A tale of two brothers

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 06 March, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 06 March, 2012, 12:00am


A school drama

Blood Brothers was first performed in a secondary school in the northern English city of Liverpool in November, 1981. Local playwright Willy Russell had written the play for a young people's theatre company that performed in schools.

All the youngsters and teachers who saw this first production simply loved it. Russell was persuaded to add some songs to his short play and expand it into a full-length, two-act show that could be performed for adults in a professional theatre.

A massive success

Russell's revised version of Blood Brothers opened at the Liverpool Playhouse in 1983. The show then transferred to a theatre in London where it won an award for best new musical. It is still running in London, making it one of the longest-running productions in theatre history, and student versions of the play are performed by school theatre groups all over Britain.

Russell said the story of Mickey and Eddie Johnstone sent shivers up his spine when he was writing it. Blood Brothers is a deeply moving piece of modern theatre whether it is performed in a theatre or read in a classroom. Once you know the story of the Johnstone twins, you will realise why this simple but powerful play has become so successful.

Mickey and Eddie

The story is set in Liverpool. Mrs Johnstone is a single mother finding it very difficult to bring up her young family, and is pregnant again. She takes a job as a cleaner in the home of Mrs Lyons, the wife of a rich businessman.

Mrs Lyons cannot have children of her own. When she finds out that Mrs Johnstone is going to have twins, she suggests the overworked mother gives her one of the baby boys to bring up as her own son.

Mrs Johnstone does not know what to do. She knows that her baby would have a much better life with Mrs Lyons than she could give him. Mrs Johnstone makes a desperate choice. She gives one of her baby boys to Mrs Lyons, swearing on the Bible that she will never tell the truth about what she has done.

Blood Brothers follows the lives of the twins, Mickey and Eddie, as they grow up in very different backgrounds. Then they meet, and the play hurtles towards the terrible day when they discover the truth about what their mother did when they were babies.

The play's themes

Blood Brothers is a play about money, class, opportunity, education and family. It is also a play about attaining happiness and fulfilment by escaping from the life that fate gives you. Chance and choice play a big part in the plot. All the way through, the audience is asked to decide whether Mrs Johnstone did the right thing by giving one of her babies away.

This is a gripping play and there is a lot going on under the surface of the story. It is a drama that certainly entertains and stirs up emotions, but it also makes audiences think and take sides.

Choices and changes

Change ONE word in each of these statements about Blood Brothers to make the statement true.

1 The play is set in London.

2 Mrs Lyons is a single mother with a young family.

3 The play was first performed in a theatre.

4 Mrs Johnstone makes a simple decision about the future of one of her twin boys.

5 The play is entertaining and it makes audiences laugh.


1. Liverpool, 2. Mrs Johnstone, 3. school, 4. difficult/desperate, 5. think