Detailed plot summary

Act One – Mickey and Edward grow up

The play moves forward in time and we meet Mickey at the age of seven. He looks up to his older brother, Sammy, and plays games on the street with his neighbours, involving pretend guns. Mrs Johnstone tells Mickey he is not allowed to play near the big houses nearby. While he is sulking, Edward arrives outside the Johnstones’ home and the boys start talking. They quickly become friends and find that they share the same birthday. Unaware that they are really related, Mickey and Edward decide to become blood brothers.

When Mickey and Edward try to play together, both of their mothers realise who the other boy is and order them not to play together. However, when Mickey and his friend Linda go to Edward’s house, he sneaks out to play with them. They get caught throwing stones at windows by a police officer and he takes the children home. The police officer warns Mrs Johnstone that if any of her children (who are often naughty) get into more trouble then she could be taken to court. However when he takes Edward home, he tells Mr and Mrs Lyons that it was just a childish prank.

Question

What is the significance of the way the police officer treats the Johnstone family and the Lyons family?

Russell uses this incident to draw the audience’s attention to the inequality of the society in which the families live. It is not just that Edward is privileged because of his family’s wealth, he is also treated better than Mickey by figures in authority.

Paranoid that Edward is being drawn away from her and worried that Mr Lyons is often absent due to work, Mrs Lyons persuades her husband to move the family out of Liverpool and into the countryside. Edward goes to say goodbye to Mickey and sees Mrs Johnstone, who gives him a locket with a picture of her with baby Mickey in it. Soon afterwards, Mrs Johnstone receives a letter from the council telling her that the family is being rehoused to the countryside. She is thrilled that she will have a new start and Act One ends as the family arrive at their new home with a sense of optimism.