Essay on Characters of Mrs Johnstone and Mrs Lyons in the Book ‘Blood Brothers’

The book ‘Blood Brothers’ is written by Willy Russell, a dramatist, lyricist and composer from Liverpool. The play is set in the 1960s in Liverpool. During this time, class and money played an immense role within society. Russell portrays this to the reader in many different ways; one of which is the adverse, dynamic relationship between Mrs Johnstone and Mrs Lyons.

Although Mrs Johnstone and Mrs Lyons might not be considered the protagonists within Blood Brothers, they certainly play a major role within the story. Not only do their actions set up the initial plot of the story, but the decisions that they make later on in the book also heavily impact the tragic outcome of the play. 

The first portrayal of the relationship between Mrs Lyons and Mrs Johnstone seems to be quite friendly and lighthearted (with Mrs Lyons calling Mrs Johnstone ’Mrs J’). However, later on in the play, their relationship turns toxic as Mrs Lyons manipulates Mrs Johnstone into giving up her baby by playing on her deep-rooted fear of losing her beloved children. 

Throughout the play, as their relationship becomes increasingly strained, manipulative and cruel, we see their characters grow both positively and negatively. As well as this, Russell provides us with a deeper understanding of how their different motivations affect their actions.

Their first interaction begins with Mrs Lyons inquiring after her wellbeing (’how are you? Is the job working out all right for you?’). This makes Mrs Lyons appear to be very welcoming and considerate as, especially considering the significance of class at the time, she did not need to ask her about Mrs Johnstone’s health.

During this interaction, we also see an example of the stark contrast between their financial states. Only a page before their conversation, we saw the milkman hounding Mrs Lyons for money that she simply does not have before he says ’no money, no milk’ and Mrs Johnstone is left without any milk and several kids overwhelming her with their wants and needs. Comparatively, Mrs Lyons describes her house as ’pretty’ but also says that ’it’s a pity it’s so big’. This statement makes Mrs Lyons seem brash and insensitive towards Mrs Johnstone’s situation and feelings. 

Throughout the play, Willy Russell presents Mrs Johnstone’s character as a multitude of different things. Mrs Johnstone is portrayed as being compassionate, resilient, optimistic and naive. She is forced to endure countless ordeals, which (in most cases) would leave the character with a sense of overwhelming hopelessness. However, Mrs Johnstone remains optimistic in the face of nearly impossible situations. This shows her immense strength and resilience.

One example of this is just after Mrs Johnstone has finished singing a ballad about how her life took a drastic turn from partying and going ’dancing’ to having ’seven hungry mouths to feed and one more nearly due’. Mrs Johnstone’s ballad leaves the audience feeling sympathetic for her. Russell links Mrs Johnstone to Marilyn Monroe (a well known and influential celebrity at the time) and draws a comparison between the way that their lives both took a tragic turn. They both lead glamorous lives before they unravelled and came ,unfortunately, to a dismal end. Willy Russell uses this point of reference to allow the reader to relate to Mrs Johnstone’s story and portray the wistful feelings that she has towards her old life. The fact that Mrs Johnstone remains kind, loving and compassionate towards her children also shows how strong she is. 

After Mrs Johnstone’s tragic ballad finishes, the milkman is introduced. The milkman tells her that ‘either you pay up today, like now, or I’ll be forced to cut off your deliveries’ and Mrs Johnstone replies telling him that she’ll pay ’next week’. Throughout their exchange, it becomes increasingly clear to the audience how poor Mrs Johnstone really is as she cannot even afford to pay the milkman. She comes across as desperate and pitiful as she begs the Milkman for more time; saying that she ’needs the milk’ as she is pregnant. The Milkman refuses and exits the scene leaving Mrs Johnstone behind on stage.

In the stage directions, we are told that Mrs Johnstone ’stands alone’. Russell’s use of the word ’alone’ makes Mrs Johnstone seem lonely and reminds us of the husband that left her and the life she lost. It portrays Mrs Johnstone as helpless. As soon as they milkman exits, Mrs Johnstone’s children are introduced and they begin to complain about being hungry (’Ey Mother, I'm starvin’ an’ there's nothin’ in. There never blooding well is’). The fact that Mrs Johnstone is faced with one problem (the milkman) before immediately being faced with another (her ‘starvin’’ kids) with no respite between makes the reader feel great sympathy and pity towards her. Russell creates a sense of overwhelming despair and hopelessness.

Because of this, it comes as a surprise to the audience when Mrs Johnstone remains optimistic and confident that things will get better. She reassures her children that they’ll ’have loads of things to eat’. This statement shows Mrs Johnstone’s emotional resilience, optimistic character and love for her children. Although Mrs Johnstone has no certain solution, she is able to create an environment for her children where they can hope for the future. She is able to put aside her worries and be optimistic for the sake of her children. 

If Mrs Lyons’ character could be given a label, she would be the antagonist. Although initially Mrs Lyons seems sweet and innocent, the audience begins to loathe her. Russell brilliantly portrays her evolution from a character which we feel sympathy for (because of her inability to have children) to one that we resent (for her manipulation of Mrs Johnstone). Mrs Lyons is initially portrayed as ,despite being privileged, a caring and considerate women. However, as the story develops and the plot thickens we see how her desire to have a child has turned her cold, calculating and manipulative. Even though Mrs Lyons becomes a character which the audience does not particularly like, her motivation and love for Edward is never lost. She remains a good mother and consistently tries to do what she believes is best for ’her child’



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