Blood Brothers

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Blood Brothers Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Willy Russell's Blood Brothers. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Willy Russell
The child of a working-class family whose father struggled with drug addiction, Willy Russell has a varied past—he worked at a folk club, taught, and even ran a hair salon. After making an impression with his writing at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, Russell began writing musicals, plays, and TV scripts. Blood Brothers, which he refers to as a “Liverpudlian folk opera,” premiered in 1983, and then moved to the West End, where it won the Olivier Award for Best Musical. Russell has continued writing since that time, and has even expanded his range to include novels and albums. He lives in Liverpool with his wife Anne. They have three children.
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Historical Context of Blood Brothers
A socially-conscious and relevant work about class, social stratification, and poverty, Blood Brothers was written in 1983, four years after Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher came into power in the UK. A notoriously hardline conservative, Thatcher took office during a time of economic stagnation and high unemployment. Her solution to these problems often came at the expense of working-class citizens, particularly who those who worked in industries such as mining and industrial labor (like Eddie). The Winter of Discontent of 1979, during which labor unions led strikes against pay caps meant to stimulate economic recovery, would certainly have been on Russell’s mind as he wrote his musical. Indeed, during the period from 1980 to 1984, British industrial production fell by a full twenty-five percent, leaving over three million people unemployed.
Other Books Related to Blood Brothers
Some critics have speculated that Russell based his play off of Alexander Dumas’ The Corsican Brothers, a novella about conjoined twins separated at birth. Russell, however, denies this influence. Russell’s other well-known work, Educating Rita (commissioned by the Royal Shakespeare Company), focuses on another inhabitant of Liverpool, this time a hairdresser. Another working-class portrayal of the British 1980s economic crisis is the movie Billy Elliot, and the recent musical of the same name. The theme of warring brothers is an ancient one, and one of its earliest portrayals is the Ancient Greek tragedy Antigone, which portrays the devastation that follows two siblings’ rivalry. To understand the scope of the musical genre in the 1980s, read and listen to La Cage aux Folles, written in the same year as Blood Brothers, but utterly different in terms of style, form, and content.
Key Facts about Blood Brothers
  • Full Title: Blood Brothers
  • When Written: 1982
  • Where Written: Liverpool, UK
  • Literary Period: 20th century musical
  • Genre: Musical
  • Setting: Liverpool, UK
  • Climax: Mrs. Johnstone reveals to Mickey and Edward that they are twin brothers
  • Antagonist: The English class system, as represented by the unstable and snobbish Mrs. Lyons
Extra Credit for Blood Brothers

Long live the play! The revival of Blood Brothers on the West End ran for twenty-four years, making it the third-longest running musical in the history of the UK.

Universal appeal. In 2012, a version of the play traveled to South Africa, and many of the main parts were played by black actors. Its director believed that the universal themes of the piece would be instantly relatable to South African audiences.