Seven years have passed. Mrs. Johnstone sings about her lovely new house. She pays her milk bill on time, and the milkman even takes her dancing, telling her that she has legs like Marilyn Monroe. Of course, Sammy has burned the school down, but Mrs. Johnstone manages to get him out of a punishment by flirting with the judge, who also tells her that she looks like Marilyn Monroe. Mickey, meanwhile, has turned fourteen, and has begun to notice girls, although he’s very embarrassed about it. Donna Marie, just like her mother, is married and has several children already. Mrs. Johnstone prays that Edward is still all right, wherever he is (not like Marilyn Monroe, who has died).
Another seven year jump puts the idea of coming of age front and center, as Edward and Mickey are suddenly teenagers. Although it seems optimistic, Mrs. Johnstone’s song has darker undertones. Not only has Sammy continued in his juvenile delinquency, but Mrs. Johnstone is still comparing her life to that of Marilyn Monroe, proof that she has not truly left the past behind. Making this point even more obvious is the fact that she still prays for Edward, despite having been absent from his life for seven years.
Mrs. Lyons enters, teaching Edward how to waltz. Edward has been at boarding school, and is about to go back for another term. Mrs. Lyons embraces her son tightly, asking him if he’s had a good time at home, and if he feels safe in their home. The car horn honks, and Edward exits with Mr. Lyons.
In contrast to Mrs. Johnstone’s dancing with the milkman, Mrs. Lyons’ choice of dance is a waltz, emphasizing her poshness. Her clinginess towards Edward illustrates that her paranoia and anxiety continue even in the country.
Mrs. Johnstone enters, hurrying Mickey off to school, and telling him that she’s been hearing him talk about Linda in his sleep. Linda enters, waiting at the bus stop, and Mrs. Johnstone continues to tease her son. As she does so, Sammy enters—he tells his mother that he’s off to wait in the unemployment line for his latest check. Mrs. Johnstone allows him to go, and is amused by Mickey’s obvious crush on Linda.
The theme of coming of age becomes even more apparent as we witness how Mickey’s feelings for Linda have evolved. Sammy, meanwhile, continues his path towards unemployment and crime. Sammy’s fate is a subplot for now, but it will eventually become crucial to the narrative, and Russell holds him up as an example of how poverty often leads to hopelessness and crime.
The conductor—played by the Narrator—tells the teenagers to get on the bus, but then turns to Mrs. Johnstone. He asks if she’s happy, and whether she’s forgotten the past. He reminds her that she can’t escape eventually paying the price for her actions.
The kids get on the bus. Mickey and Linda pay a reduced price because they’re students, but Sammy attempts to pay the lower rate as well. When the conductor tells Sammy that he’s too old, Sammy produces a knife, and attempts to rob the bus. The conductor stops the bus and Sammy runs away, pursued by two policemen.
Sammy’s descent into a life of crime becomes more and more obvious as he attempts to rob a bus. His attraction towards violence, already clear when he was a young child, has clearly evolved, and will continue to do so as the play moves forward. The toy gun has become a knife, and soon it will become a real gun.
Linda and Mickey are left alone onstage, and Linda warns Mickey that Sammy’s going to be put into prison. She says that Mickey had better not ever go bad like Sammy, or she won’t love him anymore. Mickey tells her to stop saying that she loves him, but Linda retorts that she does, and that she doesn’t care who knows. Embarrassed, Mickey hurries off to school, and Linda follows him.
During this scene, Linda’s true feelings for Mickey become clear, as she confidently and without embarrassment tells her friend that she loves him. Mickey, however, is still immature and unsure, and has no idea of how to react to her declaration or her advances.
Meanwhile, at Edward’s school, a teacher confronts Edward about his secret locket, ordering him to take it off because it’s not an appropriate accessory for a boy. Edward refuses repeatedly, finally telling his teacher to “take a flying fuck.” The teacher, furious, threatens to have Edward suspended.
Again Edward demonstrates that he has a stubborn and rebellious streak similar to Mickey’s. It is particularly significant since he uses the “f-word” that Mickey taught him seven years ago.
Back in Linda and Mickey’s school, a teacher is teaching a group of students about the Boro Indians of the Amazon. Although a know-it-all student tries to answer the teacher’s questions, the teacher decides to pick on Mickey, who hasn’t even been paying attention. Linda defends him, but the teacher grows angry as Mickey becomes increasingly defiant (and as Linda declares that she loves him). At last, the teacher suspends Mickey and Linda, both of whom leave the class.
The parallels between Mickey and Edward’s lives continue as Mickey experiences trouble at school at the same time as Edward does. Mickey’s disciplinary issues, however, take place in a far rougher environment than Edward’s do, a further illustration that while the boys share similar temperaments, they’ve had vastly different upbringings.
We move back to Edward, now with Mrs. Lyons, who is appalled that her son has been suspended. In an effort to explain, he shows her the locket, which she looks at without opening, believing it to be from a girlfriend. Teasingly, she opens it up, but is appalled to find the picture of Mickey and Mrs. Johnstone within it. She questions Edward about where he got it, but he responds that it’s a secret. Edward asks his mother if she herself has any secrets, and then storms off to his room.
Edward displays the same stubbornness—but honesty—with his mother as he does with his teacher, even more proof that his Johnstone personality can still overcome his Lyons upbringing. The locket, meanwhile, fulfills Mrs. Lyons’ worst fears. The past will follow her, no matter how hard she tries to escape it—and no matter how much she tries to make Edward hers, he still feels a bond with his biological mother and brother.
The Narrator enters, mocking Mrs. Lyons for feeling secure, and telling her that no amount of time can brush away the past. The devil, he warns her, still has her number, and will always know where to find her.
The Narrator again assumes the role of Mrs. Lyons’ paranoia and anxiety. His frequent references to the devil make his presence even more ominous.
Mickey and Linda walk up a hill—Linda struggling in her high-heeled shoes. Her foot gets stuck, and she asks Mickey to put his arms around her waist and pull her out, but she soon begins teasing him. They can see the wealthy homes in the distance, and Mickey points out a boy looking out of his window that he sometimes sees from the hill. Linda, still teasing, begins to talk about how gorgeous the other boy is. She asks if Mickey is jealous, but he denies it. Frustrated, she storms off.
The flirtatious dynamic between Mickey and Linda continues, but ends with a disagreement. Although Linda clearly likes Mickey, he simply feels too awkward and unattractive to respond to her advances. That the boy in the window is actually Edward makes this scene a painful moment of dramatic irony, as well as foreshadowing of the “love triangle” that will form between the three later.
As Linda leaves, Mickey talks to an imaginary Linda, saying how much he wants to hold and kiss her, but that he can’t because he’s far too ugly and awkward. He sees the boy from the window—Edward, whom he doesn’t recognize—walking towards him, and imagines what it would be like to be suave and debonair, as he imagines Edward to be. Edward, meanwhile, sings about how he longs for Mickey’s freedom. The two boys duet, wishing for each other’s looks, and referring to each other as “that guy.”
The parallels between Mickey and Edward continue, but now a note of jealousy enters the bond between the two boys. Each envies the others’ life, and this is proof both of their shared temperament, and of the very different environments in which they’ve grown up. The idea of envy between the two boys, first planted here, will become increasingly destructive as the play continues.
The two boys meet, and Mickey asks for a cigarette. Edward says that he doesn’t have one, but that he could get some for Mickey if he wants. The two then realize each other’s identities, and are ecstatic to be reunited. Edward asks who the girl he saw with Mickey is, and Mickey explains that it’s Linda. The two discuss girlfriends, and Edward reveals that he doesn’t have any. Mickey bluffs for a moment, saying that he has many girlfriends, but then caves, explaining that he’s tried to ask out Linda many times, but every time he tries, he’s unable to say the words. Edward tries to give Mickey advice about Linda, and then suggests that they go and see a pornographic film together for tips. Mickey agrees, saying that they’ll need to stop at his home so that he can get money first. As the boys head off together, we realize that Mrs. Lyons has been watching the entire exchange. After a moment, she follows the pair.
That this interaction after seven years spent apart so closely mirrors their first interaction only further emphasizes the fact that the forces of fate seem to be bringing Edward and Mickey together. They quickly re-bond over their shared awkwardness around girls, and their desire to learn about the more adult elements of life. Though this exchange seems endearing and adolescent, a sinister note enters the proceedings in the form of Mrs. Lyons, who has now actually begun spying on her teenage son. Her paranoia has already become dangerous and destructive, and will only grow more so.
The two boys walk along as, unbeknownst to them, the Narrator follows them (along with Mrs. Lyons). Edward offers to lend Mickey money, but Mickey says that he will ask Mrs. Johnstone for some. Edward says that they need to move quickly, before his unstable mother sees them. They exit. The Narrator sings his refrain, mocking the idea of security, and adding that the past can never be locked away, that there will always be a debt to pay, and that the devil is waiting.
A pattern emerges, as Mickey and Edward’s innocent teenage banter contrasts with the sinister forces of fate, jealousy, and superstition that are swirling around them. As usual, the Narrator embodies these darker ideas, but this time, Mrs. Lyons does as well, proof of how far gone she is on the road to destruction.
Mickey and Edward burst into Mrs. Johnstone’s kitchen, with Mickey thrilled to reintroduce his mother to his old friend. Mrs. Johnstone is shocked but happy to see Edward, and she tells Mickey that he can take a pound to go see a movie. As Mickey goes to the other room for the money, Mrs. Johnstone asks if Edward still has the locket she gave him. Edward replies that he does. Slyly, Mrs. Johnstone asks the boys what movie they plan on seeing. Although they try to lie, Mrs. Johnstone catches them—but she is amused rather than angry. She tells them to leave, and as they exit, Edward marvels at how wonderful she is.
Even though she is poor, Mrs. Johnstone is generous with money when it comes to her son. Despite her surprise at seeing Edward, she instantly rekindles her old instinctual bond with him. In contrast to the paranoid Mrs. Lyons, Mrs. Johnstone here proves herself to be understanding and empathetic, even allowing her two teenage sons to go see a pornographic film. She understands the concept of growing up in a way that Mrs. Lyons never will.
With the boys gone, Mrs. Lyons emerges to confront Mrs. Johnstone, demanding to know how long the family has lived in the area. Becoming increasingly hysterical, she asks whether Mrs. Johnstone intends to follow her forever. Mrs. Lyons adds that Edward refuses to remove the locket with Mrs. Johnstone’s picture. Mrs. Johnstone stammers that she only wanted him to remember her. Mrs. Lyons says that Edward will always remember Mrs. Johnstone, and will never truly be hers. She goes on, asking Mrs. Johnstone whether she’s told Edward the truth. Mrs. Johnstone protests that she has not, but Mrs. Lyons admits that even when her son was a baby, she felt that on some level, he knew. Saying that Mrs. Johnstone has ruined her, she vows that Edward will not be ruined as well. She offers Mrs. Johnstone any sum of money she wants if she will leave the area. The poorer woman refuses, however, saying that Mrs. Lyons should move if she wants to. Mrs. Lyons responds that the Johnstones will follow her wherever she goes. Completely insane, Mrs. Lyons then tries to stab Mrs. Johnstone with a kitchen knife. Mrs. Johnstone disarms her, calling her “mad,” and Mrs. Lyons curses her, calling her a witch, before at last exiting.
In this scene, the full extent of Mrs. Lyons’ insanity finally emerges. She is so haunted by her past deception that she now puts all the blame on Mrs. Johnstone, believing that the other woman has “ruined” and “cursed” her. Although Mrs. Lyons believes that her son Edward does not really belong to her, this is a delusion that springs from her deep guilt, rather than an actual fact. Even in the midst of her emotional breakdown, Mrs. Lyons still believes that money can fix everything—Mrs. Johnstone, however, has very different ideas. Although she is terrified of the other woman, Mrs. Johnstone shows both courage and compassion here, hearing out Mrs. Lyons’ ranting for as long as she can, and defending herself when Mrs. Lyons becomes violent. This scene completes Mrs. Lyons’ transformation from a snobbish but sympathetic character into an outright villain.
The neighborhood children emerge, singing about a mad woman who lives high on the hill, and warning the audience never to interact with her.
Mrs. Lyons now becomes a figure of legend, a cautionary tale rather than an actual three-dimensional person.
Meanwhile Edward and Mickey emerge from the movie, dazed and impressed. They gasp at the idea of naked breasts, and as Edward begins a chant of “tits, tits, tits,” Linda and a friend of hers exit the cinema as well. Edward tries to dance with the friend, who quickly exits. Linda, meanwhile, asks Mickey what he’s doing in town. Mickey, embarrassed, lies (while Edward almost blurts out the truth). Linda, however, reveals that she was at the same pornographic movie.
Mrs. Lyons’ breakdown contrasts with Edward and Mickey’s adolescent awe over the pornographic film. We also get some comedic “coming of age” moments to lighten the mood. Linda, meanwhile, defies sexist expectations by freely admitting that she’s just seen the same movie. Although she will eventually be caught in a love triangle, this female character is not a damsel in distress.
Edward continues his chant, eventually getting so excited that he jumps on top of a lamppost. A policeman enters, and the three adolescents use the same impertinent responses that they did as children. Linda distracts the policeman and the trio makes a run for it, with the policeman chasing after them.
As usual, Edward is innocent and exuberant, while Mickey and Linda are more cautious and streetwise. The adolescents fall into the same pattern they did seven years ago, again proving the lingering power of the past.
The three teenagers spend the summer together, as the Narrator illustrates (in song) the innocent, idyllic months that pass. The three go to a shooting range and play monkey-in-the-middle, while the Narrator warns that one day Linda will pay a price for being in between the two brothers. The Narrator comments that the adolescents don’t care what’s to come at the end of the day, and we see them grow from fourteen to eighteen, enjoying time at the beach together and taking photographs. In the last shot, the Narrator takes a picture of all three of them together, singing that at their age, you don’t notice any of the bad things in life, because you’re “young, free, and innocent.”
The theme of coming of age becomes most dominant here, as several years go by during a single song. Though most of this sequence is filled with idyllic scenes of the trio’s wonderful summers together, the Narrator makes sure to add an ominous note to the proceedings. The characters enjoy their youth, but the Narrator reminds us that childhood must end. He also specifically warns Linda about the heartbreak that the two brothers will cause her, meaning that yet another life will be ruined by Mrs. Lyons’ and Mrs. Johnstone’s fateful choice.
Edward waits by a streetlight as Linda teases him. Edward asks where Mickey is, and she replies that he’s working overtime at a factory. Edward is miserable because he must go away to university the next day. He asks if he can write to Linda, but comments that Mickey might mind, since Linda is Mickey’s girlfriend. Linda says that she isn’t, because Mickey has never asked her out. Edward comments that if he were Mickey, he would have asked her years ago. He goes on to sing about the kind of relationship he would have with Linda, but finishes each chorus with, “I’m not saying a word.” He assures her that he doesn’t actually care for her, but implies that he is staying silent because of his loyalty to Mickey.
After years of unity, Edward and Mickey’s lives now begin to separate, as Mickey heads off to work and Edward goes to university (something he can afford, and Edward cannot). More ominous is the fact that the two brothers seem to have fallen for the same woman. In this scene, however, we see the full extent of Edward’s noble and honest nature. Although he can’t resist telling Linda how he feels about her, he would never betray Mickey, preferring to keep his oath to his blood brother rather than pursue the girl he loves.
Mickey enters, disrupting the mood. He complains about his job at the factory, and Edward breaks the news that he’ll be at university until Christmas. Edward asks Mickey to ask out Linda, as a favor to him. At last, Mickey unromantically asks Linda if she will go out with him. Although the proposal itself is awkward, the two do share a passionate kiss. Edward excuses himself, and Mickey promises that he’ll put in lots of overtime at the factory so that the three of them can spend time together during Christmas. Linda says goodbye to Edward with a friendly kiss, before exiting with Mickey.
Edward’s self-sacrifice continues, as he not only stands aside so that Mickey and Linda can be together, but actively convinces Mickey to pursue Linda. His status as a “third wheel” is made clear after he awkwardly exits while the two share a passionate kiss. This dynamic—a familiar one in adolescent relationships—will eventually become a fatal one.
As Mickey prepares to go to work, Mrs. Johnstone enters with his lunch. The Narrator enters briefly, explaining that it is a cold day in October, and ominously adding that the bogey man is in town. Mrs. Johnstone urges Mickey to head to the factory so that he’s not late. A stunned Mickey reveals to Mrs. Johnstone that Linda is pregnant, and that he wants to marry her within the month. He asks if they can live with her for a while, and if she is angry at him. Mrs. Johnstone responds with warmth and affection, but apologizes for the limited life that Mickey has lived as her son. Mickey tells her that he’s had a great life with her. Then he hurries off, anxious to keep his job at the factory.
Directly after their beautiful coming-of-age sequence, Linda and Mickey are forced to grow up—fast—when Linda becomes pregnant. This event mirrors Mrs. Johnstone’s situation when she was young, as again the past repeats itself. The Narrator also appears in this passage to mention the proverbial bogey man. That he is equating this superstition with the class-based problem of industrial labor and unplanned pregnancy begins to create a parallel between bad omens and economic struggles.
The scene quickly changes to Mickey and Linda’s wedding, although Mickey is still in his work clothes. As they celebrate, a Managing Director at Mickey’s factory enters with his secretary, Miss Jones. His song consists of a series of letters in which he mechanically and mercilessly fires his employees. As he sings, we see Mickey go from his wedding to his work, only to be fired upon his arrival. The Managing Director explains that deflation, an economic crash, the price of oil, and the difficult times have contributed to this round of layoffs. The wedding guests become an unemployment line, which Mickey joins. The song ends with the Managing Director firing the faithful Miss Jones. The men waiting in the line try to comfort Miss Jones, who takes Mickey’s place in line.
The downhill chain of events in Mickey’s life occurs with lightning speed, illustrating how quickly society forces poor young people to grow up. Mickey’s very personal ups and downs—from his wedding to his firing—contrast with the highly impersonal attitude of the Managing Director, a symbol of all that is greedy and wrong with the British economy. An unashamed capitalist who is putting thousands of people out of work, the Managing Director feels no guilt about his actions, although they will end up directly destroying the entire Johnstone family.
The men on the unemployment line narrate Mickey’s decline, calling him “old before his time” and noting how aimless and isolated he is. They call it just “another sign of the times.”
Little time has passed since the trio’s idyllic summers, but Mickey has been forced to grow up fast. It’s implied that an extended period of adolescence is a luxury not available to the poor.
It is now Christmastime, and a happy Edward returns, looking for Mickey. He jokes and asks Mickey when they will begin drinking and celebrating, and tells Mickey about all the wonderful parties he’s attended and the people he’s met at university. He asks how Linda is, and tells Mickey that he wants to invite some of his university friends over. At last, Mickey calls Edward a “dick head,” and reveals to Edward that he is unemployed and depressed. He laments having lost his job, and describes the awful monotony of unemployment. Insensitively, Edward asks why Mickey needs a job when he can just get unemployment money. Mickey tells Edward that he doesn’t understand anything, and Edward tries to make amends by offering him money so that they can go out with Linda and celebrate. Mickey, however, tells his friend to “piss off.” When the confused Edward asks what happened to their blood brotherhood, Mickey calls their bond “kids’ stuff,” and claims that he has grown up, while Edward has not. He tells Edward to leave before he gets a beating.
In contrast to Mickey’s various misfortunes, Edward has had a wonderful few months, making friends and partying in college. While before the two boys managed to bond despite their different economic circumstances, here the gap between Edward’s privilege and Mickey’s poverty at last becomes too much for Mickey to bear. When he tells Edward that blood brotherhood is just for “kids,” only the audience understands the full irony of his words. Edward and Mickey’s kinship can’t be cast aside that easily, and furthermore, Edward could easily be in the same economic situation as Mickey, had the cards played out differently. The way that chance and fate has ruled the lives of these two is obvious in this sequence, and will become increasingly painful as the narrative progresses.
The two separate, and Sammy approaches Mickey, while Linda greets Edward. Edward asks Linda why she hasn’t come to see him, and she replies that she didn’t want to disturb him while he was with his friends. He protests that he would give up all of his friends if it meant seeing Linda.
Of these two parallel interactions, Edward and Linda’s seems relatively harmless, while Sammy and Mickey’s seems more ominous. Both, however, will prove equally fateful (and fatal) eventually.
On the other side of the stage, Sammy tries to convince Mickey to be a lookout during a burglary, promising that although he will be carrying a gun, it will not be violent.
Always a bad influence, Sammy has now graduated from toy guns to real guns, and is encouraging his brother to follow him in a life of crime.
Convinced that he will never see her again, Edward confesses his love for Linda, and then apologizes.
Edward has basically been “betrayed” by his blood brother Mickey, so he now carries out a small betrayal of his own.
Sammy tempts Mickey with the promise of fifty pounds, and Mickey agrees to go along with the plan.
It’s easy to understand Mickey’s choice, given his desperate financial situation.
Linda responds that she’s always loved Edward “in a way,” but when he proposes marriage to her, she reveals that she’s only just married Mickey, and that they are expecting a baby together. As Edward’s university friends call him from offstage, Linda says goodbye to him, and he exits.
Once again, chance is simply not in the characters’ favor. Linda is torn between Mickey and Edward, not even realizing that the two men are connected not just through their love for her, but also by blood.
Excited, Mickey tells Linda that he’s going to be out till eight o’clock, but that when he’s back, they’re going to celebrate the New Year by going out dancing together. He tells her to get dressed up, but refuses to tell her where the money will come from. As Sammy calls him from offstage, Mickey makes ready to leave, even as a suspicious Linda begs him not to go.
Mickey’s desperation is clear as he tries to make Linda happy with the promise of money and fun, but he only succeeds in alarming and upsetting her. Already, the audience knows that this plan is not going to go well.
The Narrator refers to his usual list of bad omens, noting that Linda in particular is afraid of the price that Mickey will have to pay. Mickey keeps watch as Sammy argues with one of his partners over a gun. Abruptly, an alarm bell sounds and a shot is heard. Sammy tries to escape but Mickey is frozen, sobbing. The Narrator references the children’s game from long ago, where even if you got shot, you could get back up again. Mickey is in shock as Sammy tries to hide the gun under a floorboard. We hear Linda calling offstage, and just as she enters, two policemen arrive. They capture a fleeing Sammy, and remove Mickey from Linda’s embrace.
The Narrator’s usual refrain only increases the audience’s sense that this burglary is ill-fated. The difference between Sammy and Mickey’s reactions illustrates a truth about nature vs. nurture—despite having grown up in the same household, Sammy is callous and rash, while Mickey is, at heart, sensitive and sweet. The reminder of the children’s game, meanwhile, comes back to haunt the audience and bring the symbol of the gun full circle. While at first violence was just a game, it is now all too real.
As the policemen place Mickey in a cell, Mrs. Johnstone sings about what happens next: the jury sentences Mickey to seven years in prison, and like Marilyn Monroe, he falls into a deep depression. A doctor enters, and prescribes Mickey antidepressants (also like Marilyn Monroe).
The theme of the tragic starlet Marilyn Monroe comes back to illustrate Mickey’s decline into drug addiction. Despite his honest, open nature, he is unable to overcome his unfortunate circumstances, and instead digs himself deeper and deeper into depression.
Linda visits Mickey and tells him that he’ll be released soon. She begs him to stop taking the antidepressants, but he refuses. They argue, and Mickey admits that he can’t function without the pills. The prison warder escorts Linda out.
Mickey has been utterly destroyed by an economic system that chewed him up and spit him back out. His pills symbolize his defeat, and his inability to cope anymore with a world that has rejected him. Russell portrays antidepressants in a wholly negative light (as they are a negative force for Mickey), but it’s important to remember that these can be crucial and life-saving medications for many people.
Mrs. Johnstone continues to sing as Mickey comes home. She notes that her son feels fifteen years older, and that his speech comes slower than it used to. It is almost as if he is dead, just like Marilyn Monroe.
The theme of coming-of-age and adulthood has now become a negative one. One, so eager to grow up, now Mickey has grown up too fast.
Linda enters holding shopping bags, and approaches Mrs. Johnstone. The two women discuss what to do about Mickey, who is still addicted to the pills, and whose drug-induced apathy is keeping him from getting a job. Linda says that she has found herself, Mickey, and their child (Sarah) a place of their own, and has even procured Mickey a job. She mentions that she has done so by seeking help from “someone I know,” adding that he is “on the housing committee.”
Linda, too, has been forced to grow up, although she is handling her situation with far more maturity and resourcefulness than Mickey is. It is of course ironic that while Linda believes Mrs. Johnstone doesn’t know Edward (now Councilor Lyons), she is in fact talking about Mrs. Johnstone’s own son.
Mickey and Linda are together in their new house as Linda sets out Mickey’s work things. Mickey, however, is focused only on finding his antidepressants, which Linda has hidden. She protests that he doesn’t need the pills, but he becomes violently angry, telling her about the terrible symptoms of withdrawal. When she tries to tell him about how much better their new life is going to be, he accuses to her of going to Edward—now a city councilor—for help. She doesn’t deny it, but begs him not to take the pills, saying that she can’t even see him when he takes them. He retorts that he takes them in order to be invisible. Defeated, Linda gives her husband the pills, and he exits.
In this scene we see just how far Mickey has fallen, as he almost becomes physically violent when denied his antidepressants. We also witness how his affection for Edward has curdled into something sour and destructive—jealousy. Even without knowing that they are related by blood, Mickey still feels threatened by and envious of Edward, who has become an upstanding “credit to society.” Once so similar and close, the two young men have now been completely estranged by their economic circumstances.
Utterly alone, Linda moves to the telephone. As she does, the Narrator recounts her internal struggle in song, describing the “girl inside the woman” who longs for the past. Making a decision, Linda calls Edward. As she does so, Mrs. Johnstone enters, singing that the two (Edward and Linda) don’t mean to be cruel, and that it’s “just a light romance.” She continues to narrate as Linda and Edward meet each other in a park, saying hello and staring at each other. At last, Edward pretends to shoot Linda, but “misses.” Abruptly the two kiss, as Mrs. Johnstone sings about their “light romance.”
Only within this scene do we at last see the toll that Mickey’s decline has taken on Linda. Given the immense burden she has shouldered, with essentially no help from her husband, it is easy to understand her indiscretion with Edward. That she is attracted to both men is also a testament to the powers of nature over nurture—despite how different Mickey and Edward are, they are still similar enough to share the affections of the same woman.
Mrs. Johnstone continues singing, as we see Mickey deciding not to take his pills anymore, and Linda and Edward carry on their affair. Mrs. Johnstone reveals that the lovers will have to pay a price, and that they are following an old and well-worn pattern.
In yet another moment of tragic irony, Mickey finally finds the strength to stop taking his pills just as Linda begins her affair with Edward. Mrs. Johnstone acts like the Narrator here, predicting a sinister outcome to Edward and Linda’s actions.
Out of nowhere, Mrs. Lyons enters. She shows Mickey Edward and Linda together, as Mrs. Johnstone ominously sings about “the price you’re gonna have to pay.” Enraged, Mickey pounds on his own door and calls for Linda. Then he races to his mother’s house to pick up the gun that Sammy hid under the floor. As he runs out, Mrs. Johnstone sees him, and begins calling after her son.
Since we last saw her, Mrs. Lyons has become a blind force of destruction and venom. She is so intent on causing misfortune to the Johnstones that she sabotages her own son. Mickey, meanwhile, feels like he has nothing to lose anymore, and goes to grab a familiar symbol of violence—a gun.
Mickey roams the streets looking for the couple, as Mrs. Johnstone chases him. The Narrator tells the audience that a man has “gone mad in the town tonight,” and that he’s looking to “shoot somebody down.” The devil, he says, has “got your number,” and has finally arrived. Mrs. Johnstone arrives at Linda’s house, warning her that Mickey has a gun. Terrified, Linda realizes that he must be looking for Edward at town hall. The Narrator reenters, telling Mrs. Johnstone that the devil is inside her, and that he’s calling her number today. Terrified, Mrs. Johnstone runs off.
As the play approaches its climax, the characters begin to convene—including the Narrator. The proverbial devil that he has been warning us about throughout the play has finally arrived, ample evidence for the audience that something terrible is about to happen. The Narrator, like Mrs. Lyons, has now become a force of malevolence and doom, egging the play on to its violent and tragic conclusion.
The scene shifts to town hall, where Edward is giving a speech. Mickey abruptly appears, gripping his gun in shaking hands and screaming for everyone to “stay where you are.” Edward calmly greets Mickey, who reveals that he’s stopped taking his pills, and orders everyone else out of the hall. He continues speaking, saying that Linda was the one good thing he had left in his life, but that Mrs. Lyons has revealed the affair to him. Edward tries to deny it, but Mickey screams that Edward has betrayed him, reminding him that they used to be blood brothers. He even goes a step further, asking if Edward is the real father of his daughter. Edward says that he is not.
Edward’s civilized words and impressive job contrast with Mickey’s complete devolution, just as his calmness contrasts with his twin’s mania. The two men, who started out so similar despite their economic circumstances, have now become polar opposites precisely because of those same economic circumstances. Their dual transformations are proof of the power of the class system, and of the ways that our environments can affect who we are.
A policeman calls through a megaphone, telling Mickey to put down the gun, and that there are armed marksmen outside. Mickey remarks that he fails at everything, even at shooting Edward—he doesn’t even know if his gun is loaded. Suddenly Mrs. Johnstone enters the building, much to the dismay of the policemen. She begs Mickey not to shoot Edward, and reveals that the two are brothers, separated at birth. Mickey grows even more enraged, realizing that he could have had Edward’s luxurious life. He demands to know why he wasn’t given away. In his fury, he gestures at Edward with the gun, shooting and killing him. Immediately the policemen shoot and kill Mickey, as Linda runs down the aisle towards the two brothers.
At last, the climactic moment of the play arrives, and the two twins learn the truth about their origins. In the end, however, it is a combination of personal envy, economic misfortune, and plain bad luck that dooms both men, rather than any mystic force of fate—or Mrs. Lyons’ original invented superstition that separated twins must die when they learn about each other. While policemen throughout the play have been emblems of incompetent authority, here they become all too deadly, shooting and killing Mickey the moment he shoots Edward, thus robbing Mrs. Johnstone of both of her twins.
The characters freeze as the Narrator emerges, asking if we should blame superstition for the deadly chain of events, or if we should blame the English class system. He again reminds us of the story of the Johnstone twins, separated at birth, who died on the same day. Mrs. Johnstone begs to be told that her sons’ deaths are just a story, that it’s “just a dream,” or a scene from a movie with “Marilyn Monroe.” She wonders if this has just been a clown show with two players who couldn’t say their lines right, or a radio show that can be started over. She asks to be told that this is “just a game.” As she laments, the other actors join in with her, asking the audience to tell them that this has all been pretend, just like “an old movie with Marilyn Monroe.”
The Narrator’s appearance hammers home a point that Russell has implied throughout his work: the Johnstone twins were not really doomed by fate, but by the class system, which designated one of them (Edward) as valuable and the other (Mickey) as disposable, completely by chance. The final reference to Marilyn Monroe helps to finish the arc of this particular symbol, illustrating to us that everyone—rich and poor—suffers from forces beyond their control. The actors addressing the audience also reminds us that these events are fictional, but with this reminder comes the knowledge that the play references realities that are all too real.