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Russell: Blood Brothers

8. Act 1 – "A debt is a debt" (pp. 5-13)

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In this module, we continue to read through Act 1, from the arrival of the Milkman to the moment Mrs Johnstone's babies are born, focusing in particular on: (i) the juxtaposition of the romance of Mrs Johnstone's dancing to the stark reality of the milkman asking for money; (ii) the universality of the theme of poverty; (iii) the importance of the Milkman's line "it's got nothing to do with me" in the context of Britain under Margaret Thatcher (cf. "There's no such thing as society"); (iv) the extent to which Blood Brothers is an anti-capitalised play; (v) the subtlety of the scene changes, and use of choreography and props to mark them, e.g. Mrs Johnstone dancing across the stage and picking up a mop and bucket on the way; (vi) the hatching of the plot – Mrs Johnstone will give away one of her children to Mrs Lyons; (vii) the extent to which the two mothers – Mrs Johnston and Mrs Lyons – are the heroines of the play; (viii) the importance of religion as the two women agree to the deal, and the extent to which religion and superstitious are overlapping spheres of activity; (ix) the sense of inevitability when the Narrator say "a debt is a debt, and must be paid"; and (x) the juxtaposition between the joy of the babies being born and the stark reality of the creditors asking for money.


In this course, Professor John McRae (University of Nottingham) explores Willy Russell's Blood Brothers. The first six modules serve as an introduction to play, exploring the play's historical context, the extent to which it is a 'Brechtian' play, the fact that we are told in the very first scene what will happen at the end, and the themes of superstition, nature and nurture, and destiny and fate. In the following nine modules, we go through the play scene by scene, providing close reading and detailed analysis, with commentary on character, plot, themes, language, symbolism, and more.

Note: We use the Methuen Drama version of the play (ed. Jim Mulligan). Students using a different version of the play may encounter slight differences in the page numbers.


John McRae is Special Professor of Language in Literature Studies and Teaching Associate in the School of English at Nottingham University, and holds Visiting Professorships in China, Malaysia, Spain and the USA. He is co-author of The Routledge History of Literature in English with Ron Carter, and also wrote The Language of Poetry, Literature with a Small 'l' and the first critical edition of Teleny by Oscar Wilde and others.

Cite this Lecture

APA style

McRae, J. (2022, January 29). Russell: Blood Brothers - Act 1 – "A debt is a debt" (pp. 5-13) [Video]. MASSOLIT.

MLA style

McRae, J. "Russell: Blood Brothers – Act 1 – "A debt is a debt" (pp. 5-13)." MASSOLIT, uploaded by MASSOLIT, 29 Jan 2022,

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