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Russell: Blood Brothers

10. Act 1 – "The whole thing's just a game" (pp. 19-32)

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In this module, we continue reading through Act 1 from the moment that Mrs Johnston is dismissed from Mrs Lyons' employment to the kids' chorus that ends with the line "The whole thing's just a game". In particular, we think about: (i) the character of Mickey, who is now seven years old; (ii) the efficiency with which Russell draws his characters, and the extent to which the audience's sympathy with them is precisely the opposite of Brecht's 'distancing effect'; (iii) the meeting between Mickey and Edward; (iv) the politics of class as Mrs Lyons tells Edward not to mix with boys like Mickey; (v) the themes of snobbery and exclusion; (vi) the constant presence of (toy) guns, the concept of Ibsen's/Chekhov's gun, and the anticipation of the play's ending; and (vii) the multiple layers of real/pretend in the scene where the characters of the children (played by actors, of course) are themselves pretending to be other people, and the extent to which what we are witnessing is "just a game".


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 – "The whole thing's just a game" (pp. 19-32) [Video]. MASSOLIT.

MLA style

McRae, J. "Russell: Blood Brothers – Act 1 – "The whole thing's just a game" (pp. 19-32)." MASSOLIT, uploaded by MASSOLIT, 29 Jan 2022,

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