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Explore how the theme of different social worlds is presented in
Blood Brothers by Willy Russell. What comments might Russell be
making about his twins
You should write about
· Mrs Johnstone and Mrs Lyons
· Edward and Mickey
· The Policeman
· The Narrator
This essay is about the play Blood Brothers by Willy Russell. I will
be discussing the two main female characters in the play, Mrs
Johnstone and Mrs Lyons and how they take part in the important events
of the play. I am also going to look at other aspects, like their
social statuses and how each receive different treatment altogether
from others surrounding them. This will help me evaluate how Willy
Russell has presented different social worlds to the audience, and how
they are seen. Also I am going to be seeing how Willy Russell’s
background could possibly affect his views.
Blood Brothers is the tale of two twin brothers who are secretly
separated at birth and are forced to live very different lives apart
from each other. Upon growing up these two brothers, upon chance, meet
each other and strike up a friendship together, while all along being
totally ignorant to their fraternity. This can only end in tragedy, as
this terrible secret being kept from them cannot stay hidden for ever,
so in the end both brothers end up dying together in an inevitable
blood bath, upon finding out about the hidden secret.
Because the play appears to have been set in the 1970’s/ 1980’s,
around Liverpool, there is a lot about striking and major redundancies
in it. Also, about people moving out of the city to the country (i.e.
Skelmersdale), for a better life and good job prospects. This kind of
situation seems to emulate what happened to the director Willy Russell
during his childhood, as he too moved from the very much
industrialised area around Liverpool. Upon moving out into the country
he says that “compared to Huyton it was paradise” which seems to show
his dislike of industrial areas such as Huyton.
At the beginning of the play there is a prologue which is designed to
show how fate is meant to play an important role ion the play. The
prologue is the ending of the play read out at the beginning. So, in
giving the audience the ending at the beginning they begin to feel the
story’s elements locking together as the play wears on. This makes for
the audience in having a terrible awareness of what is to happen, so
tragically, to the brothers and also gives a very strong sense of
fate’s hand in the disaster, which reinforces the importance of
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situation, and thus making it more melodramatic. So this dramatic
stages the end of the play at the beginning, suggesting that fate will
have a part in the succession of events due to the foreboding
prediction which has been unveiled at the beginning.
Also the title “Blood Brothers” instantaneously on the first glance
gives an impression of a sad and doomed quality to be unfolded in the
play due to the word “blood” which makes people think of death and
tragedy. This word “blood” gives it a rather morbid atmosphere and a
strong sense of looming, foreboding danger lurking ahead. Also the
parallel meaning is very interesting to speculate on as Mickey and
Edward, apart from being brothers, also took part in a ritual of
childhood bonding to make themselves blood brothers. So the title
really represents a counter point and contrasts the reality of their
lives and that they are truly brothers in every way, even brothers in
The two characters who, it seems are meant to somewhat embody the two
different social classes ( Mrs Johnstone as the generic working class
single mum, and Mrs Lyons as the rich and spoilt woman of the upper
class) are very different to each other. Mrs Johnstone is shown to be
caring and loving mother who loves children and strives to do the best
she can for them, despite all the circumstance being against her.
“The welfare have been on to me”.
Shows how she is having problems with keeping her children an how
obviously she doesn’t want to lose them because, though she doesn’t
really have sufficient money to keep them she knows she’s a good
mother to them. It also seems to show how that it must be a reasonably
normal thing for her as it is somewhat of an offhand comment as though
it is a regular occurrence.
The play seems to portray her as possessing some sort of natural
beauty but the weight of time has caught up with her and she no longer
looks her real age but, in fact, much older.
“He told me I was sexier than Marilyn Monroe, my skin was soft as
She seems to contain contradicting qualities and despite looking
older than her real age, is still somewhat appealing despite the
ravages of time having affected her. Also the constant mention of
dancing seems to suggest that Mrs Johnstone was once quite a dancer,
and so can easily impress, and even seduce people around her with her
In the Lyceum production of “Blood Brothers” in Sheffield it is
interesting to note on the appearance of both Mrs Johnstone and Mrs
Lyons. Mrs Lyons dresses very class
Mr Lyons is a rich woman who is married to a wealthy businessman. She
is seen as being a woman who is married to a wealthy businessman and
receives all that she desires.
“I need about 50 pounds”.
This point shows how she can just ask for what she wants and gets it
without question and also how her husband is so rich that he has that
sort of sum of money in his back pocket as change. Also in the play
there is a rather in depth description of Mrs Johnstone’s appearance
whereas it says nothing of what Mrs Lyons looks like. This seems to
give the impression that Mrs Lyons is rather plain and normal looking
and there is nothing distinctive about her to see. It is also hard to
tell whether her love for children is a false pretence or whether she
does genuinely love children in the way that Mrs Johnstone does. It is
difficult to say whether she loves children for what they are or for
how they can make her look and complete her chosen family based
lifestyle. So when the opportunity of having a child presents itself
in Mrs Johnstone she seems to strive harder and harder to get what she
wants, in this case, one of the twins. This could be interpreted as
determination, but I believe that it shows how obsessive and pushy she
can be when trying to get what she wants and not receiving it
The contrasts between the actual personalities and characters of Miss
Johnstone and Mrs. Lyons are also very clearly shown throughout the
play but these characteristics are also mirrored within where each
character resides. There is a clear and distinct line between the two
social worlds and it is blatantly obvious as Miss Johnstone and Mrs.
Lyons are shown to live at opposite ends of the social scale, Mrs.
Lyons in a respectable area with everything money can buy, and Miss
Johnstone in a rundown semi on a council estate. This becomes even
clearer when Mickey says “up in the park” which seems to suggest that
it is above the Johnstone’s status and that it is attractive and open
in comparison to the estate.
It also seems that neither parent wanted their children mixing with
each other and also seemingly, boys from a different social class.
Mrs. Lyons states “You see why I don’t want you mixing with boys like
that! You learn filth from them,” after Eddie swears at her. It seems
to confirm her stereotypical views about the nature of people who were
less well off than her, which obviously includes how she sees Mickey
There is also a clear difference in the language and vocabulary that
is used by both different sets of people. For example Eddie refers to
his mother as “my mummy” which seems to be a rather mummy’s boy thing
to say and a bit soppy and girly and also something a somewhat posh
child would say. In comparison Mickey, who lives in a rougher
environment, refers to his mother as “me mam” which is a rather
typical thing for someone living as a child in working class
Liverpool. He tends to be more colloquial and use more informal and
slangy language and tends to abbreviate his words and pronounce them
all in the proper way. Mickey doesn’t enunciate the ends of his word
(for example he says “Yeh” instead of “Yes”) whereas Eddie has a much
more formal way of pronunciation. Russell uses this well as their
difference in language is a somewhat subtle indicator of the
differences in their upbringing. It also seem to show how the Lyons
have worked so hard to lose their accent that they have no real
identification where as the Johnstones have retained their regional
identification and so have more tight to be there then the middle
Another big part of language which is used by both boys, eventually,
is the matter of swearing. When Edward meets Mickey he is very polite
and rather innocent but upon being introduced to Mickey he begins to
take on his habits. Mickey swears most regularly whereas Edward does
not and Mickey even has to explain the meaning of one of his words to
him, which shows little Edward knew of it. As they spend more and more
time with each other Edward, inevitably, begins to swear just like
Mickey, who had affected him so. As well as Mickey having to teach
Eddie some of the words he knows, Eddie on the other hand has to tell
Mickey what a dictionary is.
EDWARD: “When I get home I’ll look it up in the dictionary”.
MICKEY: “In the what?”
This shows how unrehearsed Mickey is in actually knowing about
educational things, even something as simple as a dictionary. He
doesn’t even know what it is and hasn’t seemed to have heard of one.
This is probably owing to his working class upbringing where a
dictionary is such an obsolete thing in their lives that no use could
come of one if introduced to them, even if they knew what it was.
Another thing which highlights the differences in social worlds is
that when both Mickey and Edward have their first meeting, Edwards
seems more than happy to share his sweets with Mickey, who seems very
surprised at this act of generosity.
“Round here if y’ask for a sweet, y’have to ask about, about twenty
This is because Edward is used to having sweets regularly as he is
rich enough to afford such a commodity. But on the other hand, Mickey
sees sweets as being a rare treat and something to be coveted and
guarded closely and is obviously very surprised at being offered a
sweet let alone given a handful of them.
In recreation both children have different ways of entertainment. For
example, Mickey and his siblings are forced to create their own games
using their creative imaginations to keep themselves occupied due to
the distinct lack of any physical aids or toys to entertain
themselves. In comparison to Eddie, who has various toys and books
etc. to use in his own entertainment and enjoyment, but these don’t
require any imagination and it seems that the absence of having anyone
to share his enjoyment with turned Eddie into being rather shy and
having, as a result, to stay in his garden in a sort of isolation.
Both children go to separate schools as well which each show a
distinct difference in social classes. For example Eddie attends a
private boarding school but Mickey goes to a state school.
This distinct difference in class is shown well in the production at
Sheffield as the more outgoing character of Mickey is very rough
looking, clothed in old and worn hand me downs which are over sized.
In comparison to Eddie whose costume is very much exaggerated in that
he always is in smart clothes and looks very formal even when playing.
Also with the class comes the different treatment, according to class,
that is shown towards people by others. The policeman used by Russell
to show this differentiating treatment in the play ‘Blood Brothers’ is
a very interesting character because in the policeman is shown how
people react differently to others just as a result of what social
class they belong to. The policeman shows how clear the segregation of
the different classes actually is, and seems to embody the generic
views of people belonging to each class and how they should be
“You don’t wana end up in court again do y?”
In this remark issued by the policeman to Miss Johnstone it can be
seen that rather than asking a normal question it seems to be that he
is rather threatening in his questioning of her addresses her in a
blatantly rude manner which seems to show how little he thinks of her.
It also seems to show how he holds a reasonable amount of contempt for
her just owing to the fact of her social status and class.
“Keep them in order Missis or it’ll be the courts for you”.
This seems to show in his threatening tone that he is rather nasty to
Miss Johnstone and seems to be addressing her in a very informal
manner. The policeman seems to have the idea that he is above her and
their talk is more of a confrontation than a meeting. He constantly
seems to be trying to make an impression through scaring her and
intimidation, despite rudely offending her with his manner rather,
than trying to be friendly and nice and shows a blatant disdain for
working class people for whatever reason.
But when the policeman is faced with a new type of person coming from
a completely different social class his mannerisms involved in his
approach dramatically change.
This polite and respectful tone is how the policeman resolves to
address Mr Lyons despite the fact that he is no more a sir than the
policeman and even though Mr Lyons is of no superior rank to him per
se. Despite this he still refers to him as this due to the fact that
he is wealthy and thus belongs to a higher class than that of Miss
Johnstone’s. Due to the difference in treatment which he uses he seems
to be encouraging the social classes to continue in remaining separate
and maintains the prejudice which is shown towards people who aren’t
as well off as some. When the policeman arrives he seems to be subtly
asking for permission from Mr Lyons allowing him to enter his house
which shows how wary he is of offending him. As he enters he takes off
his helmet and proceeds in accepting a glass of scotch from Mr Lyons.
This seems to be an act of lowering his own status in courtesy of Mr
Lyons to that of a more informal one and consequently relaxing the
seriousness and formality of the visit. When the policeman proceeds to
explain the situation he seems to be blaming the other kids involved
rather than blame it on the Lyons’ son.
“It was more of a prank really”.
Shows how he is trying to play down the seriousness of the event so as
to keep on their good side and to not upset them.
He also seems to be constantly looking for the permission to say, or
ask something rather than say it, in fear of making an offence out of
Russell seems to be using the policeman as a sort of device to comment
on his society. He uses people as devices to great effect and the one
who is implemented to the best effect is the Narrator
The main theme of Willy Russell’s play, “Blood Brothers” is whether
fate is in control over what happens to the characters or whether each
of their respective social classes are to blame for what happens to
each of them. The narrator plays an important part in this decision
throughout the play he is constantly raising the question in his
narrative of whether superstition or class is to blame.
“There’s shoes upon the table an’ a joker in the pack”.
This is an extract from one of the narrator’s speeches where he uses
old superstitious sayings to give somewhat of a hint as to what fate
looms over the characters. All of his sayings are traditionally used
to show bad luck and how something bad is going to happen.
“The salts been spilled and a looking glass cracked”.
Once again the narrator draws the attention towards superstition and
is trying to create a sense of inevitability where the bad outcome he
predicted for Mickey and Edward at the start of the play cannot be
escaped and that their grisly ending, as foreseen, is slowly being
draw closer by Russell. It seems that everything that goes on in the
play is set in stone by the narrator and what he foresees cannot be
averted and is bound to happen. The narrator could even be pictured as
being someone like the devil, a dark figure who is always there,
watching, waiting until the characters succumb to the predicted fate
set by him for them.
The play also seems to be trying to find out whether there is a shred
of truth in superstition and whether people are right to believe in it
or if there is a more down to earth or reasonable reason for people’s
lives going badly and what happens to them. He is the person who seems
to know all about their dark destinies and is always there, just on
the edge of the action presiding over the characters making sure that
they follow the right path set for them. This is very much how the
director at the Lyceum production showed the narrator. He made him
seem like on an on stage Fate to give the audience something to see
fate as being. It would also make it easier to believe that fate could
have a part in what happens in the play as it is a presence that can
be seen and is more realistic to the audience.
On the other hand the social class of the characters could be what
affects whether they succeed or fail in life. Perhaps it is their
upbringing and inherited attitudes towards life due to the conditions
they were exposed to, which shaped their decisions for good or bad and
so could have a say in how they make their decisions.
For example, Mickey only gets involved in crime because he has no
money and needs it to support his new family. If he had been part of
the upper class then he would be at no loss for money and wouldn’t be
desperate to get what money he could and so wouldn’t be turned to
crime. But it shows how in the working class he has developed a sense
of pride and feels how he must keep his self respect whatever the
consequences because sometimes ones self respect matters more to
someone than money does and keeping it is essential.
Also when Mickey is made redundant form his factory job he is left
with no work as a result of the recent recession and is jobless. This
decision is made by Mr Lyons, the big man of the factory, and member
of the upper class. But for some reason he, one man isn’t the one who
is laid off but instead 20 ordinary workers lose their jobs so as he
can keep his. This is an obvious show of how different social classes
are treated very differently and how the treatment of someone can be
blamed on where they come from. Russell effectively dramatizes this
depiction by exaggerating working class suffering by having Mickey
fired while, simultaneously being fired. He uses the narrator to
juxtapose the articulated problem (fate) with the seen problem (class)
by making him ask the question of whether it was class or superstition
at the end. This poses the audience to think on what they thought the
Russell’s background has very much to do with his views expressed in
and throughout the play. He obviously doesn’t like the kind of factory
working way of life designated to his class. The life designated to
“factory fodder” as he was at school. And how he was forced to
struggle free from the cruel industrial system that he had been born
into and society’s expectations, through hard work which he shouldn’t
of had to do just because he was of a working class background. He
From this play it seems that Russell had intended to discuss class
divisions through language, music and imagery to give it a more
light-hearted feel to it. He also was making comments on the Recession
of the 1980s and also an outcry against Thatcherism. Though,
traditionally, comedies do not end in death, Russell blends both
comedy and tragedy successfully.