You are not currently logged in. Please create an account or log in to view the full course.

Russell: Blood Brothers

7. Act 1 – "It's just a story" (p. 5)

This is the course trailer. Please create an account or log in to view this lecture.

  • Description
  • Cite

About this Lecture


In this module, we read the opening of the play ("Tell me it's not true / Say it's just a story"), focusing in particular on: (i) the irony of the opening line of the play – it is just a story!; (ii) the question of why we are emotionally involved in events on stage (or in literature more generally) that we know are not true; (iii) the reason the play combines both sung and spoken sections, including the concepts of 'high' and 'low' culture; (iv) the echo of Sophocles' Antigone, as well as of John Gay's The Beggar's Opera (1728) and Bertolt Brecht's The Threepenny Opera; (v) the literary history of a mother crying over her "slain" sons; (vi) the use of metatheatre, including the narrator asking the audience to "come judge for yourselves / How [Mrs Johnstone] came to play this part" (vii) the character of Mrs Johnstone ("She is aged thirty but looks more like fifty"); (viii) the concept of a leitmotif, and Russell's use of leitmotifs in Blood Brothers; and (ix) the figure of Marilyn Monroe (1926-62).


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 – "It's just a story" (p. 5) [Video]. MASSOLIT.

MLA style

McRae, J. "Russell: Blood Brothers – Act 1 – "It's just a story" (p. 5)." MASSOLIT, uploaded by MASSOLIT, 29 Jan 2022,

Get instant access to over 5,800 lectures