The plays “Anansi” and “Billy Liar” were written in very different times. Anansi was written in 1992 and is set in 1790 on a ship travelling from Africa, wheras Billy Liar was written in and is set in an industrial north England town in 1960. The main connection between the two plays is the feeling of being trapped and having a lack of control between the two main characters and the similar methods they use to escape this. In “Anansi” the escaping character was the ‘girl’; she was being shipped to an unknown land to be sold into slavery and had no control over the situation she was forced into.
In “Billy Liar” the character with a lack of control was ‘Billy Fisher’; Billy has frustrated ambitions and feels the environment in which he lives is holding him back. The ‘girl’ in “Anansi” escapes through the stories about a cunning spider, originally told to her by an old woman with whom she is tied. The old woman encourages her to let her imagination run away, we can see this when she says, “Don’t tie yourself up with words like impossible”. The character of Billy Fisher escapes through his daydreams which he often slips into, he is encouraged by one of his girlfriends, Liz.
Billy and Liz dream of growing up together, and sharing a house, in which they will create a room where Billy is Prime Minister, and Liz is Foreign Secretary; “when we go into it, through the door, that’s it, that’s our country”. Both characters deal with their issues by creating an imaginary world, which they can control and adapt to any purpose. Although this could seem delusional and foolish, it benefited both the characters and gave them freedom.
The girl in “Anansi” escapes the cruel world she has been forced into, it confirms that her mind is still free; “what part of you stays free when your arms and legs are tied? “. The stories of Anansi also help the girl to realise that even the seemingly weak and helpless people can win against the ‘more powerful’ characters that appear to be very threatening. An example of this is when Anansi overcomes the Tiger, “what do mean? Answer me, or I’ll pull your arms legs and brains out one by one”.
In “Billy Liar” Billy gains control over his life by dreaming of what he desires, in his daydreams, Billy is always victorious and highly respected, this helps him escape the monotony of his everyday life. Billy’s imagination helps him deal with the death of his grandmother; “Dearly beloved Officers and Gentlemen of the Desert Shock Troops. We are assembled here at the grave-side here this evening to pay respects to a great lady… “. In “Anansi” the character of Anansi is portrayed as physically very weak, yet she still manages to overcome creatures a lot more powerful and strong than herself.
Mentally she is very strong, intelligent and cunning this makes sure that she always ‘wins’, she is almost heroic in the way she does things; “oh, I thought you knew, it’ll shrink and you’ll have to be ever so careful bending over”. The character of Billy Fisher shares many of these qualities with Anansi in his daydreams, when he is always somewhat of a hero, and greatly respected by all his peers; “Mr Fisher, on behalf of the British Television Industry, serving the needs of twenty million viewers…. You have been voted Television Script-writer of the Year – for the seventh year running”.
In “Anansi” the character of Ratbat is very easily tricked by Anansi; “Ratbat, being so cool I expect you’ve got your entry all prepared for the song contest… “. Similarly, in “Billy Liar” Barbara is very easy deceived by Billy’s lies; “He told me Mr Fisher was a captain on a petrol ship”. However, both of these characters also deceive particularly strong and seemingly threatening characters. In “Anansi”, Anansi manages to deceive the Tiger who he earlier describes as ‘royal, bold and strong’ by tricking him into removing his fur coat and his fat, then blames it on a weaker animal.
Likewise, Billy’s lies are accepted by Rita who is very strong and has quite a ‘tough’ family who Billy is scared of crossing, however nearing the end of both stories both the tiger and Rita see through the lies they have been told; “Oooh, I feel I owe you a word of explanation. Get back in the cheese with the other maggots. ” The father-son relationship experienced by Billy and Geoffrey is echoed in the relationship of the Captain and they Boy in “Anansi” both fathers have a shadow of disappointment in their sons, and hope to pass on the family businesses.
The Captain gets frustrated at the Boy for the questions he asks regarding the ‘cargo’ of slaves on board the ship. He wants to pass on the family business, but the Boy has a more caring personality; “I still don’t see how all those people on the shore can be a cargo” “as the ship’s boy, you’ll address me as Captain… “. In “Billy Liar” Geoffrey is disappointed and often angered by Billy’s sheer bone-idleness, and his compulsive lying, he had hopes to pass on the family business to him when he gets older; “I’ll clean shirt him round his bloody ear-hole.
” The style in which the plays are both performed in the same style, the scenes on board the ship are naturalistic which accentuates the brutality of the slave trade. ‘The forest of stories’ scenes give the characters a change and provide contrast with the ship scenes. In the same way, the serious issues in Billy Liar, such as the death of Billy’s Grandmother Florence, (which was partly Billy’s fault) are given comedy by Billy’s outrageous situations and often bedazzling relationships.