The plot and background
Set in the West country (Devonshire/Cornwall) in 1943, the playwright Dennis Potter explores the traumatic childhoods of 7 young children.
Originally written for television in 1979, the play follows seven 7 year olds through an actual day of their lives. As the play takes place in ‘real time’ the whole thing is naturalistic and there are no non naturalistic techniques such as flashbacks or other theatrical devices to skip to different times. The play is set in a barn, a wood and a field on a summer’s afternoon. Over the two hour period the friends play and squabble, particularly victimizing a boy whom they call ‘Donald Duck’, the play climaxes when this character is left out of games and activities by his peers and therefore decides to play his own game… a game of pyromania!
As I said earlier the play is ‘totally’ naturalistic, however there is one significant exception: the playwright Dennis Potter insisted that adult actors were cast to portray the children. He thought that if children were used the audience would lose the ‘true meaning’ of the story within the sympathy that they would feel for the child actors.
John: Looks after Raymond, fair-minded, often challenges Peter.
Peter: Bully, very strong, is not very clever.
Raymond: Has a stutter, very gentle and sensitive, is dressed as a cowboy.
Willie: Intelligent and he uses this to overcome Peter’s bullying, is easy going
Angela: Very bossy, pretty and very flirtatious for a seven year old, very self-centered.
Audrey: Always trying to be Angela’s friend, very plain, overshadowed by Angela.
Donald Duck: Boys don’t like him very much, girls allow him to play ‘house’ with them. Very lonely as everyone taunts and bullies him. He is abused.
Important hidden characters
Wallace Wilson: class bully, hear lots about him but never actually see him.
Donald Ducks mother: Abuses him, plays part towards Donald’s depression and pyromania.
Dennis Potter decided that for his play he wanted to cast adult actors to play the parts of the children, mainly because of the audience’s reaction to the plot. He felt that the audience would lose the ‘true meanings’ of the play, as they would sympathize with child actors. Potter took into consideration how child behavior differentiates when being watched by an audience, whereas adults would truthfully portray their emotions.
In my opinion I think that Dennis Potters casting choice was a very bad decision. I see the play as more of a ‘joke’ than a serious piece of drama. The adult actors do not resemble children, but instead adults with mental difficulties, because of this I believe ‘Potter’ has done exactly what he wanted to avoid and took the ‘true meaning’ out of the play.
In our first lesson we began by exploring playing children, from womb to 2 years old. We turned off the lights to focus on the themes of loneliness and to focus on actually developing in the mother’s womb. I began in a tucked shape as foetus’ do we then turned the light on to represent the birth. From this point we were babies and infants developing gradually from 0-2 yrs.
Examples of body language awareness
Fetus: still, in a tucked position.
Newborn: slight movement of limbs- visual and audio only.
3 months: As above, slight movement of head- side to side to explore surroundings – visual and audio only.
6-9 months: As above, able to roll over slightly-visual audio and kinesthetic.
12-18 months: Able to lift head alone and support self. Movement of all body parts now occurring – visual, audio and kinesthetic.
18-24 months: crawling to explore surroundings kinesthetically; Using objects to pull selves up. It is at this age we felt that we would be capable of interacting with other actors, by both voice and body language. I and Connie chose to play typical childhood activities (clapping games and pulling hair) and squabbling.
We then continued our childhood explorations by spontaneously improvising a classroom scene. My drama teacher acted as a year 3 teacher and my peers and I as the year 3 class. We all interacted well with each other creating stereotypical characters and situations Our task was to build a ‘den’ in competition with the other team. We used stacked staging to act as a tower and I played a princess.
We chose a fairytale scenario to portray childhood imagination. This also helped us maintain high energy levels which are compulsory for playing children. We used appropriate vocabulary such as ‘founded that firsted tho’ and ‘you are the bestest’ to show the simplicity of children’s language at 7 years old. We improvised arguments with both our own group and our opponents over props and spacing. We also chose to incorporate a fairytale storyline into it and take an opponent from the other team hostage. We also showed how our moods changed quickly e.g. falling out and then making up again.
As I was acting I could find many similarities in my own and others performances in comparison to ‘Blue Remembered Hills’ characters.
Hayley(me): Very similar to Angela.
I remained seated at the top of our pretend towers dishing orders out and generally being very bossy. I also portrayed her flirtatious side by settling a row between 2 boys over who would be my prince “why don’t you both be princes then you can both kiss me!” This links to Angela because she is also very bossy and flirtatious.
Warren: very similar to Raymond.
He stayed well away from the arguments and instead chose to play alone with his pretend guns.
Sophie: very similar to Audrey.
Backed up everything I said (Angela). Held doll when I was climbing etc. Wanted attention constantly.
I think my performance as a 7 year old was well thought through. I used appropriate body language (free and wild) and voice (high pitched and squeaky) to portray my desired character. I think my performance was strongly influenced by my 7 year old brother and 5 year old sister. I managed to keep in role by keeping my energy levels high to feel more like my character. I enjoyed this performance even though I normally dislike spontaneous improvisation tasks. I learnt how important it is to keep up energy levels and momentum when performing as children, I strongly believe that this performance has helped me get the feel and prepare for childhood performances in the Blue Remembered Hills scenes.
Character exploration and Still image
In our second lesson we were to perform a role play, reenacting a selected scene from the play. This was to allow us to empathize with the characters and familiarize ourselves with their relationship with each other.
I selected the scene with Angela, Andrea and Donald Duck in the barn. We chose to stage this in the round to portray Donald’s isolation, the ’round enabled the audience feel close to us acting ‘feeling’ the tension. We used appropriate proxemics. There were a variety of characteristics to my role. It is in this scene that pathetic fallacy is used a lot as Donald’s emotions are portrayed by the grubby, battered barn.
As I was playing the part of Angela I was aware that her personal characteristics would be very different to my own. I was familiar with Angela’s bossy, controlling ways from previous lessons. To portray her characteristics I did the following things:
This posture showed that I was over confident.
As you can see I had hold of the baby the whole time, although it was an effective way to portray status and authority it particularly helped me by restricting me with my hand gestures.
I intimidated Donald at the end of the scene by using positioning and movement to my advantage.
> I used good levels to show status
> Positioned my body as someone with confidence would
> Used very static and energetic movement to adapt to a 7 yr olds characteristics.
I also used movement effectively when intimidating Donald. I circled him to show how my character controls the scene.
I used centering which is a good technique to show a character physically. As this means that my character is ruled by a particular part of the body, I chose to use the arm holding the baby. When I walked, this arm would lead etc. This also emphasized my status due to possessing the doll.
My facial expressions changed throughout the scene mainly because of the themes and emotions varying. My facial expressions always portrayed my hubris: which is my overconfidence.
For example- concern
‘Oh dear. Poor, poor Donald’ (denoted from text) My expression was very interested and showed that my attention was solely on Donald. This showed the caring and imaginative side to Angela : I was also the ‘mommy’ which may have encouraged me to over-exaggerate.
Another example- Anger and intimidation
“Quack, Quack, Quack” (denoted from the text). My expression was very bold and frustrated. This showed my nasty streak.
Chosen prop in scene:
Obvious choice as it helped me adapt to my character and her age. It helped me with my Physicalisation by restraining my body to certain movements. Helped me portray my authority,
Relationships with others
Angela shows her authority over Audrey and repeatedly gets her own way.
“Course I be. I got the babby, aint I? It chunt your doll, Audrey”
This dialogue portrays the authority in their friendship. The fact that Angela has the doll and is therefore able to play the mother proves how she has everything Audrey wants. Angela also gets a lot of attention from the boys which is why she gets jealous and frustrated when Audrey gets the attention from Donald, because of this Andrea copies Angela to ‘fit in’
The majority of the time the 2 characters get along with each other very well, especially when they play ‘house’ and get to play the main parts. However when Donald interacts with Audrey, Angela gets angry at him and bullies him: she becomes very violent towards him.
The proxemics shows the audience how the characters feel about each other. This means the way that space is being used to communicate meaning.
We used hot-seating in our 3rd lesson. Hot-seating is where one person takes on the role of a character and answer questions asked by the rest of the group in the way they believe the character would respond. Hot-seating is used to gain a deeper understanding of a specific character.
Below are some of the questions we asked ‘Donald Duck’ along with his answers.
Any Brothers and sisters? Did have a baby sister but died from smallpox 3 years ago.
Who’s your best friend? I like the girls because I can play house with them.
Was your father violent? No my daddy didn’t believe in violence he was a Christian, an honest man.
Favorite color? Red like blood.
Does your mum hit you because you’re naughty? I aint no naughty boy she just gets cross at me sometimes that’s all.
Why are you more comfortable around the girls? Yes because they let me play and they don’t fight like Peter does.
Denoted means information taken straight from the script.
Connoted means to imply and read between the lines.
D- Has shoes but no socks. Timid and anaemic
C- poor, not nourished, not cared for?
D-Collects empty jam jars for money.
C- Look after himself. Independent.
D- Doesn’t like smacking of the baby “not in my house”
C- Past experiences? Treat kids nicely.
D- talks about blood a lot when playing house with the girls…”blood all over the saw. Blood all over me. Blood everywhere. Blood, blood”
C- Used to seeing it? Psychotic, fascinated by it.
D- Lets have four sugars eh?
C- Not normally got it, Rationing. Treat for him.
D- imitates authority by banging up and down shouting for his tea.
C- men dominating?, not used to power.
D- Enjoys playing with the girls…he hugs himself with glee, rocking slightly
C- Nice females: is different to usual, don’t really fit in with boys, attention
D- Doesn’t like being called Donald Duck. Goes into a psychotic frenzy as girls jeer and pull his hair. He howls but is totally submissive.
C- Used to violence? Hates it because his name is not friendly, derogatory term.
D- Donald wouldn’t show Willie his jam jars until he threatened to kick his head in. The boys think he is a weed and a cry baby “one punch and he’ll give in”
C-They know past history, again evident from Angela in the barn. They use it against him.
D- He’s got hold of a box of matches by going through his mam’s handbag. The boys discuss how she knocks him about, he sets light to the coal shed after she locks him up in it.
C- Pyromania, get rid of bad memories. Fire is something he can control, shows status, redeeming feature.
We were asked to get into groups of 4 and elaborate and create a piece of drama around the stimulus below.
We decided to use flashbacks to portray Donald’s emotions. Flashbacks represent and explore the background and emotions of a character or a story; we used this as we believed this to be an appropriate way to portray Donald’s motives.
As flashbacks are used to provide information about a characters past to explain a present situation. We chose to pick scenes where Donald was being abused and victimized by a variety of different people. We portrayed a life of sadness and abuse in all of our scenes. We also used imaging to represent Donald’s feelings beneath the surface of his actual character.
We showed the thing Donald most longs for…his Dad. We tell the audience through dialogue how his father went to war and Donald begged him not to go.
We showed how mother abuses him and how he is really scared of her.
Here we denoted from the text.
Audrey “smack er one Donald”
Angela” Yes, and if he hits me I shall tell is mam. Her’ll skin him alive won’t her? She hits you with the poker, don’t she?
Both “Quack, quack,” ( hit him etc)
We then got Donald to show how he longs to be loved and accepted\; he begged and showed the audience his innocence. ” please, please don’t, you promised” we then went silent to add a contrast of noise and tranquility. However this was again totally contrasted by Peter shouting at him.
Peter: “where them jam jars, dem girls told me you ad um!”
Donald: “No I aint ad no jars”
Girls enter and create a sound collage ( soundscape)
“yes you did, you ad 10 jars you said”
“Dont lie you said”
‘Liar” etc., etc.
The soundscaping (Sound collage) was used to emphasize and build a dramatic ending . Soundscaping is where the voice and body is used to create sound associated with the atmosphere.
We used a tableau at the end. Also known as a freeze frame or still image: characters freeze as if it is a photograph.
We used positioning and levelling:
> Surrounded Donald to show his isolation
> Peter and girls stood up to show authority
> Donald sat down to show his lower status compared to the others
At the end all characters froze and we used direct address (where character speaks directly to the audience): this created dramatic irony. It could be argues that this is a soliloquy as it was also a thought spoken out aloud.
Donald: “All I wanted was my dad”
Throughout our piece Donald remained on stage rocking and continuously repeating his speech in the stimulus, this emphasized his emotions and gained him sympathy from the audience.
When not acting the remaining cast kept our backs to the audience and remained still and focused.
This lesson we had to prepare a short piece of drama based on scene 6 of Blue Remembered Hills. The squirrel scene includes all of the boys apart from Donald.
We used the script and kept the scene totally naturalistic as this is the way that Dennis Potter intended.
We began by getting into groups of 4 and planning our piece. We had to decide who was to play which character. I played Raymond, Rebecca played Willie, Reece played the antagonist John and Tom was the protagonist Peter. An antagonist is the character who has some kind of conflict with the main character (in this scene the main character is Peter). A protagonist is the main character who has some kind of conflict with another character.
Another difficult choice was choosing the most suitable staging: After studying all of the good and bad points of every staging, we decided to use a thrust stage. We thought this would be most fitting as it makes the audience feel close to our performance, feeling all o our emotions with us. It also allowed us to use the top of the thrust as a focal point to position the squirrel.
As the scene was set n the woods we decided that we needed something to act as tree-stumps not only to set the scene but to also help us with our Physicalisation as we were able to sit, stand and ‘hang’ off them. This also provided us with levels.
We began our scene differently to everybody else, instead of beginning with the actual killing of the squirrel we decided to start after this where all of the characters are silent and full of guilt. We used ad-lib (adding our own speech) at the start of the scene to build tension and portray the boys feelings of uncertainty and regret.
As we began our piece with an anti-climax it emphasized the themes within the scene such as sadness and lament. We then ran the scene using the script.
Throughout the scene it was compulsory that we changed our voice to suit our character. As the play was set in the West Country in 1943 we not only had to change our accent to suit the place but also our spoken language (during ad-lib) to suit the era. Our tone, pitch, pace and volume all changed throughout the piece along with the mood: for example at the begging where there is a major anti-climax our mood is sad and our spirit is low therefore our voice must portray our state of mind. I spoke at a very slow space, with a very low pitch, volume and tone; this was to emphasize the themes of sadness and regret. However, because Raymond has a stutter I found that it was particularly difficult to add all of the voice changes as well as the stutter.
As I was a 16 year old girl playing the part of a 7 year old boy there was an awful lot of thinks I had to consider in relation to my physicalisation. My posture was no longer feminine and mature, it was slouched and wild. My movement as a 7 year old was never ending; I constantly had to keep moving, whether it was slow when sad or quick when happy.
My group also chose to use repetition of movement in our piece to emphasize a specific characteristic of our character: for example Raymond continuously went to the back wall of our stage to cry. This could also symbolize how Raymond is always at the back, away from all of the action. My positioning of Raymond was well thought through, I remained behind my other actors to show how I was the one against harming the squirrel as I was furthest away. I think that as I played a 7 year old boy well it has proved that I am versatile.
Because we were to perform in our classroom we were unable to use lighting, sound or costumes. However if we were able to use them I believe that they would tremendously improve my piece.
Willie-Greys, whites and light blues to symbolize that he is plain.
John -Greens, because it is a neutral colour for a neutral character. He is quite jealous of Peter being the strongest.
Peter- Bold blacks and reds, as he is a bold character. Sinister.
Raymond-Cowboy costume. Shown below.
I believe that some recorded effects would have made our piece have more realism about it. A sound of rustling trees and the chirping of birds would have helped set the scene yet kept it realistic.
Lighting would have kept the various themes and focus fluent throughout. I would have chosen the below gobos to set the scene
During the ad-lib at the start I would have a white spotlight on the squirrel to make this the focal point for the audience: the white would represent its innocence
I would use a red fresnel spot when Raymond says the word ‘dead’. The red would symbolize the death and blood. The fresnel spot is a lot softer like the mood than the par can for example.
In our final lesson our task was to produce our own script including the character of Wallace Wilson.
Donald sits alone, curled up tight, head down. He is shaking vigorously, rocking back and forth with continuous chanting.
Donald: come back Dad, come back Dad………..
Suddenly, loud shouts and banging is heard off stage. Donald s startled and freezes immediately.
Wallace Wilson’s mum: Gerrout! Gerrout thou feivin get!
A loud smack is heard offstage, followed by a cry of pain.
Wallace Wilson’s mum: Thou wouldn’t dream of stealin’ my matches if you Da’ were ere.
A tall scruffy boy is seen entering stage right. He sits on the opposite side of the hay to Donald. Wallace is totally unaware of Donald’s presence. Donald remains silent and alert as Wallace Wilson begins to sob.
Wallace Wilson: we…wel…well e’s not! Your ere ‘nd I dun’t lie you… I dun’t like you at all! I…I wish you were dead.
Donald: (whispered) I fink like that sometime, but I dun’t mean it like… I dun’t mean it at all
Wallace Wilson: (anxiously) He…Hello?
Donald: Me Mam ‘its me sometime you know… but I know she dun’t mean it like… it cuza me Dad…Jap’s ‘ave got ‘im.
Wallace Wilson: Jap’s ‘ave got ya Da’?
Donald: Yh 2 year now.
Wallace Wilson: (hesitantly) mine too.
Wallace Wilson continues to wipe the tears from his eyes. Donald lies on his back and gazes up towards the ceiling deep in thought.
Donald: Does thou mam drink the clear stuff ‘eh?
Wallace Wilson: Yh, Yh she do. She says it ‘elp ‘er like but it don’t.
Both boys remain silent and both reflect on their home situations. They become more relaxed in their environment however tug on their clothes to feel more secure.
(Suddenly Donald breaks the silence)
Donald: She use the poker like?
Wallace Wilson: (Softly) Yh.
Wallace Wilson: (softly) Yh.
Donald: For nothin’.
Wallace Wilson: For nowt.
(Really long pause)
Donald stands up
Donald: so… thou got any matches?
Wallace Wilson: erm… well yer I ‘ave… I just gotta…
A young, pretty blonde girl enters stage right.
Angela: Who be dere?
Wallace Wilson turns and looks in her direction. He quickly wipes his eyes and changes back to his usual boisterous self.
Angela: Oh…Oh Wallace thou din’t know it were you like.
On the name of ‘Wallace Wilson’ Donald realizes whom is actually on the other side of the hay and quickly scarpers stage left.
Angela flirtatiously plays with her hair
Wallace Wilson: I were ’bout t’ start a fire like… I got me matches.
Wallace reveals a box of matches from his back pocket.
We decided to set our scene in the barn as we felt that this could act as both characters refuge. We felt that comparing the most powerful character with the most weakest would be very effective in terms of similarities and comparisons.
I would like to experiment with costume and maybe dress both characters in the same way. I would dress both characters in dirty clothes, light blue and white in colour. The light blue would symbolize both boys’ sadness and the white their innocence. Dressing hem both similarly would further emphasize their similarities.
Sound and music
As this scene is totally dependant on he emotions being portrayed through sound it is compulsory that we kept unnecessary sounds to a minimum. Silence was the most effective form of sound, as it symbolized how both boys had suffered in silence. Silence also made the scene awkward and built up tension.
I wouldn’t use any ‘fantasy make up’ however I would use a mixture of ‘straight make up’ and ‘character make up’ to add dirt and wounds and scars.
Masks could be worn by both characters at the start of the scene and then removed when the boys feel comfortable opening up about their lives. This would make the audience aware of the boys’ feelings towards each other.
At the beginning where Donald is alone and rocking, I believe that a stropescope (where lighting flickers to a rhythm would be really effective. Throughout the piece I would use a fresnel spot as it would create a soft effect as it spreads the light more gently. Another advantage of using this lighting is that it can be focused on a character at an important time. I would use either a white (innocence) or blue (sadness) cinemoid (gel).
Both boys were sat down to show they are not very powerful or confident. Both stand up at the end however to show how they have become confident in each others company.
Set and Props
A haystack (or substitute) to symbolize the barrier between the boys.
We wanted very little movement to show the tension and awkwardness between the boys.
Use both high and low volume depending on the characters mood and confidence. We also changed our tone depending on our confidence. We used appropriate spoken language in our piece.
I believe there to be 2 effective staging Proscenium arch and traverse.
This enables the audience to see both sides of the haystack, and both boys actions and reactions to each other. However the audience is not ‘close’ to the scene.
This is effective as the audience feel ‘close’ to the actors this enforces the tension upon them. Although the audience are nearer it is quite possible that they are unable to see both characters due to blocking.