In the autumn term of 2006 I performed as Enid and The Head in The Golden Pathway Annual, a play by John Harding & John Burrows, for my scripted performance. The class was split into groups of three (which was very fitting as in The Golden Pathway Annual most scenes have only three characters, only the odd few scenes had four) and then given different extracts from the play.
My group was exceptionally conscious in keeping the props, costumes and especially acting appropriate to the time period, so some brief research was done using the Internet to give us a better understanding of, for example, what statuses the mother and father would have in relation to each other, or what costumes should be worn. Obviously, a reading of the entire play was done prior to any rehearsals, so that the scenes that we would be performing made sense to us. We also read through Blue Remembered Hills, by Dennis Potter, as a class.
The Golden Pathway Annual is almost completely non-naturalistic. The same actor plays Michael, the lead role, throughout all his ages – from the age of two-and-a-half into his adulthood. Also, two of the four actors play a range of characters, as opposed to one actor playing one character, as they would in a naturalistic play.
At first glances, Blue Remembered Hills would seem to be a non-naturalistic play. Firstly, the characters are all children, whereas all the actors are adults, similar to The Golden Pathway Annual, where an adult actor would play the role of the child Michael. However, the scenarios in Blue Remembered Hills are completely naturalistic – everything that happens could happen in real life. In contrast, The Golden Pathway Annual has moments, such as the fantasy sequences, where Michael is a dog with members of the Famous Five, which are evidently not naturalistic.
The other very naturalistic thing about Blue Remembered Hills is that the play is in ‘real-time’ – “one incident after another without the imposition or intervention of memory in the form of flashback” in Potter’s words. The play is set in one day, unlike The Golden Pathway Annual, which spans a time period of more than 20 years – there is even an instance in the beginning where the transition between two scenes indicates the change of several years, where a child had been born and raised to the age of two-and-a-half – not naturalistic in the slightest.
The emotions in Blue Remembered Hills are very naturalistic. This is because the play shows realistic emotions and how the different characters would react, for instance when Donald dies towards the end, all the characters are “badly shaken”. If the emotions were non-naturalistic, such as in a comic style, the emotions would portray Donald’s death as humorous. The Golden Pathway Annual also has very naturalistic, touching moments, such as:
Enid: What’s going to happen to us?
Enid: When we die.
Enid feels upset and slightly pessimistic now that Michael has left home, a natural reaction for a mother to feel. George, in the following lines, tries to be brave and attempts to convince Enid she’s “not talking sense” – an also natural thing for a husband to do.
A noticeable difference between the two plays is the themes. The Golden Pathway Annual mainly has the theme of expectations, where Michael is pressured throughout his life, by his parents and by his school. He works hard, however this is only to find that all he worked for amounted to nothing. The main theme of Blue Remembered Hills is, in my opinion, childhood (other people may think differently – it depends on a person’s interpretation). The play goes through the emotions and activities of children, with an ending showing how all fun and games can end in catastrophe.
Basing the two plays on their main themes, it could be said that they are divergent, however the two plays have other themes, which do relate the two of them. Nostalgia seems to be portrayed in both of the plays. A sense of looking back can be seen in both Dennis Potter’s and Ed Thomason’s (the director of the first The Golden Pathway Annual productions) introductions; “Every event in the script which had sparked off a personal memory, a moment of recognition for me, would do the same for an audience” (Ed Thomason). It is clear that The Golden Pathway Annual was written with the intention of nostalgia and Blue Remembered Hills was written using Potter’s memories.
Both the plays similarly experience the theme of fantasy, however one experiences it naturalistically and the other non-naturalistically. Blue Remembered Hills has times when the children will imagine they are Indians and cowboys, for instance, running through the forest wailing and shooting each other with their imaginary guns. This is naturalistic, as the audience sees the children “playing pretend”. The Golden Pathway Annual has non-naturalistic fantasy sequences. Michael’s fantasies are much more like dreams – the audience views a dream where Michael is a dog or is James Bond; it is not Michael pretending he is James Bond.
Although Blue Remembered Hills was written for television, a successful stage adaptation has been made of it. A problem posed by this, which is overcome in different ways, depending on the production, is the staging. There is a section towards the end where there are instant transitions between inside a barn and outside a barn. On television, this is easy to do, however on stage this is harder. Therefore, the staging must be unnatural – the stage could be split, for instance. This is alike to The Golden Pathway Annual, where the staging is very unnatural – such as in a scene I performed – a “Granny’s footsteps” scene, where Michael’s parents advance on him in the ironic fashion of this child’s game. As a group, we decided to stage it abstractly, similarly to the way Blue Remembered Hills would be staged.
The Golden Pathway Annual is set during the 1940s and 1960s. Our group established this time period in many ways; one was the way the two parents related. I performed as Enid in a way that allowed George to be the more dominant character, reflecting on the main beliefs of that time, that men still seemed to be the “superior” gender. The Golden Pathway Annual begins just after the war, whereas Blue Remembered Hills is set during the war. It is interesting to see that just the two years changes the historic period entirely, making the two plays acted very differently.
There is a similarity in time periods between the plays, and that is that the time period is a given circumstance – it is set, and cannot be changed. The reason Blue Remembered Hills cannot be changed is quite obviously as it is during the war, and the context of the play wouldn’t make sense without the time period. The time period in The Golden Pathway Annual is essential to the characters, plot and emotions; without the time period, the nostalgia of the play would be lost. In addition, the production notes stress the time period heavily.
One difference I notice about the style of how the two plays are written is the freedom the writers allow for the production, and what given circumstances there are. Blue Remembered Hills seems to be more flexible with how the play can be performed. Potter gives an option of what Willie can be doing in the first scene, whereas Harding & Burrows have much more strict given circumstances, where the props, as examples, are much more set – the placing of the two chairs (which are the props that create the illusion of many other items in the play) is stated.
Society and culture is a significant difference between the two plays. The Peters family in The Golden Pathway Annual is of working class. The family was hard-hit by the war – literally; their house was bombed and they lost “everything”. Society in the times of the beginning of when The Golden Pathway Annual is set had the popular belief that the future would get better, the high hopes due to the recent winning of the war. It was also believed that the young generation should make the best of what they have offered to them, a culture reflected deeply into Enid and George’s parenting, which is shown through all the pressure applied on Michael to do well at school and get good qualifications, so he can succeed in life. However, as the play progresses, we see that cultures change and Michael finds that “like the pound, his degree has devalued”.
The class and culture are both very different in Blue Remembered Hills. The children spit, threaten and fight regularly in the play, something that Michael is never known to have experienced. Michael is always made presentable, as his parents believe that they need to fit in with the society. It is likely that the same case occurs in Blue Remembered Hills, however the culture is different – the entire town is likely to be of the “lower” agricultural class, working on the farms; the way the children behave is normal in the society they are in.
It is clear that the upbringing of the children in Blue Remembered Hills is not to get a degree and do well in life and to better themselves, as Michael is in The Golden Pathway Annual; the children are parented in a sort of ‘the present matters’ mentality, in contrast to The Golden Pathway Annual where Enid and George have firm beliefs that it is the future that matters, and that everything is done for a child to better themselves in the future.
In conclusion, I have learnt that although the two plays are very different in where they are set and the way the characters behave, similarities still lie in the themes and some of the styles, such as staging.