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1.5 Demonstrate Understanding of a Significant Play Blood Brothers by Willy Russell.

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1 1.5 Demonstrate Understanding of a Significant Play Blood Brothers by Willy Russell

2 Why is Blood Brothers a significant Play? ‘winning four awards for ‘best musical’ and receiving a standing ovation at every performance since July This is deservedly one of the best musicals of all time’ Manchester Evening News It is London’s longest running Musical It challenged the genre of the Musical – showing it’s still possible create a story of immense broad appeal with a deeper social comment

3 Summary Mrs Johnstone, deserted by her husband and struggling to bring up a handful of children, finds out she is expecting twins but can’t afford them. She cleans for a childless lady, Mrs Lyons, who begs Mrs Johnstone to give her one of the babies. The two boys grow up streets apart, becoming firm friends and falling for the same girl. Edward Lyons prospers, goes to university and turns Councillor but Mickey ends up broke and turns to crime. A narrator, like fate, warns that a ‘price must be paid’ and one day they find out the truth.

4 Social and Historical Context Set in Liverpool in the 1950s. Highest levels of unemployment in the developed world, with over 25% of the workforce out of a job It is with this knowledge that he creates a gritty depiction of ‘real life’ in the city of Liverpool Times were hard for the Working Class A good education can change a life 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.

5 Willy Russell Willy Russell was born in 1947 at Shiston near Liverpool. There was a strong tradition of storytelling in his family, who were 'thinking' working class. He did not do very well at school and at fifteen he left with one 'O' Level, in English Language and little idea of what he wanted to do beyond a vague notion of wanting to become a writer. He was unsure of how to enter that world, so he drifted into hairdressing. Subsequently he spent more time writing songs than setting hair. Eventually he left and worked in several industrial jobs before deciding to return to full-time education. Lots of the characters in Willy Russell’s plays can be seen as people who we sympathise with, ‘life's losers, all of whom have an epic sense of their own importance’. Through his writing it is possible to feel a sense of his characters' aspirations and their failed and foiled dreams. However, unlike the characters he creates, Willy Russell doesn't have an epic sense of his own importance. What sustains and characterises his best work is a raging, bitter sense of injustice. Other famous plays he has written are ‘Shirley Valentine’, ‘Our Day Out’ and ‘Educating Rita’

6 Themes we will look at Social class Fate and destiny Superstition Role of Narrator Nature or Nurture

7 Social Class We see 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.

8 Social Class 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’. 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’. They speak in slang and informal language The education plays a very big role in this play because the boys turn totally different after their further education even if the same blood flows through their veins.

9 Fate and Destiny 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

10 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’.

11 Role of Narrator Dressed in a black suit – this gives him a neutral status, as we cannot identify anything about his character. It gives him a sense of anonymity throughout the show, and the fact that the other characters do not acknowledge him gives him a ghostlike quality. His main role throughout the show is to act as a constant reminder to us of the brothers’ tragic fate – exemplified in the musical number ‘Shoes Upon the Table’, which is repeated throughout both acts of the show. It is also notable that as the show commences with the scene of the finale, his attire is like that of somebody who is attending a funeral – and it seems that he is dressed for such an occasion throughout the entire play. The music in the play underline the tension points and is in a perfect balance between slow and fast melodies.

12 Nature versus Nurture 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. 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.

13 Conventions Style or Form Musical with elements of Realism The characters and events realistic but style is not Melodrama – strong emotion, sensational events

14 Conventions Lines written in Ballad form ‘ So did you ever hear the tale of the Johnston Twins, As like each other as two new pins; Of one womb born on the self same day, How one was kept, one given away?’ ‘There’s no use clutching at your rosary The Devil’s in the backyard, he can see Through the gaps in the curtains he sees it all, There’s no use hiding in the hall.’

15 Conventions Recurrent themes and use of repetition e.g. Marilyn Munroe, dancing/waltzing ‘You know the devil’s got your number’ Role of Narrator


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