To note yet another recurring theme that makes this all the more entertaining there’s superstition, and anybody who’s read the book realises how superstitious Mrs. Johnstone is and her belief in these ‘old wives tales’ as we’d called them today. For example early in act I when Mrs. Lyons laughs almost in pity at Mrs. Johnstone’s ‘overreaction’ to her putting new shoes on the table.
In truth it’s such an obvious theme that there is even a musical number for it, namely ‘shoes upon the table’, when I went to watch the play I believe the director purposefully chose a narrator with a booming voice to emphasise the fact that the factors of “bad luck” may actually come back even when the play seems in quite a lively mood and everyone seems happy with the outcome. There is a close link between superstition and class in the play. Mrs.Order now
Johnstone is alarmed by superstitious beliefs and this seems to have been passed on to the lower class children when they’re all playing their game of ‘cowboys and Indians’. This is used by Mrs. Lyons to manipulate Mrs. Johnstone; some would say that she in fact blackmailed her emotionally by saying how the other twin would have a better life with them. Then making her promise that she would give the twin over when it was born (at the point when Mrs. Johnstone was most venerable), Mrs. Lyons took advantage of the fact that Mrs. Johnstone is a devout Christian and would find it very hard to go back on her word.
These twist-in-tail points can be seen as ‘dramatic irony’, we as an audience can sense that something bad may or is about to happen from the little hints given like some that were mentioned above (the things that people do which are thought to be bad luck) in fact the splitting up of the twins had its own superstitious predictions behind it. But is superstition the main theme? The Narrator at the very end of the play (after the passing of the Johnstone twins) questions in his final piece whether class was more to blame and places in society.
I believe even the characters themselves know that a higher class person (Eddie) lives a better life than working class, to quote Mickey on a few occasions we hear him saying “I wish I was a little bit like that guy” and “I wish I could be like… my friend”, in each of these he is talking about Eddie and wanting to be him, or be like him. The social class struggle and differences turn into a power struggle, especially at the end of the play when they both seem to have fallen out with each other. At the end of the play when Mickey goes round to Eddie’s house with a
gun because he’s tired of all the ‘control’ Eddie has over everything he just breaks down and tells him everything. The symbol of the gun had appeared many time previously in the play, but at them times it was just a ‘toy’ and was practically harmless, bringing back the idea of dramatic irony, maybe this was another hint of bad things to come. Being held at gun point would have been scary for Eddie and you can tell by the things he say that he is very panicky and stutters a lot when he admits to taking Linda out.
This would have been heartbreaking for Mickey because Eddie had control over a lot of things in Mickey’s life he believed that Linda was the only thing he possessed to his advantage over Eddie, but now he had found out that he even had control over his wife, who was the thing he cherished the most. Mickey says “I’ve got the power now” when he is talking about his possession of a gun. He does this because he wants to be in control over Eddie for once. In terms of the ending, well there are two separate endings but which both end with the Johnstone twins both dying simultaneously.
To conclude and to come back to the originally posed statement “Willy Russell writes entertaining drama and champions the socially disadvantaged”. I did some research into what boxes a drama would have to tick, so to speak, in order to pass as ‘entertaining’. Mainly it seems to be down to a matter of opinion and dependant on the genre of the play and the type that the audience like. ‘Entertaining’ is subjective and interpretive as what appeals to one person, might not appeal to other people, yet might be a valid piece of entertainment.
It is said that everybody seems to be a critic; a drama that somebody may seem to like may include parts within it that they didn’t like. Overall though, and to quote a few film critics on what makes an entertaining drama they used words such as, “suspenseful”, “Angst” and “unpredictable”. To highlight just 2 out of three of them, in terms of suspense, I did mention previously about how little signs; for example lyrics in the songs hint on to something occurring.
Like how superstition was mentioned a lot in the songs but no consequence had occurred for their actions (putting the shoes on the table and the obvious secret splitting of the twins). For unpredictability there’s the fact that the part I consider to be the nadir of the play (namely, when Mickey is fired from his factory job, which forces him onto the dole and Mickey resorting to assissting his brother in armed robbery) follows straight after Eddie and Mickey realise that they are the same two boys who used to play together when they were eight, and a joyful re-union takes place.
This change all seems to happen quite quickly and would come across as a shock to the audience. Now, class and social status come into play a lot and I believe I’ve infact learnt something from reading the story that; difference in class shouldn’t affect more important things like friendship, and status can alter one’s personality as well as jealousy or wanting to be like someone else. This is what I believe Russell wanted us to learn from this play
Whether Russell ‘champions the socially disadvantaged’ is another question, maybe he uses contrasting characters to portray his ideas on socially disadvantaged people during the 1980s (Mrs. Johnstone to Mrs. Lyons and Mickey to Eddie). To some people they may appear as the victims and unfortunates as they can’t really do anything to help the fact they’re poor and essentially living hand to mouth.
In my opinion maybe he was sympathising with them as we know that he himself was born into a working class family, and with the fact he tried his hand at a large majority of differnet trades he would’ve made a variety of observations (hense maybe his inspiration for Blood Brothers). Overall, the themes in the play come together to make a very entertaining piece and it seems that there is diverse opinion as to whether he champions the disadvantaged; In my view though that was what Russell intended.