In Blood Brothers, how does Willy Russell use music to create emotive effect?
Choose and explore the audience reaction to one song
Willy Russell combines love, life, death and friendship to bring up the astounding play Blood Brothers. Set in the 1950s Liverpool, Russell illustrates division in English through the clever plot; given away at birth for convenience, the memory of his Edward haunts his birth mother eternally. Plagued by guilt, experience the emotional struggle that Mrs Johnstone must face, whilst bringing up her other children, including Mickey, the son whom she kept.
The audience were hooked before the curtain had finished opening. Willy Russell uses music and words to engage the audience, alongside the gripping plot.
The overture, a haunting melody, is played whilst the curtains are still opening. The tune assembles a film-like atmosphere, combined with a sense of dreaming. The opening scene is a renactment of the tragic ending, which gives the audience an instant look into how the play will finish, however it will not all be clear to them, so the story is not ruined. The tune is emotional and grabs the audiences heart.
A dramatic technique that is used it the use of a narrator, who in this case tells the story. In ancient Greek theatre the story would have been told by the chorus, and I believe Russell knew how effective this was and decided to incorporate it into his own work. In this play, the Narrator takes on different roles, which possibly suggests that instead of having an actual character, he is just the conscience of the main characters. This is implied because the roles he plays are simple people, who could just disappear into the background. He offers additional information to the audience, helping them to understand. This suggests he is inside the other characters heads. On the other hand, the parts he plays are essential to the overall atmosphere of the play, and therefore without him it wouldnt be the same.
One song in particular uses dramatic devices to create a lasting, emotive effect. In the penultimate song, Never, never, Mrs Johnstone appears to take over from the Narrator because the lyrics could be about the relationship between Eddie and Linda, which is what the audience are watching on the stage. However it may be suggesting Mrs Johnstone is also talking about a younger version of herself.
Willy Russell uses the melody to assemble a film-like atmosphere, combined with the sense of dreaming. However the repetitive tune creates a haunting dj vu like perspective, like a nightmare repeatedly coming back to disturb you. Mrs Johnstones penultimate song is chillingly similar to previous melodies, giving the audience something to relate to, in addition to building tension. The film-star, movie-like harmony correlates with the theme of how Mrs Johnstone life starts and ends with the same striking resemblance to Marilyn Monroe, implying that there are similarities between the different classes. Also, Mrs Lyons is in a higher class than Mrs Johnstone, however her beloved sons life was ended in the same tragic way that Mrs Johnstones son was killed. It suggests a connection between the theme of wishes and dreams. For example, Mrs Johnstone wishes to give her children a better life, but Eddie has always wished to live like Mickey. Mickey has always wished to be rich and to have a life like Edwards. Its as if Willy Russell wanted all the characters to envy anothers lifestyle, and not to be happy with their own.
Russell uses a melody change to increase the tension and to forewarn the audience of what is to come. The dreamlike, heartfelt ballad transforms into a distressing, unnerving song. The tempo increases, possibly symbolising the racing heartbeat of both Mickey and the audience. The new song is also a familiar melody, taking the audience back in the story to when the song was last used and to when the tension was high. It suggests the story is coming to a climax, and the audience are literally on the edge of their seat, awaiting the ending.
Russell influences the audience through the use of language. The quote Living on the never, never is used throughout the play and also in Mrs Johnstones penultimate song too. Repetition implies familiarity and gives the audience something to relate to. The idiom never, never relates to the idea of always owing something, and the concept of never having entire possession over someone or something. This suggests Mrs Johnstone is of a lower class as she is in constant debt and doesnt have the money to pay it back. Instead of spending what she can afford, Mrs Johnstone shops from the catalogue, which I believe is a way for her to bury her head and pretend to be someone else or be wealthy. It also indicates a connection with Mrs Johnstone owing a baby to Mrs Lyons. She made the deal before she thought about actually paying the debt. Mrs Johnstone, like many others in the lower class, stalled payments by using excuses. However this did not get them out of the debt, just causing the next instalment to be a higher price. Once having the twins, Mrs Johnstone did not tell Mrs Lyons as soon as they were born, because she tried to stall handing one over. Also, it relates to the idea that Mrs Johnstone did not have complete ownership over Eddie, as although she created and gave birth to him; in the end he was given to and brought up by another woman. The phrase Living on the never, never relates to the theme of wishes and dreams and how Mrs Johnstone wishes to change the past. She dreams of holding Edward and being able to call him son. The expression may possibly suggest Mrs Johnstone is finally acknowledging that her actions were not for the best, and she is accepting the fact that no matter how desperately she may want to, she cannot change the past. I believe the final realisation is a relief to the audience, who have seen the plot explode out of control.
The quote they laid no plans suggests to the audience that the relationship formed between Linda and Edward was accidental, not intentional. However a deeper meaning may indicate the deal between Mrs Johnstone and Mrs Lyons. It focuses on the idea that Mrs Johnstone never planned to give away her child, the pact just came to be, like the newly formed romance. The quote may also suggest Mrs Johnstone reminisces on times when she didnt have to lay down plans just to be able to provide for her family. She used to be a very glamorous woman and, like Marilyn Monroe, she had many light romances which caused no harm. Willy Russell uses a theme of light romances throughout the play, to link Mrs Johnstones former self to the young, beautiful Linda. Although Mrs Johnstone did not think the romance between Linda and Eddie was harmful, it incidentally was, suggesting if things were taken a little more seriously then the killings and deaths wouldnt have happened. I believe there is a link between Linda and Eddie needing to take life more seriously, and Mrs Johnstone needing to do the same, as she wouldnt be a single mother with that many children is she was a little more careful in her younger years. Therefore I believe Mrs Johnstone assumes the romance between Eddie and Linda is completely harmless, which sub-consciously she is just covering up for her younger, wilder days. Going back to the idea of Eddie and Linda, the quote they laid no plans is in way making excuses for the young couple as Mrs Johnstone has made mistakes in the past and knows not to judge. The quote adds curiosity and confusion to the building tension in the audience as they are wondering how Mrs Johnstone making excuses for them, when it will deeply hurt her other son, Mickey. I think Mrs Johnstone feels guilty for abandoning Eddie, and he is still her son so she wants him to be happy too. Throughout the play, Mrs Johnstone is portrayed as a religious woman who is very superstitious, and by calling it a light romance, she is not going against her religion as she allows the relationship. Alternatively, Linda is committing adultery and I believe she should not be let off so easily.
A way Russell affects the audience is through the stage directions. The stage direction suddenly they kiss suggests the urgency in their kiss. Perhaps meaning Linda and Eddie know they have little time left together, therefore meaning they cant always wait. Linda and Eddies lives are becoming more segregated as time continues, due to going to university and Linda having to bring up her child. The quote implies the kiss was spontaneous and just happened. They did not think about it, which means they are not hurting Mickey on purpose. It relates to the language used they laid no plans, as the kiss just happened and therefore they laid no plans for the kiss to happen. The kiss, although not planned, causes the audience to feel sorrow for Mickey as he has always wished to have Eddies life, and now he will want it even more. The ironic fact that is that if Mrs Lyons has picked Mickey up instead, he would have had Eddies life. The quote Suddenly they kiss implies the relationship between Eddie and Linda is completely different to the relationship between Mickey and Linda as it took Mickey years to finally kiss Linda, whereas the kiss with Eddie was instant. Therefore maybe meaning the relationship with Eddie is more mature.
The stage direction We see the strain upon him but see that he is determines shows how much Mickey loves Linda. Earlier in the play, it shows Linda asking Mickey to stop taking his pills. He replies by telling her he needs them! Therefore, when the audience know how hard it is for him to stop taking his much needed pills, they are shocked when he tries desperately to stop for Linda. This proves to the audience how much he loves her. We see the strain on his face but know his love for Linda is stronger than any physical pain he could go through. This, combined with the overall sombre atmosphere of the song, causes the audience to feel the pain of seeing Linda with Eddie. The audience feel sorrow towards Mickey, as they can tell how much he loves her, and how much he will do for her. The quote but see that he is determined demonstrates how desperate Mickey is to make a better life for him and his family. It relates back to the theme of wishes and dreams, of how Mickey wishes he can give his family everything they could ever dream of, just like Eddie will be able to do. It may also relate back to the idea that Marilyn Monroe was determined to do anything she wanted, even if it caused her pain.
In conclusion, Willy Russell uses music, stage directions and language to deliver a range of emotions to the audience. After Mrs Johnstones moving ballad, the audience is left hanging due to the open-ended storyline, the audience waits for the calming effect of the narrators voice, but it does not come. Instead the audience is left with the tense atmosphere still lingering. Mrs Johnstones penultimate song give the audience an insight into the devastating ending, and increases the tension before the finale.