Blood Brothers

Willy Russell’s musical was written in 1983, as Margaret Thatcher presided over a Britain bitterly divided by class. Blood Brothers tells the story of identical twins who were separated at birth; Eddie is sent to a wealthy upper-class family while Mickey stays with his poverty-stricken birth mother. When they are children, the boys quickly become friends. But as they grow up they are shaped by their vastly different backgrounds and their lives move in two opposing — and ultimately tragic — directions.


The two boys are both kind, honest people with a propensity for trouble. But Eddie’s privileged background leads him to success, while Mickey’s life spirals into crime, depression and addiction. ‘Do we blame superstition for what came to pass?’ asks the narrator in the play’s final lines. ‘Or could it be what we, the English, have come to know as class?’


The boys do not know that they are related until the play’s final moments — but they feel an instant connection, and swear themselves as ‘blood brothers’. And yet Eddie’s adopted family also has a strong influence over his life. How important are family ties?


From the beginning, money is a source of conflict and suffering — it is lack of money that forces Mrs Johnstone to give up Eddie in the first place. Years later, the twins’ friendship disintegrates as poverty forces Mickey to grow up faster than Eddie. Have things improved?


What makes two identical babies grow into such different men? Is it their class, as the play suggests, or the choices they make? Or are their similarities ultimately stronger — such as their shared love for Linda, which drives them even further apart?


There is one more explanation for the twins’ deaths: fate. The narrator repeatedly references various superstitions, and Mrs Lyons scares Mrs Johnstone with a made-up belief that they boys will die if they ever find out they are related. This turns out to be true, but was it a self-fulfilling prophecy?