Detailed plot summary

Act One – The mothers

Mrs Johnstone and Mrs Lyons in environments that represent their social class.

The play opens with the bodies of Mickey and Edward on stage and a prologue, spoken by the Narrator. The Narrator tells us that the men were twins who were separated at birth. He invites the audience to judge their mother so cruel (Mrs Johnstone) for her role in their deaths.

Question

Why does the play start by showing the audience the final event, the death of the brothers?

Willy Russell may want the audience to focus on how the brothers reach their tragic end, rather than focusing on wondering what the end might be. The Narrator’s description of their mother gives us an image of her as heartless, which we quickly find out is not accurate. This makes the audience question what other factors may be involved in the twins’ deaths.

Mrs Johnstone then appears on stage and sings about her life, describing meeting her husband and marrying him after becoming pregnant with their first child, Darren Wayne. She says that her husband would take her dancing and tell her she was as beautiful as Marilyn Monroe. However, at the age of 25 she now has seven children, is pregnant with her eighth, and her husband has left her for another woman.

Although she is struggling to support her family on her own, Mrs Johnstone is optimistic that her problems will be over when she starts her new job as a cleaner for Mrs Lyons. Mrs Lyons is a wealthy woman whose husband spends a lot of time away on business. They are unable to have children and her husband refuses to adopt, she feels very lonely.

Mrs Johnstone finds out that she is pregnant with twins and gets upset while at work, wondering how she will cope with two more mouths to feed. Mrs Lyons persuades her to give one of the babies to her, singing about the better quality of life she can offer the child. Knowing that Mrs Johnstone is superstitious, Mrs Lyons makes her swear on the Bible to never tell anyone. Mrs Lyons will not even tell her husband as he is away on business for nine months and due home after the birth of the twins.

Mrs Lyons takes one of the twins and names him Edward. Mrs Johnstone keeps Mickey and tells the rest of her children that the other twin died. She goes back to work but is soon fired by Mrs Lyons after fussing over Edward. When Mrs Johnstone threatens to reveal the truth about the baby, Mrs Lyons tells her that she cannot, because if either twin learns that he was once a pair, they shall both immediately die.