The musical takes the interesting scenario of placing two boys with very similar genetic makeup into different households: Mickey stays in the poor working-class environment, while Edward is moved into an affluent middle-class one. We can see the influence of both nature and nurture on the boys:
|Nature||The twins feel an unbreakable bond, despite their very different upbringings. They immediately connect on a deep level and swear to be “bloody brothers”. The children are similar in that they are kind, keen for excitement in their lives, and they both love Linda.|
Edward feels closer to Mickey than he does to his mother, telling her during an argument, “I like him more than you.” Edward is very impressionable and quickly mimics Mickey and Linda’s behaviour, in ways that horrify Mrs Lyons. Mrs Lyons cannot help but fear that Edward will grow closer to Mrs Johnstone, and becomes convinced that the biological family will follow them “like a shadow” wherever they go.
|Nurture||Despite Mrs Lyons’s fears, Mrs Johnstone tells her plainly, “He is yours”, showing her view that being a mother isn’t as simple as the biological connection. Edward is given opportunities in his childhood, such as education and material possessions. He also benefits from the attention he receives as an only child, something Mickey and his seven siblings do not have.|
We see Edward excelling academically at his boarding school, while Mickey struggles to follow along in the more chaotic environment of his secondary modern school. Although Mickey does his best to keep his job, he is made redundant and powerless. This leads to his spiralling into criminality and depression. On the other hand, Edward is able to become a more well-adjusted adult with his university experience and job as a city councillor. This shows how far the two boys’ lives have diverged.
The whole musical draws the audience’s attention to the vastly different life experiences that people have depending on which class they are born into:
Russell demonstrates through the differing fortunes of the twins that there is no inherent difference between the people in working and middle classes. However, there is a difference in opportunities, and the way society views people from different classes.
The musical opens with a Romeo and Juliet-esque prologue that tells of the twins’ destiny to be separated from birth and united in death. This gives the audience a sense of their inescapable fate, and we are powerless to help as they move towards their tragic end.
Mrs Johnstone is very superstitious, as we see when she panics at Mrs Lyons’ new shoes on the table. Mrs Lyons first takes advantage of this superstition by having Mrs Johnstone swear on the Bible for their agreement. Later, she claims that “they say that if either twin learns that he was once a pair, they shall both immediately die” when Mrs Johnstone threatens to reveal the truth.
When Mrs Lyons becomes distressed at Edward’s friendship with Mickey, she too starts to believe in superstition. She frantically pushes her husband’s new shoes off the table. We see that Edward as a child has learnt superstitions from Mickey, telling his mother, “never look at one magpie”, which his father dismisses as “stupid superstition.”
The narrator sings a repeated refrain (a line or lines repeated regularly in a song) that reminds the audience of the bad luck awaiting the characters. He lists common superstitious beliefs of bad luck, such as “a spider’s been killed” and “someone broke the lookin’ glass.”
However, after the death of the twins, the narrator questions whether the events were, in fact, a result of superstition:
“Or could it be what we, the English, have come to know as class?”