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Overview of Context for 'Blood Brothers'

In this worksheet, students will revise the key contextual factors surrounding Russell's 'Blood Brothers'

'Overview of Context for 'Blood Brothers'' worksheet

Key stage:  KS 4

GCSE Subjects:   English Literature

GCSE Boards:   Eduqas, Pearson Edexcel, AQA

Curriculum topic:   Post-1914 Prose / Drama, Post-1914 Play or Novel, Modern Texts: Drama

Curriculum subtopic:   Blood Brothers

Difficulty level:  

Worksheet Overview

QUESTION 1 of 10

       Sailing ship in dock          Marilyn Monroe         Devil

 

How do the images above relate to the context of 'Blood Brothers'?
 

 

In the exam, you will need to relate all of your points about characters or themes in the musical to something about the context in which Russell was writing.

 

In this activity we will explore the key contextual factors around 'Blood Brothers' and will think about:

 

- aspects of genre

- what was happening in the world at the time Russell was writing and when the musical was set

- Russell's intentions

- how the musical was received

 

You should always refer to your own text when working through these examples.  These quotations are for reference only.

 

To begin with, let's revise a little bit about the playwright Willy Russell.

 

Willy Russell's play was written in 1981. 

 

When was the play set?

Between 1960 and 1980

In the 1950s

Between 1950 and 1960

What social class was Russell interested in writing about?

What does Russell show his audience about working-class life during the in the 60s and 70s?

Poor living conditions

Wealth

Unemployment

Lack of educational opportunities

Good job prospects

Sailing boat in dock

 

Complete the passage below to revise a little bit more about the play's main setting.

Poor living conditions

Wealth

Unemployment

Lack of educational opportunities

Good job prospects

The huge rise in unemployment at this time often led to depression. Think about Mickey towards the end of the play.

 

It also left men desperate to provide for their families in a different way.

 

"Fifty quid, Mickey. Fifty quid for an hour's work."

 

What do you think men turned to in these desperate times?

The other setting in the play is Skelmersdale.

 

Complete the passage to understand a bit more about the context of this setting.

Match the following quotations to what they show about working-class life in Liverpool during the period the play is set.

Column A

Column B

Prejudice
"That's why I take them. So I can be invisible."
Lack of education prospects
"Just keep the eye out for us."
Crime and gang culture
"You're both suspended."
The power of money
"I'm talking thousands if you want it."
Depression
"Either you keep them in order, missis, or it'll b...

Superstition and fate are an important part of the musical's context.

 

Match each term with the correct definition to understand the difference between these two ideas. 

Column A

Column B

Fate
A belief in a supernatural influence that results ...
Superstition
What is destined to happen and is outside of someo...

theatre

 

It is important to remember that 'Blood Brothers' is a musical to be performed on a stage to a live audience.

 

Which features of 'Blood Brothers' below need to be analysed to show an understanding of the context of genre.

Songs and music

Stage directions

Narrator

Paragraphs

Lighting

Introduction

Dramatic irony

  • Question 1

To begin with, let's revise a little bit about the playwright Willy Russell.

 

CORRECT ANSWER
EDDIE SAYS
How did you do? Think about how these life experiences are reflected in 'Blood Brothers'. Russell's life growing up in a working-class family in Liverpool has clearly influenced the ideas and themes in 'Blood Brothers'. What does Russell show us about this life?
  • Question 2

Willy Russell's play was written in 1981. 

 

When was the play set?

CORRECT ANSWER
Between 1960 and 1980
EDDIE SAYS
The play was set sometime between 1960 and 1980. Understanding what Britain was like during this period is important to understanding the play fully.
  • Question 3

What social class was Russell interested in writing about?

CORRECT ANSWER
Working
Working class
EDDIE SAYS
Willy Russell was interested in depicting the lives of working-class people in Liverpool, where he grew up. Russell portrays the strong class divide during this period in 'Blood Brothers'. Mrs Johnstone represents the working-class struggle while Mrs Lyons represents the affluent middle class demographic.
  • Question 4

What does Russell show his audience about working-class life during the in the 60s and 70s?

CORRECT ANSWER
Poor living conditions
Unemployment
Lack of educational opportunities
EDDIE SAYS
Did you spot the three that are correct? Russell depicts working class life as a real struggle during this period. Russell would have lived through the 60s and 70s and seen the real life issues that affected working class people. He reflects this in the characters he portrays. We see Mrs Johnstone struggling to look after and feed her children - this is very representative of what many working-class families during this period would've experienced. In Liverpool, working-class families often lived in poor housing close to the docks or factories where they worked. The housing divide between the working and middle classes is clearly depicted in the play. In addition to this, we see the different educational opportunities for Mickey and Eddie in the play - middle-class parents could pay for private education which could then lead onto university while working-class children didn't have these opportunities. They had to work after leaving school to help provide for their families.
  • Question 5

Sailing boat in dock

 

Complete the passage below to revise a little bit more about the play's main setting.

CORRECT ANSWER
EDDIE SAYS
Did you manage to fill all of the blank spaces? This is an important part of Liverpool's history. Liverpool already had huge divides between the rich and the poor but this made it even worse. Working class men were employed in these docks, the main industry in Liverpool, and when they closed they all lost their jobs. There weren't other jobs to go and these men were left unemployed and had to go onto benefits/ on the "dole".
  • Question 6

The huge rise in unemployment at this time often led to depression. Think about Mickey towards the end of the play.

 

It also left men desperate to provide for their families in a different way.

 

"Fifty quid, Mickey. Fifty quid for an hour's work."

 

What do you think men turned to in these desperate times?

CORRECT ANSWER
Crime
EDDIE SAYS
We see Mickey turn to crime in his desperate state and this is what lots of unemployed men resorted to at this time. Crime rates in Liverpool grew at this time and it saw a gang culture emerge. Men were unemployed, depressed and desperate to provide for their families. When they couldn't see another way to do this, they turned to crime.
  • Question 7

The other setting in the play is Skelmersdale.

 

Complete the passage to understand a bit more about the context of this setting.

CORRECT ANSWER
EDDIE SAYS
Did you manage to fill all of the spaces? Skelmersdale is where both Mrs Lyons and Mrs Johnstone move to in the musical. Mrs Johnstone has been moved out of her council housing in Liverpool to this new town and is excited and idealistic about this opportunity when she sings "Oh, bright new day". The reality is much different when she talks about how the neighbours "sometimes fight on a Saturday night" and how "Sammy burnt the school down" showing that the location has changed but their lives are pretty much the same.
  • Question 8

Match the following quotations to what they show about working-class life in Liverpool during the period the play is set.

CORRECT ANSWER

Column A

Column B

Prejudice
"Either you keep them in order, m...
Lack of education prospects
"You're both suspended."
Crime and gang culture
"Just keep the eye out for us."
The power of money
"I'm talking thousands if you wan...
Depression
"That's why I take them. So I can...
EDDIE SAYS
Did you manage to match them all? Russell juxtaposes the lives of the Johnstones and the Lyons in the musical to highlight the clear class divide in Liverpool at the time the musical was set. Think about how differently Eddie and Mickey are treated by the police, hinting at the prejudice surrounding Mickey's working-class background. We see Eddie go off to university but Mickey leaves school and then has to try to find a job. We see him struggling in unemployment, turning to crime to earn some money and then finding it hard to cope with depression. Willy Russell intended to show that the life opportunities for working-class and middle-class people were starkly different.
  • Question 9

Superstition and fate are an important part of the musical's context.

 

Match each term with the correct definition to understand the difference between these two ideas. 

CORRECT ANSWER

Column A

Column B

Fate
What is destined to happen and is...
Superstition
A belief in a supernatural influe...
EDDIE SAYS
How did you do? Russell is interested in both of these ideas in the musical and questions whether the twin's lives ended the way they did because of their parents' belief in superstitions or because of fate. Russell shows how the characters let their superstitions control their lives but also asks whether fate meant that their lives would always have ended this way, no matter what. Russell also considers, however, whether social class and the influence this has on someone's upbringing, is most to blame for how they end up. This is the question Russell leaves with the audience at the end of the musical.
  • Question 10

theatre

 

It is important to remember that 'Blood Brothers' is a musical to be performed on a stage to a live audience.

 

Which features of 'Blood Brothers' below need to be analysed to show an understanding of the context of genre.

CORRECT ANSWER
Songs and music
Stage directions
Narrator
Lighting
Dramatic irony
EDDIE SAYS
Did you spot all five? When you're writing about 'Blood Brothers' in the exam, it's important to analyse it as a musical. This means that you need to use the appropriate terminology when doing this. Obviously the main aspect is the use of songs and music - think about how these are relevant. Look at the lyrics and also think about how they are placed structurally in the musical for effect. The stage directions are written in the playscript but remember that these indicate something about how the musical will appear on the stage. Try to refer to the effects of these choices on the audience - why has particular lighting or sound been used? What about a character's actions, the way they say something or something about the set? For this musical the role of the narrator is important. Think about what his purpose is and the effect of his dialogue, his song lyrics and where he is placed in the structure of the musical for effect. Finally, dramatic irony is a very important technique in this musical because of the way the audience sees the end at the beginning of the musical. How does this affect how we watch the rest of the musical? How does it help explore Russell's key themes?
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