The musical ‘Blood brothers’ Review Essay

The musical ‘Blood brothers’ was written by Liverpudlian playwright Willy Russell in 1982. The play is set in the 1960s-1980s. ‘Blood brothers’ expresses the differences between social class and status as we explore the two main characters of Mrs Johnstone; a working mother of lower class struggling to support her family and Mrs Lyons a woman of middle-upper class who is living a luxurious lifestyle. Mrs Johnstone twins, Mickey and Edward are separated at birth and live on different ends of the city this is because she was forced to give one of them away to a desperate Mrs Lyons. The play begins at the end when both of the Johnstone twins are found dead.

Mrs Johnstone is a lower class single mother. Her story is told in ballad; due to the fact that she was ‘in da club’ she had to have a shot gun wedding with her husband. Since there wasn’t much protection back in those days it was frowned upon if you got pregnant before marriage. Eventually her husband left her ‘With seven hungry mouths to feed and one more nearly due’ and ‘for a girl they say who looks a bit like Marilyn Monroe’. Marilyn Monroe is referred to a lot in Mrs Johnstone’s ballad this can be interpreted that they are similar. Marilyn Monroe was a 1950’s film star who was famous for her beauty and talent. She suffered from crippling depression that lead to her overdose suicide. The reference could be that they were both beautiful young women that eventually got depression for different reasons.

Mrs Lyons on the other hand, is happily married to Mr Lyons and she lives in a very luxurious,spacious and big house due to her social class which is better than Mrs Johnstone’s. But sadly she can’t have kids and she gets very lonely as her husband goes on many business trips providing for them. This fact is used to manipulate Mrs Johnstone to giving her one of her twins later in Act One.

Using the context, Russell presents Mrs Johnstone as struggling woman on her own without her husband to provide for her and the children. This is shown in the quotations ‘I said, I said, look, next week I’ll pay y’’, ‘Next week, next week! Next week never arrives around here. I’d be a rich man if next week came.’ and ‘Y’ can’t stop the milk. I need the milk. I’m pregnant’. If we zoom in on the quotes ‘if next week ever came’ and ‘I need the milk. I’m pregnant’ this shows the audience that Mrs Johnstone is in so much debt that she can’t even afford milk which shows how much she is struggling financially. Furthermore, another quotation to support this point is ‘Ey, Mother, I’m starvin’ an’ there’s nothin’ in. There never bloody well is.’ indicates that her family is starving and don’t even have enough money to afford food. Unlike Mrs Lyons who is very wealthy and has more than enough money, with no worries. This can be seen in the words ‘It’s a pretty house isn’t it? It’s a pity it’s so big’ this confirms that Mrs Lyons is in the upper class, she has more than enough money to get whatever she wants and Mrs Johnstone is a cleaner that she hired. 

This comparison shows that Mrs Johnstone is very rushed and has to work to provide for her family to survive whereas Mrs Lyons is very relaxed and doesn’t have to worry about not having food on the table.

Russel shows the audience that Mrs Lyons and Mrs Johnstone have very different personalities. In the beginning of Act One, Mrs Lyons is very chatty and relaxed. This is shown in the quote ‘Hello, Mrs Johnstone, how are you...’. Some upper class people don’t usually talk to their staff but Mrs Lyons will happily talk to Mrs Johnstone to the point that she can open up to her. ‘we thought children would come along… No I’m afraid… we’ve been trying for such a long time now…’ . Whereas Mrs Johnstone is a bit quiet and doesn’t really speak to Mrs Lyons unless she is spoken to which is shown in the quote ‘It’s erm great.’ if we zoom in to ‘erm’ this shows that she didn’t think Mrs Lyons would start a conversation with her and it catches her by surprise. 

Furthermore to add to that point, Mrs Lyons personality definitely changes after Mrs Johnstone’s pregnancy. This is shown in the quotes ‘They’re born, you didn’t notify me.’, ‘I must have my baby. We made an agreement, a bargain. You swore on the bible’ if we look at the phrases ‘We made an agreement, a bargain.’ And ‘You swore on the bible.’ more closely we see that Mrs Lyons is very sharp and formal only talking business and manipulating Mrs Johnstone to get what she wants. Also the quote ‘I know, but why don’t… why don’t you take the week off, on full pay of course.’ indicates that Mrs Lyons wants Mrs Johnstone out of the way because she doesn’t her fussing over her child at work. When Mrs Johnstone does come back from her week off Mrs Lyons isn’t happy that is fussing over Edward. Russel shows this in the quotations ‘No, no, Mrs Johnstone. He’s fine. He doesn’t want to be picked up.’ and ‘If he needs picking up, I shall pick him up. All right?’ This confirms that Mrs Lyons is very possessive over Edward even though he isn’t her biological child. She is also very uncomfortable with Mrs Johnstone being around the baby this is shown in the quotations ‘I don’t want her to hold the baby,’, ‘she’s cooing and cuddling as if she were his mother.’ ‘I think she should go’ and ‘I’ll find somebody who doesn’t spend all day fussing over the baby.’. Those quotes confirms that Mrs Lyons will do anything to get Mrs Johnstone out of picture to the point of firing her. 

The theme of superstition is shown throughout play; a clear example of this would be Mrs Johnstone. This can be seen in the words ‘The shoes… the shoes…’ ‘New shoes on the table, take them off…’ and ‘Oh God, Mrs Lyons, never put new shoes on a table… You never know what’ll happen.’ This is significant because the theme superstition is very important in the play especially Mrs Lyons reaction to Mrs Johnstone superstition ‘(twigging it; laughing) Oh… you mean you’re superstitious?’. Mrs Lyons uses Mrs Johnstone’s superstition to manipulate her into letting Mrs Lyons keep Edward. Russell shows this in the quotes ‘You do know what they say about twins, secretly parted, don’t you?’ ‘They… they say that if either twin learns that he once was a pair, they shall both immediately die.’ and ‘You won’t tell anyone about this, Mrs Johnstone, because if you do, you will kill them.’. If we zoom into the words ‘if you do, you will kill them.’ is reference to the beginning of the musical because the beginning starts at the end when both twins Mickey and Edward are dead. Out of fear Mrs Johnstone is forced to keep Edward with Mrs Lyons because of her extreme superstition and the fear that both kids will die so she is stuck with the guilt of separating the twins for the rest of her life.

In conclusion, by the use of vivid imagery, descriptive writing, social class and dramatic irony at the start of the play. Willy Russel can present the differences between Mrs Johnstone and Mrs Lyons using these techniques. Because of this the first live version of ‘Blood Brothers’ was performed at the Liverpool Playhouse on 8th January 1983.