’s situation). Eventually he returned to studying and he did ‘O’ level English Literature at night school, and finally saved up enough money to study at college full-time. As you can see, there is a great deal of similarity between Rita’s and Russell’s own life experiences.

Russell has written a number of acclaimed plays, including Blood Brothers (1981), and Shirley Valentine (1986), which, like Educating Rita, has been turned into a film.

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Marilyn

Monroe

slide6

Marilyn Monroe

Intro – explain who she was – link to BB

Para 2 – References in songs – positive

Para 3 – other references – negative

Para 4 – Similarities between her life and those of characters in BB

Para 5 – why has WR used her: effect of lack of love, tragedy, ambiguous circs of death.

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1 Introduction

  • One of legendary icons in history – a lifestyle which others could only dream of: success, beauty and glamour;
  • should have been one of the happiest people alive, but had severe emotional and mental problems – like M and Mrs L.
  • mention at the beginning of the play forewarns the audience that the tale will end in tragedy
  • born to single mother who couldn’t cope
  • lived with foster parents
  • married three times but no children; great need to be loved
  • drug dependency and addiction
  • questions about the way she died
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2 Songs

Mentioned at beginning of both acts – mostly positively, but symbolises how lives can turn sour.

Music 2 (p1) – prominent influence on Mrs J’s life – compared with her in chorus, symbolises dreams of better times, a change in her life, hope for the future, but with jarring note when husband goes off with another woman who “looks a bit like MM”.

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3other references – negative

Music 20 (p27) – although generally positive in tone, ominous note when she hopes Edward will be “OK / Not like Marilyn Monroe.”

Music 35 (p62) – tone turned negative: references to MM’s later life – “jail’s sent him off the rails…he treats his ills with daily pills…You’d think he was dead / Like Marilyn Monroe” - hints at an early death.

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4 Similarities to characters in the book:

all want more out of life

Mrs J - looks, deserted by husband, suffers tragedy in life

Mrs L – no children, MM’s mother had mental problems like Mrs L

Eddie – brought up by foster parents

Mickey – behaves according to type (working class) as did MM (dizzy blonde), drug dependency

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5 Why has WR used her:

Shows how lack of love & biological parenting can have profound and lasting effect

Seems to follow Mrs J throughout life, so we have a sense of inevitability of a tragic outcome.

Symbolises hope and people’s expectations, but also tragedy: reprises of MM theme depict the rise and fall of the lady herself.

Ambiguous circumstances of MM’s death echoed in death of M and E – was it superstition or class? Left open to personal interpretation, as is death of MM.

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Superstition

Intro – mention narrator’s words at end of play

Para 2 – Mrs Johnstone

Para 3 – Mrs Lyons

Para 4 – Other characters (children, E and M mingle blood)

Para 5 – Narrator

Conclusion – your thoughts?

slide14

At the end of the play, the narrator gives us the choice:

“Do we blame superstition for what came to pass?

Or could it be what we the English have come to know as class?”

There is certainly a lot of superstition mentioned in the play, and it may be Mrs J’s superstitious nature which eventually causes the death of her two sons.

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Mrs Johnstone despite her protestations,

“I’m not superstitious”

introduces superstition when Mrs L puts new shoes on the table:

”You never know what’ll happen”

Mrs L picks up on this weakness and makes sure of Mrs J’s silence by introducing/making up one of her own, that

“twins, secretly parted…if either twin learns that he was one of a pair, they shall both immediately die.”

Mrs’s J’s strong beliefs perhaps link with her religion, being a strong Catholic, which is why Mrs L makes doubly sure she will never tell their secret by making her swear on the Bible:

“in the name of Jesus the thing was done”

but this is made to sound evil by introducing the words

“There’s a pact been sealed there’s a deal been born”

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Later in Act 1 it is the sceptical Mrs Lyons, whose character is beginning to break down, who shows superstitious reactions when

(she rushes to the table and sweeps the shoes off)

In Act 2 it seems she is beginning to believe the superstitions she shunned: the narrator asks if she believed she was free

“from the broken looking glass”

when she visits Mrs J, she has finally broken down: she shouts,

“I curse you! Witch!”

The last time we see her is a brief, non-speaking, but vitally important scene, when, as if to finally break the hold M has over E, she believes her own superstition and

(turns M around and points out Edward and Linda to him);

this is the catalyst for the tragedy at the end.

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Other characters join in with the superstitions:

M and E mingle blood to become blood brothers; suggesting that sharing blood will strengthen their bond

All the children are superstitious, believing that

“if you cross your fingers and count from one to ten

You can get up off the ground again,”

a belief which is wished for in Act 2 by the narrator:

“Maybe if you counted to ten and kept your fingers crossed

It would all be just a game and no one would have lost.”

Mrs J tells E to go home

“before the bogeyman gets you”,

a superstition which is scoffed at by Mrs L –

“the sort of thing a silly mother might say to her children”

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The Narrator is character who draws our attention to superstition and keeps referring to it:

It begins when Mrs L puts

“shoes upon the table”

and each song adds new superstitions to the list:

“joker in the pack…the salt’s been spilled…looking glass cracked…one lone magpie…walking on pavement cracks” –

the list of things to avoid seems endless;

the result of breaking the superstitions seems to be that

“The devil’s got your number”.

As the play progresses, the devil becomes closer and closer, as does the tragedy, until

“he’s callin’ your number up today”, when the debt

“must be paid”

Yet he is the one who casts doubt upon superstition as the reason for the events:

“or could it be what we, the English, have come to know as class”

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Class

Intro – mention historical setting: Liverpool, Thatcherism, class divisions

Para 2 – set design

Para 3 – deprivation of working class

Para 4 – attitudes – scene with policeman

Para 5 – education

Conclusion – effect of class on lives of M and E – M’s dying words

slide22

1 BB is a musical set in Liverpool in Thatcher-run England; it examines the social divisions at the time by showing the lives of twins born to working-class Mrs J, one of whom is given away to middle-class Mrs L who cannot have children; therefore any differences are going to result from the way they are brought up: nurture, not nature.

slide23

2 Symbolically seen in set design: one half of stage is always M’s home, the other E’s: opposite poles; contrast evident especially in first act in run-down, dilapidated houses where there is a lot of crime on L of stage and “big” more expensive homes “up in the park” on right, but still evident in newer but cheap-looking council homes in Act 2.

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3 Deprivation of working classes focused on in opening scenes: with “seven hungry mouths to feed” she can only dream of “ham, an’ jam, an’ spam”; she’s “dead worried about havin’ another baby” and knows that kids “can’t live on love alone” and has to buy everything on “easy terms” although it soon has to be re-possessed. Contrast with Mrs L’s lifestyle seen throughout song “My Child” where she dreams of Eddie living in a “palace” and not having to “worry where his next meal was coming from”.

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4 Division is most apparent in the scene with the policeman in Act 1 - to Mrs L: “more of a prank” to Mrs J “a seriouscrime”, even though it was E who was cheeky to the policemen! (Due to social class: Lyons family have more money and thus more power; indicates how people are judged by class and how M and E are likely to be treated later in life) (examine difference in policemen’s attitude to two families here in detail)

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5 Differences in education is also significant: in Act 1 we see the differences in language between M and E: M swears, using the “F-word”; E says he will “look it up in the dictionary” – M doesn’t know what that is! M, however, is more street-wise and can teach E lessons about life.

In Act 2: two successive scenes: one in state school, one in private school – develop contrasts. E: “Talk of Oxbridge”; M: “when you can’t get a job”.

Prospects? E: “Why is a job so important? I’ve got money, lots of it.” Gets a good job on the city council and has money and power M suspended from school, starts work in a factory, laid off then unemployed: “after being fucked off from everywhere, it seems like it was paradise.”

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6 Throughout, we see the effect that class on the lives of M and E. At beginning, both boys envy each other, seen in the song “My Guy”. By the end M’s situation is so bleak that E can only pity him, but M’s final words show how he still wishes he “could have been him”. Nearly every character is a victim, whether working class, preferring a more secure, luxurious lifestyle, or middle class, preferring a more relaxed lifestyle. Russell comments on this and even hints that this may be the cause of what happens at the end of the play – “Could it be what we, the English, know as class?” – Your view?

slide29

Violence

Intro – overview of progression of violence

Para 2 – children’s games – song;

other references to toy guns in Act 1

Para 3 – guns in Act 2 uniting three characters

Para 4 – escalation of violence in Act 2: incidents involving Sammy, Mrs Lyons with knife

Conclusion – final scene

slide30

1 Despite Willy Russell’s comments that he’s “not convinced that banning toy guns will do anything towards curbing the aggression in children”, there seems a definite progression in the play from childish games involving mock violence to the violence of adult life, leading eventually to the fatal shooting of both the brothers.

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2 We first see the children playing in Act 1, where there is a fantasy scene: the friends begin with a game of cowboys and Indians; gradually the carnage grows to a vaster scale where guns become bombs and more and more people are killed. Of course, no one is killed in reality because “you know that if you cross your fingers /and if you count from one to ten /you can getup off the ground again/ it doesn’t matter/ the whole thing’s just a game.” (p23)

slide32

3 Toy guns dominate the lives of the children in Act 1: when we first meet Sammy he is wielding a toy gun (p18); M’s first interchange with his brother involves the theft of his “best” gun (p19) and ironically, when E arrives home his father presents him with a toy gun, at which Edward is “delighted” (p20). Another irony is that for his parting gift, E gives M a toy gun, (p32) perhaps, in retrospect, an ominous omen. Even Linda is involved in the games with guns: in addition to the “Kids Game”, she is the one who always manages to hit the target when they “shoot the little thingy” off the statue in the park with Sammy’s air rifle. (p26) (M never was a very good shot)

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4 In Act 2, the violence soon escalates. There two brief references to the way that shooting unites the three friends: in the “Light Romance” when E mimes shooting at the statute (p66), reminding us of their innocent friendship in Act 1; and in the fairground scene, where Linda again triumphs (p52), perhaps this time preparing the audience for the way in which guns are going to separate them. In addition, there are two incidents involving knives: the scene on the bus where Sammy threatens the conductor, and the unexpected attempt on Mrs Johnstone’s life by a deranged Mrs Lyons.

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5 Sammy’s armed raid on the bus with a knife (p40) is a precursor for the armed robbery which leads to M’s incarceration. Sammy kills in the second armed robbery (p62); in a contrast to the fantasy sequence, the narrator points out that “maybe if you counted to ten and kept your fingers crossed / It would all be just a game and then no one would have lost.” (p62)

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6 This all builds up to the final scene, one of carnage: Mickey’s ineptness with guns results in him accidentally “blow{ing] Edward apart” when he waves the gun in his direction (NB it is the gun which “explodes”, not M who shoots); he even confesses: “I was gonna shoot y’. But I can’t even do that. I don’t even know if the thing’s loaded.” (p69). In his turn M is also “blown away” by the police when four of their guns “explode”: this violent image is the last we see before narrator’s final comment and Mrs J’s moving “Tell me it’s not true”.

  • 7 Your views?
slide37

Dreams

Intro – contrast with real life, effect?

Para 2 – Marilyn Monroe

Para 3 – maternal dreams

Para 4 – most of characters want someone else’s life

Para 5 - dreams of future almost always dashed

Conclusion – all dreams become unreachable

slide38

1Introduction

  • Most of characters have unfulfilled dreams which contrast with the stark reality of life.
  • Most don’t come true – feeling of hopelessness: “living on the never, never” and the “price you’ll have to pay”.
  • Audience’s hope is increase by dreams which throws tragedy of ending into greater relief.
slide39

2 Marilyn Monroe

  • ideal figure: women want to be like her; yet tragic ending
  • both milkman and judge indulge in fantasies about her;
  • emphasised by repetition of song (one of first and last) with mood changes from positive to negative:

“You’d think he was dead / Like Marilyn Monroe”

  • links to Edward:

“I’d know some real birds / Apart from those in my dreams”

slide40

3 Maternal dreams shared by Mrs J and Mrs L:

  • both wish E was their son; each has dreams for his future: “a credit to me”
  • Song acts as a soliloquy for both mothers to show real feelings, “I’ve dreamed of all the places.”
  • but develops a sinister note after narrator’s comment: “There’s a pact been sealed, there’s a deal been born.”
slide41

4 Most of the characters want someone else’s lives:

  • Mrs J wants a better life: “We’ll live like kings…like Marilyn Monroe”
  • Mrs L covets Mrs J’s children: ”We’ve been trying for such a long time now”
  • M wants to be grown up like his brother: “I wish I was our Sammy”;
  • ironically, when he’s older, he wishes he were younger!
  • E and M reflect on their own bad features and each other’s good qualities; “I wish that I could be like…that guy” - ironic
  • E envies M’s relationship with Linda seen in song “if I was that guy”
  • M jealous of E: “You’re still a kid. An’ I wish I could be as well, Eddie”
  • The embodiment of all the unreachable hopes and dreams are found in M’s last words: ”I could have been him!”
  • he resents his working class roots and wanted the same opportunities as E; he blames all his lost dreams on class – but this may not be the case.
slide42

5 Dreams of future almost always dashed; there’s always a price to pay and the life they want is always out of reach:

  • Mrs J’s seen in song ”Bright New Day”: “where we can begin again”
  • Mr Lyons makes empty promises: “I will, I promise you, have more time”.
  • Mickey’s relationship with E: “The Christmas party’s gonna be on me”
  • E’s with M: “I thought we always stuck together”
  • Linda: “Isn’t it great? If he’s workin’ an’ we’ve got our own place he’ll be able to get himself together an’ stop takin’ those friggin’ things…”
  • Linda: “The girl would sing the melody but the woman stands in doubt / And wonders what the price would be for letting the young girl out”
slide43

6 All dreams become unreachable, or reachable only with a price

  • hopes that they were possible sent many (Mickey, Mrs L, Mrs J, Linda) into madness and frustration.
  • It was Mrs L’s one dream to have a child and Mrs J’s dream to give one child an opportunity in life that led to the spiral of events ending in E and M’s deaths.
slide45

Dancing

Intro – what is the general effect?

Para 2 – expression of happiness in acts 1 and 2

Para 3 – sign of growing maturity

Para 4 – negative connotations

Conclusion – changes, as do several other aspects, including M and E’s relationship

slide46

1 Dancing is one of main themes of play and runs parallel to the storyline. It appears many times throughout the musical, often linking Mrs J and Marilyn Monroe, a screen idol of the time, suggesting the former’s dreams of better times. It is often used as an expression of happiness and a metaphor for life, but also has other meanings, suggesting nostalgia and sadness and becomes sinister towards the end of Act 2.

slide47

2 Play opens with joyful theme of dancing – this is how she met her husband, suggesting happiness (“We went dancing”), but she also lost her husband when she was pregnant and “twice the size” of MM. When Mrs J learns that she is to be re-housed, she responds by dancing with the picture of the Pope (p36)

slide48

3 The beginning of Act 2 echoes the opening of the play, as Mrs J finds happiness again, this time dancing with the milkman, because she is able to pay her bills. Even the judge in Sammy’s trial offers to take her dancing, perhaps trying to regain his lost youthful happiness!

slide49

4 It is also a sign of growing maturity: M and E have begun to dance in their own style, showing that they too have begun to grow up (p38) (NB E is dancing awkwardly, perhaps suggesting that there is tension between himself and his mother). This is also seen on p50 when M and E have been to see the adult movies, a rite of passage, and E grabs Linda’s friend and begins to dance.

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5 However, later the symbolism of dancing takes on negative connotations. Things begin to go sour for M when he is coerced into helping Sammy with the robbery in order to take Linda dancing (p61). He begins to lose control of his life when he takes the pills given by the prison doctor to control his depression. This lack of control is conveyed by the metaphor describing how his mind’s “gone dancing” (p63), just like he can’t control the events that are about to unfold and the final scene here he shoots E. Dancing here has negative connotations, it shows an escape from reality, which eventually leads to madness. At the same time, dancing is used to show how Linda finally seems to be gaining happiness after all the pain when Mrs J describes how she and E “dance as friends”, reflecting the good times they had when they were younger.

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6 In conclusion the theme of dancing is used mostly to convey feelings of happiness. However, Willy Russell also uses it subtly as a way to express sorrow and sadness. He has turned a happy activity into something quite the opposite. This reflects the way he turned M and E’s innocent childhood friendship into a hatred (on M’s part) that resulted in their deaths.

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1 Throughout the play we see two boys who share the same genes, growing up in the same town, but having two totally different experiences because of their class. Although Mickey and Eddie are twins, their upbringing made them turn out as two very different people. At the end of the play, Russell brings the two brothers together so we can see the differences between them, how successful Eddie has become and how everything has gone wrong for Mickey because of his class.

slide55

Mickey

  • We can feel sorry for Mickey because:
  • his mother could never afford anything “seven hungry mouths to feed”
  • his older brother used to steal the toys that he did have “our Sammy’s robbed me other gun”
  • he was bullied by his brother
  • his family were treated badly by tradesmen and police because of their poverty
  • as he got older, things got worse – he lost his job and had no money, so was forced to help Sammy on the robbery and was

“sent down for seven years”

  • he couldn’t handle prison life and had to take anti-depressants: “his mind’s gone dancing”
  • Mickey is jealous of Eddie because he has an easier life. At the end before he dies, he says “how come you got everything and I got nothin’ “

His last words are “I coulda been him!”

slide56

However:

He has the love of a mother who “loves the bones” of everyone of her children and won’t give them up for anything.

He has the love of Linda who stays by him through thick and thin. “I love y’ Mickey an’ I don’t care who knows”

slide57

Eddie

  • We can feel sorry for Eddie because:
  • although he has every material thing he could wish for, he has no friends until he meets Mickey: “Will you be my blood brother?”
  • he envies Mickey because he says “smashing things” and is allowed to run around with “dirty knees” – he is rarely let out of his mother’s sight
  • he envies Mickey his mother “She’s smashing, your ma”
  • whereas his own mother is known as “the mad woman who lives on the hill”
  • he also loves Linda, but holds back because he knows that she belongs to Mickey: “But I’m not saying a word”
  • he even selflessly (and painfully) brings the two together
  • although he is very successful, going to university and having a position on the council, he still envies Mickey because he has the love of Linda.
slide58

However:

He has every material want catered for, and even says he wouldn’t care if he had no money.

He has the advantage of a private and university education and a well-paid, influential job.

slide59

Overall, you can feel sorry for both Mickey and Eddie in different ways. It is ironic that Mickey is jealous of Eddie because of his material possessions and Eddie is jealous of Mickey because of relationships with his mother and with Linda. They both wish they were the other.

“If I was him…”

At the end of the play, Mickey is probably the one we feel most sympathy for because everything has gone wrong for him; however, Eddie’s life wasn’t perfect either.

slide60

Who is to blame for the deaths of Mickey and Eddie?

Mrs Johnstone

Sammy

Linda

Who is to blame?

Edward

Mickey

Mrs Lyons

Mr Lyons

slide61

Mrs Johnstone

  • gave Edward away so that she could keep her other children
  • swore an oath on the Bible that she would never tell Edward that she was his biological mother – but broke that oath when Mickey was threatening to kill his brother

“Nobody must ever know”

  • Linda
  • rekindled her friendship with Edward when her marriage with Mickey was going through a rough patch

“She turns Mickey round and points out Linda and Eddie to him”

  • when Mrs Lyons showed him the two together, this gave Mickey more reason to hate Edward, even doubting whether Sarah was really his

“First it was just ciggies, now it’s a house.”

slide62

Mrs Lyons

  • persuaded Mrs Johnstone to give her son away
  • used promises and threats and superstition maliciously to make the reluctant mother part with one of her sons
  • caused the final rage in Mickey by pointing out the closeness of Linda and Eddie
  • Mr Lyons
  • by refusing to adopt, made his lonely wife so desperate that she resorted to subterfuge to persuade Mrs Johnstone to part with one of her sons
  • his commitment to his work meant that he was never there ofr Edward or his wife, and failed to see the mental problems his wife was having
  • His obsession with keeping costs down cost Mickey his job and was the reason why Mickey agreed to take part in the robbery
slide63

Sammy

  • bullies his younger brother and sets a bad example, almost forcing him to take part in the robbery
  • this results in the jail sentence which sends Mickey off the rails, making him dependent on pills, which in turn affects his marriage
  • the owner of the gun which kills Eddie – Mickey knows where it is kept
slide64

Edward

  • lack of sensitivity towards Mickey (by not understanding that his offers were a blow to Mickey’s pride) causes resentment and jealousy

“Look! Look! Money, lots of it! Have some!”

  • his attempts to comfort Linda when her marriage was in trouble lead to the final showdown
  • Mickey
  • His addiction to pills causes the rift between himself and Linda

“Give me me tablets. I need them.”

  • It also clouds his judgement and results in the paranoia about Edward and Linda
  • It causes him to act impetuously and take the gun when he is angry, unaware of what he is doing
slide65

Overall, each of these characters is in some way responsible for the deaths of Mickey and Eddie. However, some are more guilty than others. After reviewing all the influences, I believe the character who appears mostly to blame is Mrs Lyons, who was the originator of the plan to separate the twins and the one who swore Mrs Johnstone to secrecy by preying on her superstitious nature. She is also the one who ultimately caused Mickey’s rage, making him jealous by showing him Linda with Eddie.

slide66

How do the songs in “Blood Brothers” contribute to an audience’s appreciation of the play?

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How to approach the question

  • Plan.
  • Begin by listing important songs (in order if possible).
  • What does each song add to the play?
  • Are there different purposes?
  • Are any repeated?
  • Which do you think is/are the most important?
slide68

Introduction:

  • “Blood Brothers” was originally written without music. Why did Willy Russell decide to rewrite it adding songs? There seem to be three main purposes: to give the audience background information (as in “Marilyn Monroe”); to develop our understanding of and empathy with characters by revealing their thoughts and emotions (as in “My Child” / “My Friend”/“That Guy”) which could not be conveyed in any other way; and to create or develop a mood (as in “Shoes upon the Table” and “Bright New Day”).
slide69

The first main song is “Marilyn Monroe” sung by Mrs Johnstone at the beginning of the play. It explains Mrs Johnstone’s life up to this point, how her husband took her dancing until she became pregnant and was “twice the size of Marilyn Monroe” and then left her “for a girl they said looked a bit like Marilyn Monroe”, the comparison with the film star showing what Mrs Johnstone would aspire to. The song is reprised at the beginning of Act 2 to explain what has happened since they moved to the country, how “Sammy burnt the school down” and Mickey has started “dancing”. Later in the act it occurs again to fill in details of what happened after Mickey was apprehended by the police. The music which accompanies this song changes, from a light, carefree mood at the beginning, when Mrs Johnstone, despite her life of misfortune, is happy and optimistic, to a more sombre, minor key in Act 2 when she describes how Mickey isn’t coping with life in jail.

slide70

The other recurring song is “Shoes upon the table” sung by the narrator, especially when the characters, Mrs Johnstone and Mrs Lyons, are becoming complacent about their lives, to remind them that “the devil’s got your number”. The lyrics remind the characters and the audience that there is a price to be paid for the deal that was made between the two women. They indicate that the moment of retribution is nearing by changing from “he’s walking past your door” to “he’s knocking at your door”. Both the lyrics and music deliberately sound sinister, changing the mood and building the tension and suspense. Contrastingly, another song, “Bright New Day”, creates a happy mood, revealing the optimism felt by Mrs Johnstone now that she can “begin again” and start afresh when they are rehoused in the country.

slide71

Some song lyrics are repeated to create a contrast, for example, the “Kids’ Games” song has the refrain that if you cross your fingers and count from one to ten you can get up off the ground again: the whole thing’s just a game, revealing their naïve approach to guns; whereas at the end of Act 2 the narrator reminds them that they can’t get up again.

slide72

Other songs reveal the thoughts of the characters and help the audience to empathise with them. “My Child”, sung by both Mrs Johnstone and Mrs Lyons, reveals their shared yearning for a child which will grow up in a secure and loving environment, having everything that it could possibly want – including a “bike with both wheels on!” Ironically, the same tune is used for the two songs sung by Mickey and Eddie: “My Friend” and “That Guy” which both reveal how the boys envy each other’s looks and lifestyles! “Look at his hair; it’s long and wavy…mine’s the colour of gravy”; whilst Edward wishes he was Mickey and knew “some real birds”, Mickey wishes he was Edward so that he knew the “right words”. Perhaps Mrs Lyons took the wrong baby! This is emphasised at the end when Mickey shouts out: “I could have been him!”

slide73

The final song in the play is Mrs Johnstone’s “Tell me it’s not true”, a couple of lines of which were sung at the opening of the play, thus creating a link. However, this final version is much more powerful as the music emphasises the solemn mood, the disbelief and mourning over the sudden deaths of her two sons. The slow tempo and quiet volume create an atmosphere of depression amongst the characters. The lyrics “say it isn’t so; say I’m only dreaming” emphasise how shocked and dismayed Mrs Johnstone is. This song relieves the dramatic build-up towards the shooting and replaces the tension with a solemn note. It is more powerful and would draw more sympathy from an audience than a mere speech would. The way the rest of the cast join in with the final chorus underlines the sorrow.

slide74

The songs are extremely important as they intensify emotion through the music, and express the characters’ true feelings, which could not be done though normal speech alone. They are a good way of setting and changing the mood and atmosphere, as well as an effective way of giving the audience information about the story.

slide75

How does Willie Russell make the ending of the play, from when Linda telephones Eddie, dramatic and moving?

slide76

How to approach the question

  • Plan.
  • Begin by listing main events (in order).

phone call and Narrator’s song – sympathy for L

M with pills; L betrayal with E – sympathy for M

Mrs L telling M about L and E – tension

M’s reaction (gun); “Madman” song – tension mounts

Interchange between E and M; deaths – climax

Mrs J’s song – sombre mood to end

  • How does WR make each event dramatic/moving?
  • What is your response at the end?
  • Willy Russell effectively builds up the tension and drama in the last few scenes of the play. From the moment when Linda betrays Mickey to the final showdown, when both brothers lie dead.
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Firstly the audience sees Linda phoning Eddie, desperate for someone who understands to talk to. Whilst she is on the phone, the narrator describes the person she has become: “She’s washed a million dishes and she’s always making tea.” Like Mrs Johnstone, she has become old before her time, caring for her husband and child and missing out on the fun she should be having as a teenager. Not only this, but her husband is no longer there for her, havng chosen the pills and invisibility over his wife and family: like Mr Johnstone, he has chosen to leave her, even though only in mind, not body. This engages the audience’s concern and sympathy.

The spotlight is on Linda and Edward now, as Mrs Johnstone sings “Light Romance”. In the background, we see Mickey struggling to do what Linda has asked: to stop taking the pills. We see his determination, and at the same time we see Linda and his best friend betraying him. This has a huge effect on the audience, making them feel moved at Mickey’s efforts, but also frustrated by Linda’s terrible mistake.

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The audience is then astonished when Mrs Lyons appears, apparently telling Mickey about Linda and Edward. This makes them feel sympathy for Mickey, but at the same time, tension is created, and concern at what Mickey’s reaction will be, considering the last exchange with Edward and his unstable state of mind, under the influence of the prescribed medication.

The music dramatically changes from Mrs Johnstone’s soft, gentle lyrics and tune to the Narrator’s “Madman” song, with its loud and violent tune and insistent lyrics which prepare us for a reckless response. The repeated refrain continues as we see Mickey grab Sammy’s gun and dash off stage – obviously in search of him. The tension mounts: what will happen ?

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The scene in the council chamber is the climax of the play, made even more tense and exciting by the appearance of actors (Mrs Johnstone and the police) in the auditorium.Finally, the dialogue between Mickey and Edward has the greatest, moving impact on the audience, as we see Mickey waving a gun at Eddie and doubting his loyalty as a friend. “You and Linda were friends when Linda got pregnant, weren’t ya?” The audience feel the anger generated by Mickey and fear for Edward’s life

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Then the atmosphere seems to calm as Mrs Johnstone, ever the calming influence on her son, walks down the aisle. However, she makes the fatal mistake of tell her sons the truth about their parentage: Don’t shoot Eddie; he’s your brother!” The reaction we anticipate does not occur, however, and we see Mickey respond in a completely unexpected way: “Why didn’t you give me away?” We feel a huge amount of sympathy for both Mrs Johnstone and Mickey, but in the same moment, as you are recovering from this twist, Mickey’s “I could have been him!” and accompanying gesture results in the gun “exploding” in his hand and killing his brother. Before you have time to register this, shots are fired from the auditorium, creating even more drama.

The shock you feel is quickly followed by sadness as Mrs Johnstone sings the slow, sad, ironic “Tell me it’s not true”. The whole cast joins in on the last verse, which could symbolise that they all feel upset about what has happened, or perhaps they all feel they had a part in what happened. It leaves you feeling extremely moved.

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Childhood and Adolescence

Through Russell’s depiction of childhood in Blood Brothers, we witness two brothers experience very different upbringings. The contrast between the two brothers, who meet and become friends, brings humour to the first half of the performance. Eddie seems to have suffered from a lack of childhood, as even when we first meet him as a child, he is very adult in his mannerisms and is polite and contained. We sense that Mrs Lyons has been overprotective and has not allowed her young son to interact with other children in messy, noisy childhood games. So it is with awe that Eddie learns from Mickey who is totally untamed; whilst Eddie rides his imaginary horse with the graceful air of a dignitary, Mickey’s horse is wild and foaming at the mouth.

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In Blood Brothers Russell explores the ideas of fate and destiny and creates dramatic irony through the audience’s foreknowledge of the twins’ grim fate, whilst the brothers remain ignorant of their demise. This accentuates the sense of childhood innocence in the first half of the performance. We see Mickey and Eddie indulge in childhood games of gunfights, which we find more poignant as we already foresee their death-scene. This also brings a bitter taste of irony to Mickey’s involvement in a shooting later in the play. This in turn leads to his incarceration, depression and the desperation in which he pulls a gun on his best friend and brother.

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How much does the debate of Nature vs Nurture feature in Russell’s depiction of the brothers?

Do we think that an individual’s identity is formed by the process in which they are nurtured, or raised, or does Russell suggest that heredity (nature) influences an individual’s identity and ingrains a sense of belonging that runs back to your roots? We see that Eddie has been nurtured into a well-spoken, middle-class boy, whereas his twin remains a working-class ruffian. However, when Eddie returns to the Johnstone household we see a change that suggests he is going back to his roots. It is also possible to suggest that fate and heredity are working together to bring the brothers back together. The bond of their friendship disregards childhood fickleness and has a true air of sincerity.

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Social Class

We have already acknowledged the importance of social class throughout the text, within the study of characters and their relationships, identity, and the experience of social class throughout childhood and adolescence. In Blood Brothers, we see social class as a conflict, mirroring the battle between the two mothers. We also see Mickey and Eddie overcoming the class boundaries to secure a bond of friendship and affection.

On stage there are several indications of the class separation that cannot be made as apparent in the text. For example, the use of costume immediately causes us to make an assumption about each character. Eddie appears with his clothes neatly pressed – Mickey appears as if he has just been ‘dragged out of a hedge backwards’.

On the stage, the accents can also be brought to life, again reminding us of the conflict between the classes. Eddie and the Lyons are well-spoken, traditional of the middle and higher classes – suggesting a good education and elocution lessons. The Johnstone family share a broad Liverpudlian accent, suggesting the lack of a ‘proper’ education and implying a connotation of ‘commonness’.

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Surrogate Parenthood

Again, we encounter the idea of ‘Nature or Nurture?’ Mrs Lyons tries her best to make Eddie her own, bringing him up the way she desires; however, Eddie still finds his way back to his roots. Mrs Lyons suffers a dreadful insecurity as a consequence of this, revealing herself as an obsessive and quite aggressive character.

Throughout the play we view the idea of surrogacy as a dangerous concept. We see from the very beginning that Mrs Johnstone is reluctant to give away her own child, and in turn we witness Mrs Lyons’ manipulative nature as she coerces Mrs Johnstone into parting with her son. We know from the beginning that Mickey and Eddie’s separation is going to end in tragedy, so we always foresee their parting as a bad idea. Despite this, we are encouraged to question the ethic and moral issues surrounding the idea of surrogacy.

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Superstition

The superstition imposed upon the play by Mrs Lyons – that should either Mickey or Eddie discover that they are one of a pair, they both will die – becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy – we are reminded constantly of this curse by the Narrator’s repetition of the song, ‘Shoes Upon the Table’. How does the theme of superstition affect the pace of the text/play?

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Social Class

In this country, class effects how people are able to live their lives and the situations they are in.

In 'Blood Brothers' Mrs Johnstone lives in a poor end of Liverpool, struggling to bring up eight children on her own and is forced to give one away to keep the others clothed and fed well enough, whereas Mrs Lyons, whom she works for, lives in a large house, very comfortably in a nice part of Liverpool, she wants children but is unable to have any, even though she is rich, unlike Mrs Johnstone.

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Love and Superstition

Love is a theme, shown by the two women who love their sons but show it in completely different ways. Along with superstition, this is is the basis of the whole story and is a theme that continues throughout the whole play, the consequences of most of the happenings can be traced back to superstition.

It is also the reason for the tragic end of the play. 

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Friendship

There's also the theme of friendship, linked between Mickey, Eddie and Linda and how they are all friends, but it gradually brakes apart, Mickey and Linda's friendship develops into love, and Mickey and Eddie's friendship firstly breaks up when Eddie is forced to move away by his parents, then again later in the play when Mickey becomes depressed he begins to become jealous of Eddie, again leading up to the tragic consequences. Hate then becomes part of the play, as Mrs Lyons comes to despise Mrs Johnstone because of the situation both women are in with the twins.

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Guilt

Mrs Johnstone is fulfilled with the theme of guilt through out most of the play because of giving her son Edward away to Mrs Lyons, but also Mrs Lyons feels guilt because she has lied to everyone about Edward being her own son, she lied to her husband, friends, family and even Edward himself. Mickey also becomes to feeling guilt because he is so depressed he cannot support himself or his family (Linda and their child) and he has to rely on Linda and Mrs Johnstone to actually support him.

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How does Russell create an awareness of social, historical and cultural contexts and influences in the text?

Russell uses the iconic status of Marilyn Monroe as a kind of timeline that parallels the rise and fall of events. At the beginning of the play, Mrs Johnstone is younger and as yet without an extensive family; she compares herself to the young rising star of Marilyn Monroe. Towards the end of the performance, Marilyn Monroe’s demise reflects the sad change in events within the play. The reference to Marilyn Monroe also suggests an era for the play – the late 1950s, early 1960s. This helps us to become familiar with the text and the play, as we already have a knowledge of the era. This means we can also gain an understanding of the stigma and boundaries that surrounded the social classes at that time.

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We must also take into account the economic climate of the time – in the second half of the performance, Russell targets unemployment. Liverpool has been home to one of the highest levels of unemployment in the developed world, with over 25% of the workforce out of a job, and it is important to consider this when discussing Russell’s depiction and own views of class and unemployment. Of course, it is vital to remember that Willy Russell is a Liverpudlian himself, and his experience of the social, historical and cultural high and low points will be firsthand. It is with this knowledge that he creates a gritty depiction of ‘real life’ in the city of Liverpool. With this in mind, look at how Russell views class. What does Blood Brothers tell us about these views? Consider the fact that we have already discussed conflict within the text.

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Russell, despite being male, does not show great support of the father figures within Blood Brothers and instead shows more sympathy for the role of motherhood and the notions of tenderness and nurturing. Mr Lyons plays a relatively small part in the show, often away on business, whilst Mr Johnstone appears at the beginning of the performance as a womaniser who leaves Mrs Johnstone in the lurch with children in tow. In regard to parenthood and brotherhood, can we assume that Russell views the bond of brotherhood to be inseparable, and that nature and truth will out?

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Final thoughts…

Some texts will provoke the reader to question or challenge their own attitudes and assumptions – for instance, To Kill a Mockingbird questions racist attitudes. In the present day, prejudices towards race, class and gender are not widely accepted – however we can understand that this was not the case, even in our recent past. We are not as restrained by class boundaries in modern society, but we can still understand the conflict of the different social classes. Through Blood Brothers Russell encourages us to challenge the assumption that money = happiness. We sympathise with Mrs. Johnstone and grow to understand that despite her background and lack of money she is the better parent. This challenges any assumptions that suggests wealth would afford a better, happier upbringing.

Throughout Blood Brothers, the audience’s sympathy lies with Mrs Johnstone – we know that she gives her own son away, but we see that it is with good intentions, and despite her lack of money and her numerous children, we feel she could give Eddie a happier, more loving childhood.