Russell wrote Blood Brothers in 1981, and it was first performed as a musical in 1983. This was during the period that Conservative Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was in power. There was very high unemployment during this time, particularly in industrial working-class areas in northern England, such as Liverpool - where Russell is from and where the play is set. Mickey and his family represent the working classes, who were badly affected by the economic downturn, whereas Edward and the Lyons family embody the middle classes, who thrived in the 1980s.
The difference between the Johnstone and Lyons families draws attention to the impact that a person’s social class can have on their opportunities in life. From the moment that Mrs Johnstone goes to work for Mrs Lyons at the beginning of the play, the audience’s attention is drawn to how their lives are worlds apart. This contrast is emphasised throughout the play, through the characters of Mickey and Edward. Even at the age of seven, the twins’ experiences of life are disparate. When they are young, their friendship overcomes their differences, but as they get older, the space between the brothers gets wider and harder for them to move past. Margaret Thatcher believed that anyone could be successful if they worked hard. Russell demonstrates that for Mickey this is not true. Without having the opportunities that Edward is given, Mickey’s prospects are very limited, regardless of how hard he works and his desire to succeed.
How is the theme of social class and inequality shown in the play?
In Blood Brothers, Russell explores social class through:
In the song My Child, Mrs Lyons draws attention to all of the things she will be able to give to the twin that she takes, that Mrs Johnstone will be unable to provide.
He’d have all his own toys and a garden to play in.
These things are taken for granted by Mrs Lyons, but are out of the reach of the Johnstone family. This emphasises the differences between them. It also suggests that what Mrs Lyons is offering the child is materialistic so the difference between the mothers is based on possessions, rather than love and care.
When they first meet at the age of seven, Mickey and Edward are completely different.
The way that the boys speak is very different, which reflects their backgrounds. While Mickey uses swearwords which Edward has not heard before, Edward is shown to be better educated. Russell indicates to the audience that social class can have a significant impact on the levels of education of children, giving them different starting points in life.
When Mickey loses his job, he is unable to support his family but has no support or options available to him, which Edward doesn’t understand.
Due to Edward’s privileged background, he is unable to understand the difficulties that Mickey has being unemployed. Mickey has nothing to fall back on and Edward will never be in that position because of the support he gets from his family. This demonstrates the lack of understanding the higher classes can have of the desperation of unemployment for the working classes.
When Mickey finds out that he and Edward are twins, he is jealous of the opportunities that Edward has (and he missed out on).
I could have been him!
Russell draws the audience’s attention to how Mickey and Edward’s lives have been affected by the opportunities they have had (as a result of their social class) rather than their personalities. If Mickey had access to the same education and contacts that Edward had, would the tragic ending have been avoided?
How does Russell explore the theme of social class and inequality in Blood Brothers?
All of these events happen as a result of the different social classes of the Johnstones and the Lyons families.