Blood Brothers Summary

Willy Russell

Blood Brothers

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Blood Brothers Summary

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Blood Brothers is a musical by Willy Russell, which debuted on London’s West End in 1983. It won the Laurence Olivier Award for Best New Musical, and it was one of the longest running musicals on the West End, finally closing in 2012. The musical focuses on separated twin brothers, who lead starkly different lives—one opulently and the other in poverty. There is a tragic love triangle between them with disastrous consequences. The musical developed a cult following due to its relatable characters.

The musical begins with a narrator telling the audience about twins—Edward and Mickey—who were separated at birth and happened to die on the same day. Their biological mother, Mrs. Johnstone, is introduced. Mrs. Johnstone already has five children, with twins on the way. She struggles in poverty and longs for the days where she felt as glamorous as Marilyn Monroe with her husband.

Mrs. Johnstone works for a wealthy woman, Mrs. Lyons. Mrs. Lyons sees that Mrs. Johnstone is struggling with the financial prospect of having twins. She comes up with a solution. Mrs. Lyons agrees to adopt one of the twins, but Mrs. Johnstone must promise to never reveal their agreement. Mrs. Johnstone agrees and gives birth to Mickey and Edward. She gives Edward to Mrs. Johnstone but laments her decision. Mrs. Johnstone later tells her family one of the twins died during birth.

When Mrs. Johnstone returns to work, Mrs. Lyons notices the attention Mrs. Johnstone gives Edward. Mrs. Lyons fires Mrs. Johnstone. As Mrs. Johnstone is leaving, she says she wants to take Edward. Mrs. Lyons manipulates Mrs. Johnstone, saying twins who are separated at birth and are then reunited automatically die.  Mrs. Johnstone refuses a severance and leaves. The narrator remarks that the devil will catch up to them.

Seven years go by, and the boys have adapted to their separate lives. Mickey lives a rougher life, whereas Edward has had a privileged upbringing. The boys meet by happenstance and become fast friends. They decide to become “blood brothers,” after realizing they share a birthday. Mrs. Johnstone sees them together, realizes who Edward is and shoos him away. When Mickey turns up at the Lyons’, Mrs. Lyons also panics, sending Mickey away.

The boys ignore their mothers’ reactions and spend time together, along with a girl named Linda. Their activities draw attention, especially when they are throwing rocks at windows and are caught by police. The class inequality between the two families is shown, as Mrs. Lyons receives flattery from police, while Mrs. Johnstone receives threats. Mrs. Lyons decides to uproot her family to keep the boys away from each other. As the Lyons’ leave for the country, Mrs. Johnstone gives Edward a locket with her picture, along with Mickey’s. Hope is not lost, as Mrs. Johnstone decides to move to the country also, to give a better life to her children.

Act II begins with the boys at fourteen. Mickey and Linda have feelings for each other, but Mickey feels awkward around her. They both have been suspended from school for disrespecting a teacher. Mickey has taken his activities further, attempting to rob a bus. Edward has also been suspended from his elite boarding school, but for not giving up his locket. Once his mother discovers what is in the locket, she becomes concerned.

Edward and Mickey see each other from far away, not recognizing each other. They each wish to be like the other. Edward is jealous of the independence Mickey has, whereas Mickey is jealous of Edward’s cool demeanor. They finally recognize one another, happily. Edward follows Mickey home, which delights Mrs. Johnstone. That moment passes when the boys leave, as Mrs. Lyons confronts Mrs. Johnstone. She accuses Mrs. Johnstone of trying to win Edward’s affection. Mrs. Lyons attempts to attack Mrs. Johnstone with a kitchen knife but is disarmed. She leaves, but calls Mrs. Johnstone a witch.

The boys spend time together, along with Linda. They get into trouble, but also enjoy being young and relatively carefree. Soon, the boys are eighteen. Edward is going away to college and Mickey begins work at a factory. Edward has developed feelings for Linda, but persuades Mickey to ask her out. She agrees. Months later, Mickey reveals to Mrs. Johnstone that Linda is pregnant and that they are engaged. Sadly, Mickey is soon laid off due to the economic downturn of the early 1980s.

Edward returns from college, but he and Mickey are different now. Mickey accuses Edward of being naïve. Edward, feeling dejected, finds Linda and confesses his feelings. He is saddened to hear about the pregnancy and engagement, so he abandons his romantic feelings. Mickey is desperate for money for his future. He agrees to participate in a robbery with his older brother, Sammy. Sammy murders someone in the process, so Mickey is guilty as an accessory. They get caught, and Mickey is sentenced to seven years in prison.

While in prison, Mickey becomes addicted to anti-depressants. Once he is released from prison, he is still dependent on them. Linda is desperate and asks Edward, now a city councilman, for help. This enrages Mickey, and his bad temper causes Linda to seek solace with Edward. She and Edward begin to have an affair. Mrs. Lyons sees Edward and Linda together and tells Mickey. Incensed, Mickey finds Sammy’s gun and confronts Edward. Linda and Mrs. Johnstone follow.

The narrator tells us the devil has finally arrived. Mickey accuses Edward of not just an affair, but also fathering Mickey’s child. Edward denies this. Mrs. Johnstone appears and tells the boys that they are twins. Instead of calming Mickey down, the news makes him more upset, as he realizes he could have had Edward’s privileged life. Mickey recklessly waves the gun around, accidentally killing his brother. The police immediately fire on Mickey, killing him. The superstition came true, and the narrator questions if the tragedy was just a matter of class disparity.