Blood Brothers Revision Booklet - GCSE English Literature

April 15, 2017

Blood Brothers Revision Booklet - GCSE English Literature

Blood Brothers Revision Booklet

Context

Willy Russell

Russell was born in 1947 into a working-class family near to Liverpool. He left school at 15 without academic qualifications and became a hairdresser. By the age of 20 he felt the need to return to education and, after leaving university, he became a teacher at a comprehensive school in his home city.

 

During this time Russell wrote songs for performers and for radio shows. One of his early plays was about the Liverpool pop group the Beatles. He has a love of popular music and this can be seen in many of his plays, but especially in Blood Brothers.

 

Social Context

Blood Brothers was completed in 1981, two years after the Conservative party leader Margaret Thatcher became Prime Minister. She felt that British manufacturing industry had become uncompetitive and saw the cause as weak employers and overly strong trades unions who were, she felt, only too willing to call their members out on strike. She reduced the powers of the workers’ unions and privatised (‘sold off’) many publicly owned companies. She closed many uncompetitive coal mines, too.

 

Political Context

Margaret Thatcher

One of Thatcher’s central political beliefs was that success came to those who chose to work hard. In Blood Brothers, Russell contradicts this view. He shows a divided society by having Mickey and Edward attend very different schools and live in different houses.

 

That money and influential connections are necessary to become successful is written into the play. Mickey's failure, despite his good character and hard work, is the basis of the tragedy in the drama.

 

Cultural Context

Marilyn Monroe

Monroe was a very famous Hollywood actress. Her image was well known even to people who did not watch her films. She was presented by the media as a kind of ‘perfect’ fantasy woman and she was shown to live a glamorous and carefree lifestyle. The reality was often very different. She needed anti-depressants and eventually died from an overdose of pills.

 

Pop culture

In the 1950s society went through massive changes. As a result of young people gradually having more money, popular culture (music, TV and film) flourished, becoming accessible to a much wider public. Even the poorest in society, people represented in the play by the fictional Johnstone family, would have had the chance to go to the cinema or to a club for dancing.


The story Blood Brothers covers the lives of twins Mickey and Edward. The play is divided into two acts, and has many songs. A narrator speaks to the audience at the beginning and throughout the play, commenting on the action and setting the scene.

Act 1

The play begins with the deaths of two men. The narrator tells us that they were twins, but were separated and never knew that they shared the same surname: Johnstone. As the lights go down, Mrs Johnstone, their mother, enters and the narrator asks us to judge her story.

 

Mrs Johnstone

Mrs Johnstone sings of how she fell in love while dancing, but that her husband left her because she no longer looked like Marilyn Monroe. She has seven children despite being only 25, but the audience are told that she looks much older; and she is pregnant again.

 

Mrs Johnstone can’t afford even the basics of life - her kids complain about being hungry. But she thinks she’ll be able to get by when she starts her new job, cleaning for a couple called Mr and Mrs Lyons.

 

Mrs Lyons

The Lyons are well off and live in a large house. Mrs Lyons explains that she is lonely. Her husband is away working for nine months and they have no children of their own – a strong contrast to the Johnstone family.

 

Twins

Mrs Johnstone finds out that she is expecting twins. This will mean the Social Services, the ‘Welfare’, will put even more pressure on her to put some of her children into care. She tells Mrs Lyons, who offers to bring up one of the twins as her own child, saying that she can give him a good home. Mrs Johnstone, in awe of the Lyons’ wealth and the possibility of a comfortable upbringing for at least one of her children, eventually agrees.

 

They make a vow of silence and swear over the Bible. Not even Mr Lyons will know.

Mrs Johnstone gives birth to the twins. Mrs Lyons arrives and, after reminding Mrs Johnstone of their pact, takes one of the twins.

 

Mrs Johnstone still works at Mrs Lyons’ house, but Mrs Lyons feels uncomfortable, thinking that Mrs Johnstone is becoming too attached to the twin she has given away. Mrs Lyons tries to pay Mrs Johnstone to leave. Mrs Johnstone threatens to tell the police about the baby, but Mrs Lyons terrifies her with a superstitious omen: she claims that if either twin learns of his brother, both will die. Mrs Johnstone leaves and stops working at the Lyon’s house.

 

Mickey and Edward

Seven years pass. Mickey is the twin that stayed with Mrs Johnstone. He has been playing a favourite childhood game of the time, ‘Cowboys and Indians’ near the ‘big’ houses. Mrs Johnstone tells him off because he is not allowed to play there. Edward Lyons, the other twin, has seen Mickey playing and comes to find him. This is the first time in the play that they speak to each other. Edward offers Mickey lots of sweets and they become friendly.

 

They learn that their birthdays are identical and decide to become ‘blood brothers’. They nick their hands with Mickey’s penknife and clasp hands. Mickey says “See, this means that we’re blood brothers, an’ that we always have to stand by each other.”

 

Mrs Johnstone comes out and asks Edward his name. When she realises who he is, she orders Mickey into the house and tells Edward never to come back again.

Later Mickey sneaks to the Lyons’ house to calls for Edward. Mrs Lyons quickly realises who he is and takes Edward away. She tells Edward not to mix with ‘boys like that’.

 

Linda

Mickey, Sammy and others are pretending to have a shootout. Mickey says the ‘F-word’ and the others laugh at him, saying he’ll die and go to hell as a result. A girl called Linda,protects Mickey and tells the others to leave him alone. Linda and Mickey go to Edward’s house and convince him to sneak out and play with them.

 

Influenced by the Johnstone’s kids’ behaviour and games Edward is about to throw stones through some windows, but is seen by a policeman. The policeman visits Mrs Johnstone and warns her harshly that any more trouble from her children will mean a court visit. In contrast, he then visits Mrs Lyons but chooses to explain away the trouble as merely a childish ‘prank’. He asks her to make sure Edward ‘keeps with his own kind’.

 

Mrs Lyons’ knows that Edward will be drawn into friendship with Mickey and she is afraid of the consequences. After the incident with the police, Mr Lyons agrees to move the family to a different house, away in the country.

 

Soon afterwards Mrs Johnstone receives a letter from the council to say that her family is also being re-housed to a nicer area. She is thrilled and dances and sings at her good fortune.

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