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Blood brothers is a story which was written in 1981 as a school play and included a range of themes which help the audience understand and feel for the story rather than just watching it. The themes in this play include poverty, innocence, love, games, belief and superstition. I feel that the key themes that control the play are chance and society of the time and I feel that most of the story circles around these themes and most events are caused by these themes.
To emphasize the themes in the play, we created a three minute version of the play which consisted of still images, narration and stylised movement. We decided to split the play into four sections which were: baby years, childhood, 14 – 17 years and 20+ years. We decided that we would show the giving away of the baby as this allows the rest of the story to flow. If it wasn’t for this specific scene, the story wouldn’t have happened as the giving away of one twin is a significant event in the play. This also allowed us to add emotion to our piece as this is one of the several events which separate people into two opinions. For the second section (which was childhood) we included images of them first meeting, playing games, both of the mothers separating Mickey and Eddie and Mrs Johnstone giving the locket to Eddie.
My group and I felt that these were also important events in the play; in fact one of the main themes in the play is games which relates to the robbery and overall shooting of both twins later on. For 14 -17 years, we decided to show both children being suspended from school, the meet up between friends with the devil narration on top which we thought allowed our piece to flow making it easier to understand. At the last stage, 20+, we performed four still images which included an unemployment scene, Linda’s pregnancy, Eddie and Linda being together and finally the shooting with the second half of the images having the mad man narration over the top:
‘There’s a mad man running round and round
You know the devil’s got your number
You know he’s right beside you
He’s screamin’ deep inside you
And someone said he’s callin’ your number up today
This piece of narration was used in our three minute version of the play as we thought that it summed up a lot of the happenings in this age group and is a constant theme throughout the play. I found that the best way to tell this story within the three minutes was to use different techniques which allowed expressing and stressing of several moments in a play making it more effective. In our three minute version, this included levels, space and marking the moment. One example of these entire three put together was when both boys got expelled. We had the class sitting down at the back while the teacher was standing up straight looking down on one pupil who was higher than the class but lower than the teacher. This made use of levels, space and also marked the moment by focusing on the locket.
We decided to make the giving away of the baby the most significant point in the play. This is because the whole of the story centres on this point, and if it wasn’t for this event, none of the other events would have happened. To mark this moment, we used narration which was originally placed over the point where Mrs Johnstone was only considering giving the baby to Mrs Lyons.
‘How quickly and idea, planted, can
Take root and grow into a plan.
The thought conceived in this very room
Grew as surely as a seed, in a mother’s womb’
This piece of narration allowed us to realise how the event they are seeing came into being.
We found that forum theatre was a very useful technique to bring Mickey’s monologue to life. Forum theatre was used to change the way we said lines and how to put expression, feeling and life to the lines which in turn make the monologue a lot more vibrant and interesting. The way we performed forum theatre was to have someone acting out a verse of the poem. We then got the audience to comment and suggest improvements. We then acted the verse out again and repeated the process until we were happy with it. Below is the verse we performed.
‘Y’ know our Sammy,
He draws nudey women,
Without arms, or legs or even heads
In the baths, when he goes swimmin’.
But I’m not allowed to go to the baths,
Me Mam says I have to wait,
‘Cos I might get drowned, ‘cos I’m only seven,
But I’m not, I’m nearly eight.’
We started off with the beginning of the verse being said in a very secretive way although it was put in the category of secret in a child which meant that it had to be told; something I had felt many a time when I was a young child which also meant my body was slightly crouched and slightly tense. I used the same experience to ‘goggle’ at what Sammy was able to do when he went swimming. Then disappointment kicks in when I hit ‘But I’m not allowed…’ as my voice goes slower and my body slumps and when the mother comes on I re-enact a rather rude hand motion usually used when someone is too talkative while the mother reads her quote. The last line is said in a way of self-pity making the character feel sorry for himself which I have felt many times when I was a young child and feeling as if my parents were deriving me of all of the world’s pleasures.
In this monologue I learnt that Mickey was a character who always wanted more and wanted something someone else had that he hadn’t which is an apparent characteristic of Mickey throughout the play. It also helped me realise that it was more than just a greedy feeling as the feeling was a lot deeper and it was if the world had forgotten about him but not the others who lived in the world around him. As I said before, forum theatre had helped me find these characteristics as it helped shape what had been written. It was as if there were a lot of muddled thoughts and both me and the audience were helping to piece it together properly so we could both get an idea on how the character was really like and how the character really felt.
For individual spontaneous improvisation, I acted as Mrs Johnstone where I was looking at both babies and playing with them as if it were my last time with both of them. Of course, at the time my character would have not known which baby would have been taken and because of this, I acted in a way as if it were the last time for Mrs Johnstone to see both of them. My thought track for this piece was: ‘I can’t believe this is happening’ and it would have been hard to come to terms with something which could potentially change somebody’s life, especially when it is your own son. This decision was both challenged and supported by a technique called a conscience corridor which we used to find the pros and cons of giving the baby away which was then fired to somebody stepping into the shoes of Mrs Johnstone.
Feeling the confused and mixed feelings, it gave us a chance to make our own decision as if we were that character. Some pros included having money, less stress, a better life for your son, less work. Some cons included the guilt of your child being bought, splitting up a natural bond given to both children, more stress as you worry and having to cover it up from the outside world. The conscience corridor was put into action by splitting the class in half and putting them up as two sides to create a human ‘corridor’. We then got a member of our class to walk up while each person in the ‘wall’ said the pros and cons. When the person in the middle finishes walking up through the corridor, he/she tells us his/her decision.
In this situation, I wrote a diary entry as Mrs Johnstone. I typed my diary entry up below
‘I can’t believe it is happening. So close to the time where one of my beloved babies would be given away to my employer. I am sure that I am doing the right thing – I can’t afford to give them both a good life and Mrs Lyons does want a baby so badly. Even so, I feel I am breaking a natural bond given to them both which makes me unsure on whether I should do it. I am in a situation which I would never wish on any mother.’
Overall, I found that explorative strategies helped us understand Blood Brothers as it allowed us to see what usually are hidden thoughts and feelings of characters. It also allows us to get into character and realise how events and other actions are performed by the character.