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Evaluate the Effectiveness of the Presentation of Themes in 'Blood Brothers'

In this worksheet, students will evaluate the presentation of key themes and their development in Russell's 'Blood Brothers' by exploring the techniques used to present them and how they reflect the key contextual factors surrounding the musical.

'Evaluate the Effectiveness of the Presentation of Themes in '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

Two young men clasping hands as blood brothers

 

For the highest marks in the exam, you need to be able to show an excellent understanding of the relationship between the themes in the musical and the context in which it was written.

 

To show that you are writing about ideas in the play in relation to context, you might use sentences such as:

 

Russell presents the theme of ... to explore the strong class divide during the 60s and 70s.

 

The theme of ... is presented by Russell who had the intention of showing the impact of social class on someone's life.

 

Russell's presentation of ... highlights the gender stereotypes that existed during the 60s and 70s.

 

For each theme explored, think:

How is the theme presented effectively to show us something about what was happening at the time Russell was writing and when he set the musical?

What were Russell's intentions in writing the play and what impact does this have on his audience?

 

Remember that you also need to closely analyse the techniques that Russell uses to present these themes.

 

Now have a go at the following activity which will help you to evaluate the effectiveness of the themes in the musical.

 

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

 

Russell explores the theme of class and shows how social class affects peoples' lives.

 

In Act 2, Russell uses a structural device to juxtapose the lives of the twins and to show their different educational opportunities.

 

Russell shows us Mickey's school experience first through the scene where Sammy is violent on the school bus.

 

We then see Edward's school experience where Russell highlights how Edward has the potential to go to Oxford or Cambridge University but is suspended for refusing to take his locket off and his rudeness to the teacher.

 

Finally, Russell then shows us Mickey in his classroom where he struggles to keep up and becomes rude. He and Linda are both suspended.

 

What is the effect of Russell alternating the scenes between Mickey and Edward's time at school?

Russell alternates the scenes showing the twins' school experiences to highlight that they had similar opportunities at school

Russell alternates the scenes showing the twins' school experiences to highlight that they had the same opportunities as each other

Russell alternates the scenes showing the twins' school experiences to highlight how their school experiences were so different due to their social class

Russell alternates the scenes showing Mickey and Edward's different educational experiences to create pace in the musical and to keep the action moving for the audience

Russell explores the power of money as a theme in the musical. 

 

Piles of cash

 

What is interesting about the language used in the following song lyrics?

 

"Only mine until

The time comes round

To pay the bill"

 

"Never sure

Who's at the door

Or the price I'll have to pay."

Russell alternates the scenes showing the twins' school experiences to highlight that they had similar opportunities at school

Russell alternates the scenes showing the twins' school experiences to highlight that they had the same opportunities as each other

Russell alternates the scenes showing the twins' school experiences to highlight how their school experiences were so different due to their social class

Russell alternates the scenes showing Mickey and Edward's different educational experiences to create pace in the musical and to keep the action moving for the audience

Which symbol is repeated by the narrator in his songs to remind the audience that fate will bring the two boys together in their deaths and that this can't be escaped?

Match the quotations below to how they explore the theme of childhood and growing up.

Column A

Column B

"It doesn't matter, The whole thing's just a game"
Russell juxtaposes the pretend gun games in childh...
"Sammy produces a bazooka and blows him off the st...
The children's games are shown to be carefree and ...
"Listen, it's not a toy, y'know...We're not playin...
Russell depicts the innocence and carefree nature ...

Friendship is a key theme in 'Blood Brothers'.

 

Two young men clasp hands as blood brothers

 

Russell shows a power shift in the friendship of Mickey and Edward as the musical progresses.

Column A

Column B

"It doesn't matter, The whole thing's just a game"
Russell juxtaposes the pretend gun games in childh...
"Sammy produces a bazooka and blows him off the st...
The children's games are shown to be carefree and ...
"Listen, it's not a toy, y'know...We're not playin...
Russell depicts the innocence and carefree nature ...

Russell explores the idea of nature vs. nurture in the play.

Which is the most effective evaluation of this theme in the musical?

Russell clearly states that someone's upbringing plays the most significant role in their life he shows how the boys' different upbringings as part of families in different social classes affect their life opportunities.

Russell shows that genetics play a stronger part than upbringing as he repeatedly shows similarities between the boys, they are both suspended, both fall in love with Linda and both end up dying at the same time.

Russell doesn't show whether nature or nurture is the strongest but shows how they both play a part in how someone lives their life.

Russell explores the idea of gender in 'Blood Brothers'.

 

Complete the chart below to explore how Russell depicts the gender stereotypes of men and women during the 60s and 70s but also shows how some characters go against these.

 Conforms to gender stereotypesGoes against gender stereotype
Linda finds a way to provide for her family
Linda becomes a housewife
Linda stands up for Mickey at school
Mrs Johnstone's role is looking after her children
Mrs Johnstone has to be the breadwinner as well as the housewife
Mrs Lyons is desperate to have a baby
Mr Lyons is mainly seen working
Mr Lyons is in control of their decisions in their household

What techniques does Russell use in the musical to explore the idea of fate?

Symbolism of the devil

Cyclical structure

The use of songs

Dramatic irony

The motif of dancing

It is now time to have a go at a mini-essay question.

 

In the exam, you might be asked to write about how a writer presents a particular theme in the musical.

 

You will need to use quotations to support each of your points and should link your points about a theme to the key contextual factors surrounding the musical.

 

For the highest marks, you will also need to show an analysis of the writer's techniques in presenting this theme.

 

Task: How are ideas about social class explored in 'Blood Brothers'?

 

Try to write 3 paragraphs.

It is now time to have a go at a mini-essay question.

 

In the exam, you may be asked to write about how a writer presents a particular theme in the musical.

 

You will need to use quotations to support each of your points and should link your points about a theme to the key contextual factors surrounding the musical.

 

For the highest marks, you will also need to show an analysis of the writer's techniques in presenting this musical.

 

The following question is worded to encourage you to show evaluation - try to write 3 paragraphs and then a concluding paragraph where you write an evaluative summary to answer the "To what extent...?" part. Here you should give your personal response!

 

To what extent does Russell state that fate is the most to blame for the tragic end in 'Blood Brothers'?

  • Question 1

Russell explores the theme of class and shows how social class affects peoples' lives.

 

In Act 2, Russell uses a structural device to juxtapose the lives of the twins and to show their different educational opportunities.

 

Russell shows us Mickey's school experience first through the scene where Sammy is violent on the school bus.

 

We then see Edward's school experience where Russell highlights how Edward has the potential to go to Oxford or Cambridge University but is suspended for refusing to take his locket off and his rudeness to the teacher.

 

Finally, Russell then shows us Mickey in his classroom where he struggles to keep up and becomes rude. He and Linda are both suspended.

 

What is the effect of Russell alternating the scenes between Mickey and Edward's time at school?

CORRECT ANSWER
Russell alternates the scenes showing the twins' school experiences to highlight how their school experiences were so different due to their social class
EDDIE SAYS
How did you do? The third one's the most accurate evaluation - it looks at how the juxtaposition of the twins' schooling through the structural device of alternating scenes, shows both the differences in their educational opportunities but also the way in which the boys are similar. In this way, Russell is able to comment on how he saw social class impacted people's lives in the 60s and 70s. Further, Russell explores the nature vs. nurture debate. The boys have very different upbringings but they're still both suspended after all. Remember, for the highest marks in the exam, it's important to analyse the writer's techniques and for the top marks, you should try to include language and structural analysis in your exam response. This is a good example of structural analysis!
  • Question 2

Russell explores the power of money as a theme in the musical. 

 

Piles of cash

 

What is interesting about the language used in the following song lyrics?

 

"Only mine until

The time comes round

To pay the bill"

 

"Never sure

Who's at the door

Or the price I'll have to pay."

CORRECT ANSWER
EDDIE SAYS
This is a tricky one! Remember for the highest marks in the exam, it's important to analyse the writer's craft. Here we're analysing the writer's use of language by exploring the metaphor of money and debt which comes up at various points throughout the musical. This is called an extended metaphor. Russell shows us how extreme poverty affected the working class in the 60s and 70s. Mrs Johnstone shows us the power of money in this society and how without money, you're powerless.
  • Question 3

Which symbol is repeated by the narrator in his songs to remind the audience that fate will bring the two boys together in their deaths and that this can't be escaped?

CORRECT ANSWER
Devil
The devil
EDDIE SAYS
The devil acts as a symbol for the destiny of the boys. Throughout the musical, we see Mrs Lyons and Mrs Johnstone trying to change or avoid fate. The narrator reminds us of the power of fate when he says "You know the devil's got your number". Of course, the audience knows from the beginning scene that the twins will die at the end and this line reminds us that it's only a matter of time before fate arrives. Towards the end of the play, Russell depicts the devil getting closer and closer as the twins' destiny is nearly realised - the narrator says "someone said they'd seen him walking past your door" and then the next time the narrator says "someone said they'd seen him leanin' on your door." The last time the narrator refers to the devil before the death of the boy talks about how the devil's "callin' your number up today". The audience knows that the final fate of the twins is going to then play out.
  • Question 4

Match the quotations below to how they explore the theme of childhood and growing up.

CORRECT ANSWER

Column A

Column B

"It doesn't matter, The whole thi...
Russell depicts the innocence and...
"Sammy produces a bazooka and blo...
The children's games are shown to...
"Listen, it's not a toy, y'know.....
Russell juxtaposes the pretend gu...
EDDIE SAYS
How did you do? On the whole, Russell depicts the innocence and carefree nature of childhood. He shows the children playing games such as cowboys and Indians. The games often involve shooting but we are reminded that there are no real consequences to these games. Once the children are 'shot' in the game, they can get up again. Of course, these pretend gun games foreshadow how violence will play a part in adulthood in a much more tragic way. Russell juxtaposes childhood games with the violence we see in their adulthood. Russell shows how in adulthood there are no games and actions have real consequences. The armed robbery is a shocking scene that has devastating results for everyone involved. Russell intended to depict the increase in crime and the gang culture that developed in Liverpool in the 60s and 70s as a result of unemployment, depression and desperate poverty.
  • Question 5

Friendship is a key theme in 'Blood Brothers'.

 

Two young men clasp hands as blood brothers

 

Russell shows a power shift in the friendship of Mickey and Edward as the musical progresses.

CORRECT ANSWER
EDDIE SAYS
How did you do? Remember that for the higher marks in the exam, it's important to look at how themes develop across a text - you should, therefore, try to refer to lots of different parts of a text when answering an exam question on characters or themes. When exploring the theme of childhood and growing up, we can see how the musical watches the twins whole lives from birth to death. Their friendship develops, with Eddie admiring Mickey and thinking everything he says and does is really cool. However, we see how working-class life takes its toll on Mickey and how his adult responsibilities are too much to bear. Unemployment and then prison result in a manic depression that means that he can't be the husband or father he needs to be. Eddie's university education leads to better jobs prospects and enables him to support Linda and Mickey financially. We, therefore, see a complete power shift in their relationship as the musical progresses. Russell wanted to depict the struggles of working-class life during the 60s and 70s and to reflect how this was made even worse by the huge levels of unemployment caused by the industrial decline in Liverpool during this period. He wanted to show how crime and depression were a result of this and reflects this through the character of Mickey.
  • Question 6

Russell explores the idea of nature vs. nurture in the play.

Which is the most effective evaluation of this theme in the musical?

CORRECT ANSWER
Russell doesn't show whether nature or nurture is the strongest but shows how they both play a part in how someone lives their life.
EDDIE SAYS
How did you do? Russell doesn't give us an answer on the nature/nurture debate but we definitely see how the twins' different upbringings affect their lives - they are educated differently and behave differently. In Act 1, Edward is more polite, generous and well mannered while Mickey is much wilder, using swear words and being rude. However, Russell also shows some similarities suggesting that nature has a part to play - they both fall in love with Linda for example. They are also both suspended from school - perhaps this rebellious streak is in their blood. In the end, Mickey resents Eddie and his mother for allowing Eddie the chance to become something better by allowing him to be brought up in a middle-class family. This perhaps suggests that nurture, upbringing and social class play a significant role in how someone turns out. Or would have things happened this way anyway? Russell also explores the theme of fate, suggesting that people have a predetermined destiny and can't do anything to change this. By exploring the different aspects of the theme of nature/nurture, we are evaluating - this is an important skill to show off in the exam for the highest marks!
  • Question 7

Russell explores the idea of gender in 'Blood Brothers'.

 

Complete the chart below to explore how Russell depicts the gender stereotypes of men and women during the 60s and 70s but also shows how some characters go against these.

CORRECT ANSWER
 Conforms to gender stereotypesGoes against gender stereotype
Linda finds a way to provide for her family
Linda becomes a housewife
Linda stands up for Mickey at school
Mrs Johnstone's role is looking after her children
Mrs Johnstone has to be the breadwinner as well as the housewife
Mrs Lyons is desperate to have a baby
Mr Lyons is mainly seen working
Mr Lyons is in control of their decisions in their household
EDDIE SAYS
How did you do? In the period that Russell was writing about, traditional family units of mother and father were usual, with men as the breadwinner and women as the mothers and housewives. The Lyons family represent this stereotype. We see Mr Lyons going away to work, leaving Mrs Lyons at home looking after Edward. Russell explores women's expected roles as mothers and the failure associated with not fulfilling this role. We see Mrs Lyons desperate for a baby, not being able to have one of her own. The idea of a housewife and mother is further explored through Mrs Johnstone and Linda. However, these characters break the stereotype as well - both of these characters also work as the breadwinner, taking on the male and female roles in their families. Mrs Johnstone's husband left her and Mickey is unable to provide for his family. So, whilst Russell depicts traditional gender roles, he also shows some strong women who go beyond these roles.
  • Question 8

What techniques does Russell use in the musical to explore the idea of fate?

CORRECT ANSWER
Symbolism of the devil
Cyclical structure
Dramatic irony
EDDIE SAYS
Another tricky one! How did you do? Russell explores fate through the structure of the musical. Notice how the musical almost has a prologue - we're shown the ending at the beginning of the play. We then see the events unfold that lead up to this conclusion and we see the ending play out again at the end of the musical. Of course, this creates dramatic irony throughout the musical. The audience has extra knowledge than the characters giving some of their words and actions additional meaning. We know that nothing that anyone does is going to change the ending - it's already been decided and shown to us. This represents fate - the idea that someone has a predetermined destiny. The narrator reminds us of this throughout the musical through the idea of the devil and not being able to escape him! However, Russell also questions this idea of fate and asks whether we need to blame something else: "could it be what we, the English, have come to know as class?" suggests that the boy's different upbringings and the conflict this caused, may be the real reason that things ended this way, not fate.
  • Question 9

It is now time to have a go at a mini-essay question.

 

In the exam, you might be asked to write about how a writer presents a particular theme in the musical.

 

You will need to use quotations to support each of your points and should link your points about a theme to the key contextual factors surrounding the musical.

 

For the highest marks, you will also need to show an analysis of the writer's techniques in presenting this theme.

 

Task: How are ideas about social class explored in 'Blood Brothers'?

 

Try to write 3 paragraphs.

CORRECT ANSWER
EDDIE SAYS
A paragraph might look something like this: Russell depicts the strong class divide in Liverpool during the 60s and 70s. Russell uses the structure of the musical to juxtapose the lives and opportunities that Mickey and Edward have by often alternating scenes between the two boys. For example, in Act 2, we see how the boys have very different educational opportunities. Mickey finds school "borin'" and pointless when he sarcastically says to his teacher "it'll really help me to get a job if I know what some soddin' pygmies in Africa have for their dinner!" The fact that Mickey is already thinking about a 'job' shows how the working-class life meant that children left school at a young age and had to immediately find work to support their families. Edward's experience is very different and Russell juxtaposes his schooling with Mickey's. The reference to 'Oxbridge' and the teacher telling him he's "doing very well here" shows how middle-class children could go to better and sometimes private schools which would then enable them to go onto university. Russell's juxtaposition of the boys' experiences here, not only shows how their educational opportunities were different because of their social class but their futures will also be very different.
  • Question 10

It is now time to have a go at a mini-essay question.

 

In the exam, you may be asked to write about how a writer presents a particular theme in the musical.

 

You will need to use quotations to support each of your points and should link your points about a theme to the key contextual factors surrounding the musical.

 

For the highest marks, you will also need to show an analysis of the writer's techniques in presenting this musical.

 

The following question is worded to encourage you to show evaluation - try to write 3 paragraphs and then a concluding paragraph where you write an evaluative summary to answer the "To what extent...?" part. Here you should give your personal response!

 

To what extent does Russell state that fate is the most to blame for the tragic end in 'Blood Brothers'?

CORRECT ANSWER
EDDIE SAYS
A paragraph might look something like this: Russell explores the idea of fate through the cyclical structure of the play. The fact that the audience knows the ending where Mrs Johnstone's "own dear sons lie slain" at the beginning of the play reflects the idea of a predetermined destiny, the idea that nothing the characters do will enable them to change the course of action, change their fate. To add to this idea of fate, Russell employs the role of the narrator to offer a harsh reminder to the audience in the lighter moments of the play, asking "Did you forget about the reckoning day?". Russell uses the symbolism of the devil and as the play progresses, we see the devil getting closer and closer, showing how the characters' fates will soon be realised. Russell portrays the devil "walking past your door", then "leanin" on the door and finally "callin' your number up today". Here the narrator builds tension and anticipation, highlighting how fate can't be escaped, how it will always be there and will be realised soon. However, Russell also questions this idea of fate suggesting that "class" could be the real factor to blame here. Russell was, after all, concerned with depicting the class struggle in Liverpool during the 60s and 70s. He leaves the audience to decide at the end of the musical whether actually, fate could have been very different if they had grown up together and not been divided by their social class.
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