Mr. Russell, welcome to our program, Writers’ Question Time. Could you briefly tell us what your play is about? Thank you for inviting me to the show. “Blood Brothers” is about the story of twin brothers separated at birth. The twins’ working-class mother – Mrs. Johnston – is too poor to keep both twins, so gives one to her very rich employer Mrs. Lyons, who cannot have children of her own. Mrs. Johnston is extremely superstitious, and Mrs. Lyons discovers this early on when Mrs. Johnston finds shoes on the table. Mrs. Lyons takes advantage of this, and tells Mrs. Johnston ‘that if either twin learns he was one of a pair they shall both die immediately!’
Until the twins are about eight years of age, Mrs. Lyons and Mrs. Johnston have no problem keeping their secret shut away. They then find that the twins have met, and have become very good friends without realising they are related to each other. Mrs. Lyons persuades her husband to move the family away from the city to the countryside. Later in the play, Mrs. Johnston and her children get moved from the slums, closer to the house of Mrs Lyons. As the twins discover each other once again, Mrs. Lyons’ mental health begins to deteriorate, and paranoia starts to kick in. With Mrs. Johnston, anxious as ever that her secret will slip out, the general mood of the play becomes more sinister, and the ending is tragic.
Mr. Russell, what can you tell us about the setting you have chosen for your play? I chose to set the play in Liverpool. I grew up there, so I had a great appreciation for the jokes and the language the locals used, as well as a superb mental map of the Liverpudlian area. This helped me whilst writing the play, as I could relate the setting to my own experiences as a teenager.
The play begins in the 1960s; considerably I make this clear to the audience in the opening scenes when Mrs. Johnston sings about Marilyn Monroe. I also get Mrs. Lyons to threaten Mrs. Johnston by saying, ‘Already you’re being threatened by the Welfare.’ This mention of the Welfare State sums up how hard it is for a single woman like Mrs. Johnston to bring up a family. In Mrs. Johnston’s case, she has ‘seven hungry mouths to feed and one more nearly due.’ Her circumstances are really put to the extreme, especially when one of her children whimpers, ‘Mum… mum, there’s no bread.’
The play ends in the 1980s. I make this obvious as the narrator dedicates one of his speeches to the recession of the 1980s, near the end of the play. Mickey, the poorer twin, belonging to Mrs Johnston, is cruelly affected by the recession, as he describes his job as having ‘disappeared’. In addition, the audience see Mickey ‘job hunting’, and having no luck. This is because Mickey has no education and no qualifications, making it very hard for him or someone in similar circumstances, to get a job in a time like recession. Mr. Russell, your play has an unusual structure. Can you explain to us?
When writing the play, one of my primary focuses was to make the audience have an active participating role. I managed to achieve this using the narrator’s songs in between many of the scenes. The narrator’s words often speak of destiny, and how previous choices in life determine outcomes later on. The narrator holds on to this role well by over-shadowing the entire story, enabling the audience to consider the very different circumstances the boys face from different perspectives. This opens up the audience’s eyes to something they may have not seen otherwise. A good example of this is in the narrator’s first song when he says, ‘Mrs. Johnston saw her children wrenched apart’.
If you were to read the play without the narrator’s input, you may not have noticed this idea. This example is one of many, and shows how versatile the play can be when letting the reader take a side with a character, in this case, Mrs Johnston or Mrs Lyons. Allowing the audience to choose a side is one of the narrator’s clear intentions, since in the opening song he says, ‘and judge for ourselves this terrible sin’, noticeably inviting the audience to choose a side once the story unfolds.
The lengths of the scenes vary considerably. This is so the story brushes through the years, stopping at points of interest and controversy. Where the scenes are short, or many years have been missed out, the narrator has a ‘quick summary’ role, briefly explaining what has previously happened; he enables the audience to fill in the gaps. In one case, the narrator says, ‘there’s a jingle in your pocket, and you’ve got good friends’, conveys the idea that this is three years after the previous scene, and so this concludes that Mickey and Edward have remained good friends. Another reason for the play to move on so quickly is so the audience only consider the main problems and issues of the play. The action moves on quickly and does not allow the characters to be the centre of attention, but rather the issues themselves which make up the story of the play.