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What makes Blood Brothers an effective stage play?

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What makes ‘Blood Brothers’ an effective stage play?

In every effective play there are always specific features that the play writer uses to make his play successful such as the interesting characters, dramatic storylines and powerful endings. In this essay I will be focusing on the ‘Blood Brothers’ play to show the main aspects that make it standout to the audience in the theater. The story introduces us to the situation of twin boys separated at birth as they grow up in different controlled environments. They both live a different life and have the same tragic fate and die.One of the key elements which ensure that the audience has an enjoyable experience is the way Willy Russell contrast the two main characters. This will intrigue the audience as it has a huge impact and makes it interesting throughout the entire play; one example of this is on act 2 scene 2:

                                                    [Offering the bag]…what? [shocked]

                                                                                                        This will suggest to the audience that the two boys are from completely different backgrounds. This is shown as Edward, who has a privileged lifestyle, offering Mickey some sweets. Mickey reaction is shock, who is from poverty, isn’t used to kindness and his act of generosity due to his poor upbringing, as he’s brought up in a large family and his not expected to be given anything. Edwards wants to impress Mickey so they can be friends as he has never has friends as a result of his mothers protective upbringing. Mickey suspiciously takes one of Edwards sweets because he is used to people tricking him because in his area are the rough children who play tricks. Whereas Edward, who is a very proper, sheltered, inhibited boy, is brought up to share and be well mannered. Russell presents the ideas of social class differences through numerous examples. The main social class differences are expressed through Edward and Mickey by means of comparison of the two as we are shown. One way in which the social disparities are revealed through speech, as Edward is well spoken and formal, in contrast to Mickey who is informally spoken and uses abbreviated words vastly throughout his context. Another way that the differences are presented is through the behaviour and the way the two characters conduct themselves. Edward is straight forward in terms of personality, whilst Mickey is sly in the way he conducts his actions and his personality is quite difficult to understand. This phrase will imply that Edward isn’t greedy as he gives sweets to Mickey, the keyword from the stage directions is ‘shocked’ this shows an insight into Mickey’s life and shows the audience the extent of children living in poverty. I infer that Mickey would have a surprised and puzzled expression on his face and will show it in his body language. Another contrast between different characters is Mrs Johnston and Mrs Lyons is clearly shown as adjectives are used and also Willy Russell used juxtaposition to show the contrast is on act 1 scene 2:

   ‘Yes it’s a pretty house it’s so big, I’m finding it large at present’

                                                                                                   This example suggest to the audience that Mrs Lyons is very powerful and superior living in such a huge house, and she is sure to let the audience know with adjectives she is using, unlike Mrs Johnston who is poor and despite having very little money to offer her children, she is kind. This tells us that Mrs Lyons is completely unfazed about the house; While Mrs Johnson is impressed by the size of the house, as she only lives in a small house. Mrs Lyons is a very rich woman and could easily afford anything she desires yet the one thing she wants and cannot have is a child of her own. The important words from this sentence are ‘big’ and ‘large’ to describe her house to covey how wealthy and rich she is. I feel that Willy Russell put this dialogue to make the audience sympathise with Mrs Lyons as she is lonely and isolated in her house on her own this is I think one of the reasons she desperately wants a child so she can be occupied and she will have company and also who will be there for her as it gives the impression that Mr Lyons is not around so this might indicates that they don’t spend enough time together. The audience will immediately assume that she has children whereas being a lonely housewife. The wealthy and sophisticated character is completely different to Mrs Johnston who is working class and warm hearted. In act 2 scene 1 the audience will witness a sly, deceptive Mrs Lyons after she has got what she longed for. The contrast will engage the audience:

                                                                                          ‘Your work has deteriorated, we’re not happy with it.’

                                               This, I feel that the audience will empathize with Mrs Johnston as they realize how ruthless and selfish Mrs Lyons really is. Mrs Lyons is seen as the evil person in the play, a woman who plays on peoples fears such as superstition to her own use. She is making pathetic excuses to try and become rid of her so Mrs Johnston won’t become too attached to her baby. The key word from this example is the word ‘deteriorated’. Mrs Lyons has used an extremely negative word to describe a false statement. She is abusing her position in society just to receive what she wants. The example conveys that she is incredibly desperate for a child if she would go to extreme measures just to have a son of her own. Before the twins were born, Mrs Lyons traps Mrs Johnston into silence by a superstition, which is if they would both die if they met after long term separation. She did this because she knew Mrs Johnston is a highly superstition person and would believe any superstition. Mrs Lyons is also portrayed as a cold woman who doesn’t show much emotion. The audience sympathy lies with Mrs Johnston with her dilemma off giving away her son for a better life, but we see that it is with honest intentions, and despite her lack of money and her numerous children, she feels that Mrs Lyons could give Edward a happier, more loving childhood. Mrs Lyons has promised Mrs Johnston that she could see Eddie everyday. It must have been horrific for Mrs Johnston at this time and must have be hard to cope knowing she might not ever see one of her children again. Mrs Lyons was cruel and nasty to Mrs Johnston and broke a promise she made with her. We sympathize with Mrs Johnston and grow to understand that despite her background and lack of money she is the better parent. This challenges any assumptions that suggest wealth would afford a better, more fortunate upbringing. The audience will see social class as a conflict, mirroring the battle between the two mothers.  Willy Russell created two very different mothers to explore the effects of nature and nurture. Another area which conveys that the play it is effective is the writer using irony. This gives entertainment to audience and adds effect. An example of irony is the title:

                                                                                          ‘Blood Brothers’

                                                                                                     The title itself is ironic; Willy Russell has deliberately chosen this as a title because it has a double meaning which is friends and brothers and also instantly on the first glance it gives an impression of a sad and doomed quality to be unfolded in the play due to the word “blood” which makes people think of death and tragedy. This word “blood” gives it a rather morbid atmosphere and a strong sense of looming, foreboding danger lurking ahead. Also the parallel meaning is very interesting to speculate on as Mickey and Edward, apart from being brothers, also took part in a ritual of childhood bonding to make themselves blood brothers. So the title really represents a counter point and contrasts the reality of their lives and that they are truly brothers in every way, even brothers in death. As Mickey and Edward say that they become best friends and declare to one another that they are ‘blood brothers’, it provokes a nervous atmosphere amongst the audience who is aware of the boys relationship yet the children don’t realise the irony of their promise. This keeps the audience in suspense not knowing when the secret will be revealed. Russell keeps the irony throughout the play so that it gives a dramatic ending when the two brothers die; this clearly shows that Mrs Lyons superstition was right all along. Another sentence which significantly shows irony is on act 2 scene 2:

        ‘Do you want to be my blood brother?’                                                                            

                                                              The story deepens when the twins become friends when they are seven as it will be very dramatic on stage and also very effective. The audience will realize how close they have gotten in such a small period of time, they are delighted of watching Mickey and Eddie’s friendship blossom is the knowledge that they are brothers, the fact of which they are unaware. They both suffer painful jabs to the hand that in theory binds them as brothers because they are oblivious that they are closer than thought yet distance between the pair is inflicted by the parents.This will impress the audience in the theater even though they are twins I feel that they have turned a simple friendship into something more as the play continuous. As they become older we all watch their natural bonds unfold and as their inhibitions fall away, we also notice that they appear more alike. This sense of dramatic irony is a point of humour throughout the play, but also a reminder of the superstitious curse that Mrs Lyons has inflicted and the foreknowledge of what is going to happen. We see Mickey and Eddie indulge in childhood games of gunfights; this also brings a bitter taste of irony to Mickey’s involvement in a shooting later in the play. Another feature of ‘blood brothers’ that contributes to it successful is character development, this is because we see the character change and that makes it more interesting, this is presented on page 55:

                                               ‘She’s trying to make me tell you…I shant kill you Edward.’

                  Mrs Lyons metal state has dramatically changed as the play progresses. At the beginning of the play she was ignorant and a genteel women to becoming absolutely crazy. This is ironic because as the play progresses Mrs Lyons becomes paranoid and mentally unstable, this will show the audience that Mrs Lyons and Mrs Johnson have swapped roles. She realizes that the superstition she used to intimidate Mrs Johnston is actually true which made her obsessive, paranoid and worried that the secret is going to come out. Her paranoia seems to be becoming out of control in this scene. She truly believes Mrs Johnston is deliberately following her everywhere she goes. The audience will sympathize with Edward as he has to hear it constantly and it and will have taken care of his mother at such a young age. She is very over-protective of Eddie and fears his bond with the Johnston’s. Later in the play this fear becomes more evident and she appears as a neurotic, obsessive character that appears to be losing control this is evident when she attempts to attack Mrs Johnston with a kitchen knife and she tells Mickey about Linda’s relationship with Edward, this line suggests the extent of Mrs Lyons paranoia. She is not expecting such a drastic outcome, which causes the ultimate tragedy in the story. Mrs Lyons is similar to a typical Macbeth situation, they both feel that they need something but when they finally acquire it, it only brings them nothing but misery. Another character which develops in a negative way in the play is Mickey Johnston. The obstacle of status that existed between Edward and Mickey instigated problems and variation within Blood Brothers one line which shows this is act 5 scene 1:

                                                 ‘And it might be the worst bleeding job in the place but its mine, I wasn’t given it.’

                                            The audience will evoke a feeling of pity towards Mickey as they know that he didn’t obtain the job by himself. If it weren’t for Edward he will be unemployed. As soon as he finds out he quits leaving him redundant. The life of Mickey's character starts getting very hard, with him being married at a young age, his wife expecting a child, and to make things worse he realizes that he knowingly is dependent on his best friend Eddie, for almost everything in his life, This, tied up with a few more unfortunate incidents, eventually faces imprisonment and pushes him into depression and the desperation in which he pulls a gun on his best friend and brother. Eddie always tried to help out his best friend because he believed that his friend could turn expectations upside down and become someone. Eddie demonstrated this by trying to give him money to help him out but this time Mickey wanted nothing to do with it. This contrasted with the sweets and cigarettes Eddie gave to Mickey as a teenager where Mickey was only to happy to take stuff because it didn’t make him less of a man. However Eddie overstretched his generosity by offering a house and job. All this did was to make Mickey feel even more insignificant and infuriated that his best friend had done so well. The audience will feel that it is a sad message that their friendship did not manage to overcome the boundaries that society placed. The contrasts between the societies that Mickey and Edward were from, meant that their personalities were diverse to one another. Although they were the best of friends, their reputations meant that they would always be different to one another. This difference forced them to lead separate lives that eventually conflicted with their friendship causing variation and climax to the drama when Mickey believed he simply wasn’t capable of being a true acquaintance to Edward. At the beginning of the play Mickey plays the role of a childhood ring leader when the audience first sees him at the age of seven. He becomes a hero figure for Edward because of his energy and all the things he knows. Mickey is happy at that time playing childhood pranks and imaginary games with Edward. The friendship between Eddie and Mickey happens instantly, but is tested throughout the play because of their different background which they overcome. They both want to be like each other, but for very different reasons. While Eddie wants everything Mickey has, that money can't buy, Mickey on the other hand wants the material aspects of Eddie's life. Their childhood innocence in Act 1 was soon destroyed as they grow up in Act 2 which they have more responsibilities. Willy Russell chose this situation as it is important to show the audience that they become to realise how different they are from each other. A notable aspect of Willy Russell’s play is the ending which he provides the audience with an exciting finish to ‘Blood Brothers’. Its gives the audience a high climax, makes it dramatic to view and makes the audience really think about what they have just seen. An example of this is on page 82:                                                                                                           ‘And do we blame superstition for what came to pass? Or could it be what we, the English, have came to know as class?"

 Russell uses a particular technique, which is a rhetorical question, to make the audience wonder and question if the superstition or the lifestyle which caused the twins death. He also showed the audience that both superstition and class played a major part in the lead up to the death of the twins, Mickey and Edward. He is also trying to show that everyday life is very similar, and people are treated differently because of their class. Russell uses many various, effective, and interesting ways to influence the audience’s answer. There are lots of things to suggest that fate is in control, but it is never stated directly, it is just left for the audience, so in the end, it is the way the individual interoperates the story, that decides what is in control. I feel that many of the audience will clearly find the play as depressing, downbeat and sad towards the end. The climatic ending was expected due to the inclusion of fate highlighted by the use of a narrator. The narrator represented fate and conscience and made the action continuous throughout scenes. The Narrator in Blood Brothers’ is used in many ways, his main role is to be a foreboding figure or a “voice of fate”, Warning the audience as time gets closer to the ending. A good example of this is in one of his songs, as he warns that the time of Eddie and Mickey’s death is getting close by singing. The narrator put the songs into rhymes to make it easier for the audience to remember what he said so they can think about over and over again The audience will feel that is was such a powerful ending as it has dramatic tension. Even though the audience know what happens at the end, it is still shocking when it comes. Another sentence which keeps the audience on the edge of their seats is on the last scene:

                             ‘Mickey, don’t shoot Eddie. He’s your twin.’

                                                                                      The short sharp sentence makes the play more dramatic as it is a demand and will get the audiences attention. This part of the scene is absolutely crucial as the play reaches a very striking point and where the entire story begins to unfold. I feel that Mrs Johnston at this point, would be expressing her fear and terror through her eyes being very tearful. Willy Russell has used this situation to capture the feelings of the audience as she finally reveals the deep dark secret. The whole play has been building up to this and Mickey’s reaction must show how traumatized he is and obviously emphasising the misunderstanding and disbelief. At that moment the audience will have mixed emotions, however they will mainly feel relieved that finally the secret has been exposed so Eddie and Mickey will know that they are twins and also the audience will be excited as they want to know what will be Mickey’s next move, deciding to shot or not to shot, this will create tension in the audience. I feel that Willy Russell has ended this play in an excellent way as it was not a cheesy ending where they both live happier ever after but an effective ending where they both die. Another thing which is mentioned at the beginning to the very end is the iconic figure of Marilyn Monroe. We see this on the every first page:

                                                                                                                   ‘He said I was sexier than Marilyn Monroe’

                                                  Russell has used references to Marilyn Monroe throughout the play especially by Mrs Johnston as a kind of timeline that parallels the rise and fall of events of her life. At the beginning of the play, Mrs Johnston is younger and as yet without an extensive family; she compares herself to the young rising star of Marilyn Monroe. Towards the end of the performance, Marilyn Monroe’s demise reflects the sad change in events within the play. The reference to Marilyn Monroe also suggests an era for the play the late early 1960s. This helps the audience to become familiar with the text and the play, as we already have knowledge of the era, and also will to make the connection that the play is tragic, and that, like the story of Marilyn Monroe, will all end in tears. This means the audience can also gain an understanding of the stigma and boundaries that surrounded the social classes at that time. Other reasons that Marilyn Monroe may appear, are the fact that Mrs Johnston idolised her so much, the fact that money cannot make you happy, as is relevant to the Lyons family, and finally the way her reference represents death. Russell uses her image to show the good and bad times in the play as she is a well known to people and had her life was full of hardship, to many people she symbolises tragedy.

 In conclusion to the whole musical, I feel that Russell emphasizes every minor detail about the class system which is different from one class to another to make us realise the differences. The audience will think that Willy Russell did a stupendous job of illustrating the social issues and class issues which were present in that time. He uses the narrator to make us think about the different characters and our opinions of them, and he uses the different powers people have in their class to make us feel sympathy for others. He emphasizes every line and scenery on stage to get across his message to the audience that the difference in the class system is a major problem that we have to deal with. I think that Russell feels that the class system will always remain with us, however much it is pointed out and however much it is talked about not everyone can be completely equal, because of the society we live in. Overall the whole play was continually gripping, intriguing and truly effective from the audience’s point of view.

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