Essay questions

You will be given a choice of two essay questions about Blood Brothers in the exam; you need to choose one to answer. They will usually be about specific characters or themes in the text. The examiners are looking for you to demonstrate good knowledge of the whole play. You must have a clear idea about:

  • the plot
  • the themes
  • characters
  • language, form and structure
  • dramatisation

You should be able to use some key quotations from the text, which you have remembered (you will not be allowed a book in the exam). You should structure your answer logically, with a brief introduction and conclusion.

Example question (Higher/Fundation tier)

Why does Willy Russell show the audience the death of Mickey and Edward at the very start of the play?

Planning your answer

Before you start writing your essay, you should spend five to ten minutes planning what you will write. Think about how you can break down your answer into logical paragraphs.
  1. Introduction: The opening is linked to different themes, mainly superstition and social class.
  2. Main Point 1: In the prologue, the Narrator invites the audience to judge Mrs Johnstone – a mother, so cruel but then she immediately describes how hard her life is so we feel sympathy for her.
  3. Main Point 2: This links to social class because it makes the audience focus on what leads to the differences between the twins as they grow and a crucial factor in this is their different classes.
  4. Main Point 3: However, the opening also reminds us that the boys’ death is inevitable, linking the opening to the theme of superstition and fate.
  5. Main Point 4: The dead bodies on stage also remind the audience of the destructive presence of violence in the characters’ lives.
  6. Conclusion: While the opening initially seems to give a sense of the inevitability of Mickey and Edward’s deaths, revealing the ending to us means that the audience focuses on what leads to the tragic end and examines the factors involved, such as social class and violence.

Sample answer – Foundation tier (main point 1)

The Narrator comes onstage and narrates the prologue at the beginning of the play. The bodies of the twins are onstage at the same time as this. In the prologue, the Narrator talks about the twins dying and describes how it happened: they didn’t know that they were twins until the day that they died and then their mother was upset about their death. He then says that the audience should judge the twins’ mother for the role she played in the death of Mickey and Edward, blaming her for what has happened to them.


  • This is too descriptive. You are being asked to analyse the play not describe what happens so make sure that you don’t just tell the story in your answer, as has been done here.
  • There is no quotation used here to support the point. When possible, use short quotations from the play as evidence to support your ideas.
  • This response is not answering the question. There is no discussion of why the final events of the play are shown at the beginning.

Sample answer – Foundation tier (main point 1) – improved

While the dead bodies of Mickey and Edward are shown on stage, the Narrator narrates the prologue. In this, he says that the audience should judge the twins’ mother, Mrs Johnstone, for her part in the tragic ending. He describes her as a mother so cruel. This makes the audience judge her badly straight away and think she is to blame, so the opening gives us a negative impression of her. However, when she comes on stage after the prologue, she describes her difficult life, making the audience feel sorry for her. In this way, the opening of the play seems to be showing that it is wrong to make quick judgements.


  • This is a secure Foundation tier response.
  • There is a clear focus on the question.
  • There is sound evidence of knowledge of the play.
  • A quotation is used appropriately to support the point.

Sample answer – Higher tier (main point 4)

Russell shows that violence is important in the play by showing the death of the twins at the beginning. The Narrator says during the prologue that Mrs Johnstone cries my own dear sons lie slain, describing the deaths of Mickey and Edward. Violence is a big part of the play and it features at several different points, so having it at the start shows that it is an important theme.


  • This is lacking detail. There needs to be increased discussion of how the theme of violence links to the question.
  • While a quotation is used, showing knowledge of the text, this needs to be analysed specifically. The comment on the quotation only describes what it is about.
  • Focus on the question is lost in the second part of this paragraph.

Sample answer – Higher tier (main point 4) – improved

Through revealing the death of the twins early on in the play, Russell establishes the significance of violence in the characters’ lives immediately. The prologue describes their mother’s reaction as crying my own dear sons lie slain, the word ‘slain’ emphasising the violence and futility of their deaths. The finality of Mickey and Edward’s deaths also demonstrates the futility of violence and how this will always ultimately lead to destruction. This is also emphasised through the staging of the play, as the overture is repeated at the beginning and end of the play, representing the inescapability of the repercussions of violence.


  • This is a confident higher tier response.
  • There is assured discussion of several different parts of the play, showing a secure grasp of the play as a whole.
  • Details are commented on, with analysis shown, so there is evidence of the ability to move between the general and specific when commenting on the text.
  • There are perceptive points made about different features of the play.