Examine the roles of the female characters. In Willy Russell’s blood brothers the strong characters are the women, Mrs Lyons, Mrs Johnstone and Linda; they all play important roles, whereas the weak characters such as Mr Lyons and the absent Mr Johnstone are males. The play opens with the lines, “Tell me it’s not true, Say it’s just a story” This is sung in a mournful tone to emphasise its tragic meaning.
This instantly tells the audience that the play has a tragic ending and that Mrs Johnstone wants to deny that the tragedy has happened; it is as if she is looking to the audience to justify the ending and the deaths of her sons. The narrator then goes on to give a brief version of the story, starting with the lines, “Did you ever hear the tale of the Johnston twins? ” A prologue that gives a brief version of the story is similar to the one in Romeo and Juliet and also the way that the play begins with the final scene is similar to the beginnings of Greek tragedies.
Wily Russell is using classic element of tragedy from literature and bringing them together in a modern way. The first impression that we get of Mrs Johnstone is that she is a “mother so cruel” who gave her baby away and has “a stone in place of a heart” this is so that as we go through the play our opinion of her can change. Willy Russell wants this judging of Mrs Johnstone (the main character) to take place since the narrator says; Bring her on and judge for yourself, How she came to play this part” This means that the play can now act as a trial for Mrs Johnstone.
Instantly we go to a contrast with the idea of Mrs Johnstone being cruel because, in the next scene she is shown as a strong, happy character who is “sexier than Marilyn Monroe” all the way through the play we see Mrs Johnstone being strongly compared to Marilyn Monroe, a sex icon who led a happy life but eventually died lonely, this is another hint that there is tragedy looming at the end of the play. However Marilyn Monroe died childless and since Mrs Johnstone has lots of children she might be able to avoid the lonely death that awaited Marilyn Monroe.
The song about Mrs Johnstone’s, as well as introducing the idea of Marilyn Monroe demonstrates the importance of dancing in Mrs Johnstone’s life. “And we went dancing, We went dancing” I think that dancing in Mrs Johnstone’s life is a metaphor for sexual activity (which is important to her) as one of the following lines is “And then of course I found that I was six weeks overdue” I think that her dancing also represents her freedom as when she is pregnant she is deprived of it “no more dancing”. As the song progresses we find the by the age of twenty five Mrs Johnstone has, “Seven hungry mouths to feed
And one more nearly due” (she thinks) And that her husband “he walked out on me”. At the end of the song we go to a scene with Mrs Johnstone and Mrs Lyons and we see a strong contrast between the two characters. Mrs Johnstone is single while Mrs Lyons is married but her husband is “Away all the time”. Although Mrs Johnstone is poor and Mrs Lyons has lots o money Mrs Johnstone is the happy one because she has lots of children and she “loves the bones of every one of them” and they complete her life whereas Mrs Lyons “can’t have kids” (“Mrs Johnstone can’t stop having them”) and her husband won’t adopt,
“Mr Lyons wants his own kids Not somebody else’s” The fact that she can not have kids makes her incomplete and she makes up for this by buying material items such as “new shoes”. Also, after we find out that Mrs Johnstone is expecting twins we see that Mrs Lyons is clever and manipulative enough to convince Mrs Johnstone to give up one of her babies by saying “the welfare are already on to you” and “surely it is better to give one of your babies to me”.
As soon as she gets Mrs Johnstone to agree she makes her swear on the holy bible, to seal the pact. This is one of the examples of superstition, a strong theme that runs throughout the play. Other contrasts between Mrs Lyons and Mrs Johnstone are that Mrs Johnstone is forced to work while Mrs Lyons only job is that of housewife and she employs a cleaner to do the housework for her, which poses the question ‘what does she do with all her time? ‘ she goes shopping.
Mrs Lyons has great power over Mrs Johnstone’s life, as she is able to fire her at any time “I think that it would be better if you left” While Mrs Johnstone is powerless. This is ironic because as the play progresses Mrs Lyons becomes paranoid and mentally unstable “Up on the hill there’s a woman gone mad” While Mrs Johnstone, despite being poor and working class remains mentally sound and strong. Mrs Lyons’ paranoia is strong enough to drive her to use a “lethal looking kitchen knife” to try and stab Mrs Johnstone.