Charlie Reynolds (@charlieareyno) talking through Act Two of Blood Brothers for @MTAS_Official
Part 1 of Charlie’s write-up of Blood Brothers can be found here
SPOILER ALERT: This article contains important plot information.
As I am sure to those reading this are aware now, I am a huge fan of dissecting musicals regarding the meaning behind lyrics and really getting into the themes of the musicals we have grown to love. In my last post I went through the entire first half of the Blood Brothers soundtrack, which can be found here if you haven’t read already:
It’s now time to jump straight into Act II. Even though I love the songs in Act I, especially Bright New Day being one of my favourite musical songs of all time, I do prefer Act II. It just gets so much more interesting.
Marilyn Monroe II
So it is the mid 1970s and Eddie, Mickey and Linda, a friend of both the twins has now become a love interest of Mickeys. The Johnstones’ lives have dramatically improved, Mrs Johnstone opening Act II with a different version of Marilyn Monroe. As stated in Part One Marilyn is used to progress certain themes of the story and her time line is cross-referenced to the time line of the show.
It is suggested that Mrs Johnstone has started seeing the milkman, Joe, who says she has legs like Marilyn and he takes her dancing. Mickey, being fourteen, has become a typical teenager, keen on his self-image and not sure how to handle his feelings towards girls. Marilyn, being a sex icon of her time, is used to suggest Mickey’s sense of sexual awakening.
The song remains quite upbeat and happy until we get to the end. Mrs Johnstone says, “and that other child of mine, I haven’t seen for years, although, each day I pray he’ll be ok, unlike poor Marilyn Monroe” – It is publicly known that Marilyn had become addicted to sleeping tablets, infamous for her tragic breakdown. Mrs Johnstone is referring to this when she sings about Eddie. As the show goes on, it becomes clearer as to why Mrs Johnstone continues to use this part of Marilyn’s life to explain how she and the characters feel.
Mrs Johnstone gave Edward a locket with a photo of herself and Mickey for him to keep, but was asked to keep it a secret. Edward, who attends a boarding school, gets suspended for not giving a teacher this locket. In this song, Mrs Lyons asks Edward about the locket and notices who’s picture remains inside.
The narrator in the song acts the same way he did with Mrs Johnstone in Act I. He acts as a physical character on stage but he once again plays on Mrs Lyons conscience. He further pushes the fact that she will never be safe and will always know that Eddie is not her son.
Mrs Johnstone is suspicious, but Mrs Lyons is afraid, a fear that will cause her to do something disastrous later on in the show. It seems that everything that goes on in the musical is set in stone by the narrator and what he foresees cannot be averted and is bound to happen. He is a dark figure who is always there, watching and waiting until the characters succumb to the predicted fate that was set by him.
Linda, also 14, is in love with Mickey but Mickey never tells her how he feels. They both get suspended in class, along with Eddie, bumping into each other at first not recognising each other. They both sing of how they wish they were ach other, focusing heavily on their looks and personality. The song is again ironic as they both see each other has very different, yet in a huge aspect are the same due them being twins.
In the musical, the friendship between Eddie and Mickey is initially strong despite their social backgrounds. However, this song begins to show that even though they admire each other they in fact wish to be the other, rather than enjoying each others quirks as they did when they were younger. Russell is beginning to bring in the tensions that will arise between the brothers. As the show goes on he suggests that, when young, human nature is blind to social conventions, but in the adult world we are more socially aware than ever, so concerned with how others perceive us. They see each other as physically different now, Mickey growing further away from Eddie throughout the musical.
In this sequence Russell’s three main protagonists are shown to grow up from the ages of 15 to 18, thus becoming adults throughout the song. This means that the sequence acts as a huge turning point in the show. This is shown through the atmosphere that Russel creates, which goes from a fairly positive hopeful tone to a more cynical mood. The whole sequence adds to the image of innocence – “but leave them alone, let them go and play” – almost suggesting that we should let them be for now, as later they will be filled with worries and doubts about their lives. The narrator almost toys with us, stringing out their future and prolonging the time until their tragic end.
The way it sounds it almost feels like an alternate reality, making us feel sorry for the characters as we know that this dream like state isn’t going to last. There are huge connotations to the presence of Linda, “the girl in the middle” who is torn between the two boys, almost in a tug of war, that they do not realise is happening yet. When the three exit the stage he says “and only if the three of them could stay like that forever” making us wish time could stop for these children. The narrator is once again hovering in the background and his constant presence throughout does not relax you as an audience.
I’m Not Saying A Word
Edward realises that he is falling in love with Linda, singing of how Mickey and Linda should be together and of how he would treat her, hinting at his true feelings. Edward’s likeness to Linda is again completely against what Mrs Lyons would want for him. Despite being a naturally kind and compassionate character, she is quite feisty and is from a working class family like Mickey. Her lack of education and money allows her for no real chance of happiness.
Russell plays on the fact that the characters dream of attaining happiness and fulfilment by escaping from the life they have at present, but they are unable to gain it. Instead of asking Linda out, he makes Micky do it and she says yes. Mickey and Linda don’t spend Edward’s last night with him, going home alone. A couple of months after Edward leaves Linda falls pregnant, Mrs Johnstone giving them her blessing for them to get married.
Take A Letter Miss Jones
Things seem to be looking up for Mickey and Linda, but when Mickey turns up for work after the wedding he is fired. Interestingly, Mr Lyons a small character in terms of the plot sings one of the most important songs that deals with class issues. The song is based around the firing of Miss Jones, an upbeat number with sarcastic undertones. Unemployed men sing “Unemployment’s such a pleasure, these days we call it leisure” and Miss Jones is dismissed in a casual and uncaring manner, forced to type the letter to herself announcing her own redundancy.
There is a character in the play who is unnamed, Margaret Thatcher. Thatcher’s basic premise was that working Britain had got lazy and that the British industry needed to face the chill wind of foreign competition. She confronted the trade unions and reduced their power, notably during the Miners Strike of the 1980s. Unemployment rose to over 3 million and at the same time many of the British population were dependent on the Welfare State. It could be argued that Russell’s play is an outcry against Thatcherism, the play written in the 1980s. This attack on Thatcherism is seen in the destructive effects of unemployment on Mickey’s life. He becomes depressed, and it could be suggested that these effects were all too common in the 1980s, his depression arguably a metaphor for the state of Britain at this time.
Marilyn Monroe III
Sammy, Mickey’s older brother, tries to persuade Mickey to stand guard while a robbery takes place. Mickey is desperate for money so agrees. In the robbery things go wrong and Sammy accidentally shoots a man and kills him. In this sequence there is huge reference to the use of toy guns and the rule used in the song Kids Game. Sammy’s character is almost symbolised through guns and violence, as a child he steals Mickey’s toy gun, progressing to use an air pistol to a shotgun, which is used in this scene. Russell is pushing the theme of the change in innocence and how children are affected by the culture they live in.
Mickey is placed in prison for seven years, extremely affected by the imprisonment acting completely unlike himself. Gone was the voice of excitement and curiosity and in its place is a sombre and depressed young man. Once again Mrs Johnstone uses Marilyn Monroe to express how Mickey is feeling. Mickey is prescribed with anti-depressants and becomes addicted to them, the same way Marilyn did with sleeping tablets. There is a strong use of the dancing symbolism, but not to describe a happy time, rather to describe Mickey’s mind, the pills stop his mind from dancing, further denoting him as unhappy.
Linda is unable to understand why Mickey takes these pills, almost frustrated at him for having to rely on them, Mickey’s addiction eventually pushing her away. Mickey is let out of jail but he is not the person he was when he went in. Mrs Johnstone describes that he has got no more thirst for dancing, the way he did when he was a child. In one scene in particular Linda tries to hide his pills, trying to reason with him. Mickey becomes angrier with her and it is clear that their relationship is unstable. Linda wants to love Mickey, but she needs support herself. Linda gives into his demands, breaking down into tears. We sympathize with her because we to know Mickey throughout his life as she did. We saw them grow up together and fall in love, but we now witness Mickey’s self-destruction and with him brings down everything and everyone he cared about. I feel it is at this point in the musical where there is no hope for any happiness.
Class divisions are further echoed in this song as it is class that leaves Mickey and Eddie in completely different places. Mickey goes from having no qualifications, unemployed, no money and finally in jail, a harrowing reminder of a lost childhood and life on Mickey’s part. As Linda got pregnant there was more pressure on Mickey to become a responsible adult even though he was barely an adult himself. This was totally unlike Eddie, who did what is seen to be the norm of his age, going of to University and getting a job as a Councillor. Mickey makes reference to this in the song, suggesting that Linda and ‘Councillor Eddie Lyons’ were spending time together whilst Mickey was in jail.
Light Romance / Madman
Mrs Johnstone sings of a romantic relationship that formed between Linda and Eddie. The narrator speaks highly of dreams, and the dreams of Linda. He makes a huge difference between how like Mickey, Linda had to grow up fast, becoming a mother, but that the dreams she had as a young girl still remain. Mrs Johnstone describes it as a light romance, Linda finding support in Eddie. Mrs Johnstone reminds us that you can “never be sure who’s at the door or the price you’re gonna have to pay” – it is almost as if she has learnt from the narrator, fully aware that we must be prepared to sufferer the consequences of our mistakes. To begin with, things look up. Eddie helps Linda and Mickey get a house and finds work for him.
However, Mrs Lyons intent on ruining life for the Johnstone’s goes to Mickey’s workplace and tells him of the close relationship between Eddie and Linda. Mickey, delirious from his pills runs from work, like a madman, to his house, takes a loaded gun to the Council to confront Eddie. The narrator screaming that the devil is right beside us, warning us that the tragic end is close.
The Council Chamber
Mickey confronts Eddie with a gun and the police arrive on the scene, along with Mrs Johnstone. Disregarding the superstition that Mrs Lyons imposed upon her years ago, Mrs Johnstone tells Mickey and Eddie the truth. Instead of being upset that he had not been told the truth, Mickey resents the fact that he was not the one who was given away to a wealthy family. In his anger, he shoots Eddie and is shot himself by the police.
The narrator finishes the scene with “And do we blame superstition for what came to pass? Or could it be what we the English have come to know as class? Did you ever hear the story of the Johnstone twins, as like each other as two new pins. How one was kept and one given away, how they were born, and they died, on the self same day”
What did kill the Johnstone twins? Was it superstition? There are two main sources of superstition affecting the outcome of the musical, and they both affect Mrs Johnstone who is the only character who believes in it. If the reason for Mickey and Edward’s death was because of this, they have died due to a series of spiralling events because of this superstition. If Mrs Lyons hadn’t told Mrs Johnstone the lie, she wouldn’t have pushed the thought of Eddie and Mickey not being together. It is a good example of a self-fulfilling prophecy, showing that if you believe in superstitions enough they will come true.
However, if it wasn’t for class, Mrs Johnstone would have never given one of them up, so ultimately when Mickey shouts “Why didn’t you give me away? I could have been I could have been him!” it is the issue of class that makes him so angry causing him to kill his brother. When they grow older, the responsibilities they face puts pressure on how they perceive themselves. Eddie had everything in the eyes of Mickey. He had money, an education, Linda and employment. If Mickey had been given up, he could have been like him. Russell uses the narrator to juxtapose the two by making him ask this question of whether it was class or superstition at the end.
Tell Me It’s Not True
What a song. Mrs Johnstone is in denial that her two sons have died. For Mrs Johnstone it is as if she has finally awaken to what affect her choice has had on her sons lives, facing up to reality for the first and last time. She sings the song and weaves together the themes of the play. She wishes this event was just an old movie with Marilyn Monroe, wishes it was only a game and the rest of the cast picks up the song with this idea of an illusion of an old film that isn’t true.
The song creates a highly emotional atmosphere for the finale, the crescendo of the truth coming out. This helps us to reflect on the consequences of the characters’ decisions, and the significance of the superstition mentioned earlier in the play. Through this song, and the whole show, Russell encourages us to challenge the assumption that money and wealth equals happiness and can in fact be the destruction of us. He wants us to sympathies with Mrs Johnstone and grow to understand that despite her background and lack of money, she is the most mournful of her children. Throughout the whole show the audience sympathy lies with her, we know she gives her son away but we see that it is with good intention, and despite her lack of income and her numerous children, she loved Mickey and Eddie the same.
Although the opening scene of the show is this song and doesn’t exactly hint at a happy ending, the song still hits home. The show draws you into the world of the families it portrays, and lulls you into a false sense of security at the beginning, until it twists into this awful tragedy. We can empathise with these characters and we understand them. They may have a firm Liverpudlian voice, with dry wit and bare humanity, but the emotions that they experience can be recognised by anybody. The dialogue and the music meet seamlessly into one another. You never really think of Willy Russell as a musical writer and neither did he. It’s an ingenious score and it is safe to say that Russel succeeded in creating one of the best musicals of all time.