Blood Brothers Summary
by Willy Russell

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Blood Brothers Summary

Blood Brothers by Willy Russell is a 1983 musical about Mickey and Edward, a pair of twins who are separated at birth and raised at opposite ends of the socioeconomic spectrum.

  • Mrs. Johnstone is a poor single mother preparing to give birth to twins. Her employer, Mrs. Lyons, adopts one of the twins.
  • Despite Mrs. Lyons's efforts to keep them apart, twins Mickey and Edward become close friends in childhood and adolescence.
  • In young adulthood, Edward goes off to college while Mickey faces unemployment and imminent fatherhood.
  • Mickey commits a crime and goes to prison. Upon returning, his final reunion with Edward proves tragic.

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Summary

Blood Brothers (1983), by British playwright Willy Russell, is a musical that follows the fates of Edward and Mickey Johnstone, twins separated soon after birth. The story begins shortly before they are born. At thirty, Mrs. Johnstone is pregnant and already the mother of five children, when she is abandoned by her husband. Forced into penury, Mrs. Johnstone struggles to provide for her children. A housekeeping job with a wealthy family, the Lyons, promises to lift Mrs. Johnstone out of her misery.

Unable to have biological children, Mrs. Lyons yearns to adopt a child, but her husband is against the idea. When Mrs. Johnstone learns that she is carrying not one but two babies, Mrs. Lyons proposes a solution which she believes will solve both the women’s problems. She suggests that Mrs. Johnstone give her one of the twins. Since her husband is out of town for months on work, Mrs. Lyons can easily pretend that she gave birth to a child while he was away. To give at least one of her children the hope of a better life, Mrs. Johnstone reluctantly agrees, swearing her commitment to Mrs. Lyons over a copy of the Bible. The play’s Narrator warns that the action will have dire consequences.

Soon after Mrs. Johnstone gives birth to twin boys, Mrs. Lyons takes one away. Mrs. Johnstone tells her older children that one of the twins died. With Mrs. Johnstone still working at the home of the Lyons, Mrs. Lyons grows insecure about the poor woman’s presence around her new son, Edward. She fires Mrs. Johnstone, giving her some money as compensation. Thus, she reneges on her pact to let Mrs. Johnstone see the child regularly. Further manipulating Mrs. Johnstone’s fearful nature, Mrs. Lyons tells Mrs. Johnstone that twins separated at birth die the day they learn about their bond. A terrified Mrs. Johnstone takes the money and exits.

Edward grows up wealthy but lonely, while Michael (or Mickey), the twin left with Mrs. Johnstone, grows up in the chaos of the Johnstone household. Oblivious of their relationship, the boys meet each other on the street when they are seven, becoming instant friends. They cut their palms and shake hands in a ritual to become “blood brothers,” which they also see as a defense against Mickey’s bullying older brother, Sammy. When Mrs. Johnstone learns of their friendship, she turns Edward away. Mrs. Lyons reacts even more aggressively when she learns of the friendship, slapping Edward and telling him to stay away from “boys like that.”

Despite the admonishments of their mothers, the two boys continue to meet. However, Mrs. Lyons soon convinces her husband to move them to the country, thus drawing Edward away from the Johnstones. As Edward wishes Mickey goodbye, Mrs. Johnstone, warming to him, gives him a portrait of her and Mickey as a keepsake. In a twist of fate, the Town Council allots Mrs. Johnstone better housing in the country soon thereafter, and the Johnstones, too, move out of the city and settle close to the Lyons.

Seven more years pass before Edward and Mickey meet again. Though the Johnstones have a bigger house now, Mrs. Johnstone is troubled by Sammy’s frequent run-ins with the law. Fourteen-year-old Mickey is secretly in love with his closest friend, Linda, with whom he attends the local school. Meanwhile, Edward is suspended from boarding school for...

(The entire section is 1,114 words.)