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Analysis of Willy Russell’s Our Day Out

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Willy Russell was born in 1947 at Whiston near Liverpool. His school career in the ‘D-stream’ was undistinguished and as a result, he left school with one O-level in English language at the age of fifteen. As there was a strong tradition of story telling in his family, he had a vague notion of wanting to become a writer. He drifted into hairdressing but eventually left that job and began working in several industrial jobs before deciding to return to full-time education. During this time, Willy Russell soon decided to become a dramatist whilst at St. Catherine’s college. It was around this time when Willy Russell began writing plays.

‘Our Day Out’ is set in the inner city of Liverpool. This area had a high amount of environmental problems that included derelict houses, vandalism and a vast amount of pollution and decay. Due to these circumstances, people started to drift away from the inner city and soon enough there was an increase of unemployment and poverty. There were very little facilities available and as a result, only a few people continued to work in Liverpool. One example was education. There were only a limited number of good teachers and children who were willing to learn due to social and environmental limitations. A few children had difficulties learning and consequently were known as the ‘progress class.’ However, recent government initiatives to focus on deprived areas have started being implemented.

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This leads us to Willy Russell’s main purposes. His intention was to entertain his audience with a fine piece of comedy writing but also he wanted to inform people of the lack of education, attention and communication teachers had with children, particularly the progress class. Therefore, Willy Russell had a didactic purpose. ‘Our Day Out’ not only conveys humour but also consists of many serious factors that Willy Russell wanted to put across to his audience consequently he added humour to portray serious points as people understand them better. Allegory……..

The title of the play, ‘Our Day Out,’ suggests a day travelling somewhere, in the case, the progress class going to Wales to visit some historical places. During this play, we are introduced to some main characters that have been given specific stereotypical personalities. Firstly, there is Briggs and Mrs. Kay who go on the trip and have contrasting personalities to one another. Mrs. Kay believes that the point of a school trip for the progress class students is to have fun and to enjoy themselves. On the other hand, Briggs believes the trip is to learn and benefit from the knowledge they see around them. It could be argued that they are both correct in terms of what is essential for the children. However, to and extent, too much of one thing does not lead the children very far in life. Secondly, there are two other teachers who also go on the trip, Colin and Susan. ‘How y’ getting’ on with miss, eh sir? We saw y’, sir goin’ into that pub with her sir.’ From this quotation, it implies that Colin and Susan have a relationship together that allow the children to tease them even more. Thirdly, there are Reiley, Digga, Linda and Karen who know about Colin and Susan’s relationship and use this fact against the teachers. An important character in the play is Carol that symbolises the hopelessness of the children.

To create humour in the play, Willy Russell emplays stage directions that allows the audience to see the humorous side rather than to hear it. For example, in the first few pages, Les, the lollipop man is waiting for a certain car that has been annoying him in the past to come before letting Carol cross the road. When he notices it, he walks in front of the car when it is right next to the zebra crossing. This creates visual humour as Les waited for the last opportunity before letting the girl cross. However, this episode contrasts with the serious way in which Les has lectured Carol about the importance of his job. Another example of a stage direction that creates humour is when the children get on the bus and put tow fingers up in a V-shape. This suggest humour because they have done what Briggs told them not to do. It could be argued that this is also dramatic irony because we knew that the children would do this.

This leads to the next technique Willy Russell uses to create humour, which is dramatic irony. At the beginning of the play, Mrs. Kay lies to the driver about the children being poor and having nothing in life, from the quotation, ‘the kids with me today don’t know what it is to look at a bar of chocolate.’ However, we know that this is nonsense but it creates humour and is later on emphasised when the driver, Ronny gives a child a pound note to go and get some sweets. This is humorous because he has followed the lie and believes Mrs. Kay. A few stage directions here emphasize the humour. For example, ‘we almost hear the violins.’ Violins usually portray sadness and unhappiness and give a dull atmosphere that highlights Mrs. Kay’s lies.

Ridiculous situations are used throughout the play that create humour. One example of this technique is when the children steal the animals and pretend they have nothing. When the teachers come back, the children have blunt expressions on their faces. At this point, we notice a change in Briggs’s opinion in the children from the quotation, ‘they’re really interested, you know, really interested in the animals.’ We feel slightly sympathetic towards Briggs because there is dramatic irony where we know that children have stolen the animals; therefore, there is humour in this situation. However, Briggs’s tune suddenly changes his attitude towards the children when he finds out the truth, and he ends up calling them, ‘animals.’ Even though this scene is humorous, it is also serious because the children do not know the basic way to control themselves and act decently. They end up doing things as they please. In some ways, Briggs is right about the children being ‘animals’ but only to an extent. It could be argued that the children have not been taught how to behave properly due to social difficulties in the area they live in; therefore, it suggests that the teachers are there to be blamed for not teaching the children basic manners. However, we also may blame the parents for not bringing up the children in the right way, and as a result, we feel sympathetic towards the children.

The scene where Andrews and Briggs have a discussion about smoking is o some extent, humorous when Andrews says, ‘…when me dad comes home, sir, sir, he belts me…’ and Briggs replies, ‘because you smoke,’ and Andrews answers, ‘…no sir, because I won’t give him one.’ It suggests humour because it contrasts our expectations on what Andrews would of said. However, there is a serious side to this point as it implies the fact that the parents do not care about Andrews very much if they allow him to smoke. This emphasises the fact mentioned before about the children not having any proper manners, and therefore it is presumed that the parents are t blame for this with the lack of attention the children are receiving. It is also an example of Willy Russell’s purpose to convey a serious point to the audience using humour.

Another example of how Willy Russell proved his point is using word play. For example, ‘Briggs – Now just where do you think you are?’…Ronson – Sir, Wales?’ From this quotation, there is humour as there is dramatic irony where we know that Briggs wanted to know where Ronson was going so quickly, but Ronson sincerely answers in a way that he does not understand the question. Nevertheless, this also depicts a serious side as it could be argued Ronson has not been taught properly and is unaware of what Briggs is trying to ask him. This is a good example of the mutual incomprehension between the two, Ronson and Briggs; therefore implies the difficulty in communication between the children and the teachers.

‘Our Day Out,’ also contains many more serious factors that symbolises Willy Russell’s main purposes. A very important factor is the children having lack of education that is emphasised in the following quotation, ‘that’s in the country in Wales isn’t it, sir?’ The fact the ‘little kid’ had to ask the teacher whether that is true or not shows lack of knowledge. Another example is when Reiley and Digga start smoking on the bus journey. Andrews wants a cigarette as well but he cannot, as he does not have any money with him. Digga says, ‘your ma’s loaded,’ and when Andrews disagrees Reiley says, ‘well she should be…all the fellars she picks up on the Parly.’ At this point, we feel a real compassion for Andrews as the quotation is implying that Andrews mother is a prostitute. From this, we receive a summary on the types of parents these children have. We can predict that Andrews will not have a rewarding future and no stable family unit to fall back on, like most of the other children, and therefore, they are not only lacking in education but also parental support. Willy Russell reveals the dysfunctional and almost tragic background that Andrews, and doubtlessly some other children, come from in such a way to make it serious.

In the same scene, it is revealed that Reiley’s mother is “dead” when Reiley says, ‘Sir, I swear on me mother,’ and Digga tells Briggs not to believe him, ‘how can he swear on his mother. She’s been dead for ten years.’ Then Reiley tells Briggs that his dad works on the docks and that ‘he hates it.’ When Briggs asks, ‘his job or the place?’ Reiley replies, ‘the whole lot.’ These situations are humorous but with these sorts of backgrounds, it is hardly surprising that these children are in the progress class, and that they smoke, swear and behave the way they do, ‘like animals.’ It reflects lack of parental support, lack of education and lack of aims and hopes in life and in the future. It could be argued that parents shape the people their children become and their behaviour can influence a child more than they may know, as we see in ‘Our Day Out.’

One particular scene where the children stop to a caf before visiting the castle, we see more of the children’s ‘animal behaviour.’ Russell simply describes the scene; ‘The counter cannot be seen for pushing, impatient kids…As orders are shouted, the kids are robbing stuff, left, right and centre.’ We get the impression that the children are fairly proficient when it comes to shoplifting; ‘it’s the usual trick but the two men are falling for it – the kids point to jars high up, as the men turn their backs, so racks of chocolate bars disappear into eager pockets.’ Russell depicts the scene in a comic manner, as with the whole play, and as a result we do not feel the need to condemn the children, especially as the two men who run the caf, put prices up as soon as they saw the bus full of children approaching saying, ‘we’ll milk this lot.’ However, the children manage to con the shopkeepers instead which is humorous to an extent but shows the lack of control and lack of sensibility.

Conway Castle is a political scene, as the drama gets more and more overt. There is a confrontation between the two teachers, Briggs and Mrs. Kay that suggests confliction between them. Mrs. Kay tells Briggs that the children cannot be taught because it is too late for them, realistically. She is unafraid of Briggs and bluntly states that the children were rejected from the day that they were born. However, Briggs objects to these views and declares tat Mrs. Kay is ‘on their side.’ He opposes her when she clearly points out that he is a ‘fool’ if he thinks that remedial children can be taught. This is a key fact because it emphasises the limitations these children have. Nonetheless, the quotation, ‘you won’t educate them, because no-one wants them educating,’ could be argued implies the parents’ decision on allowing the children to do whatever they please and consequently decreases the chances of a real, happy future. It could be argued that this also implies that politicians do not want the children educating properly. This is one of the most serious scenes in the play where it shows the teachers’ departing in ways, because neither is prepared to compromise. On the other hand, both teachers’ are correct to a certain extent. Strictness is need in education, whatever the situation, to teach the children to be sensible and to behave properly. However, in their situation, the children’s enjoyment is more practical. The children will not benefit greatly from the authoritarianism of Briggs. Mrs. Kay believes that the point of a school trip for the progress class students is to have fun, after all, ‘there’s no point pretending that a day out to Wales is going to be come great educational benefit.’ To an extent, this quotation is true, as realistically; the children will not succeed in the future very much. However, there is still an opportunity for the children to try and learn something, even for little while, therefore, Briggs is, in a way trying to educate the children, but even Mrs. Kay could be accused of having given up.

Another very important serious scene is when Carol goes missing. She symbolises hopelessness due to the lack of knowledge, education and parental support. Eventually, Briggs finds her but does not greet her well and neither does Carol. She was sitting next to the cliff and was willingly going to jump over if Briggs did not leave. ‘What do you worry for, eh? eh? You don’t care, do y’? do y’? – Briggs – ‘What? About you? Listen…if I didn’t care, why am I here, now, trying to stop you doing something stupid. – Carol – ‘Because if I jumped….you’ll get in trouble…You hate me.’ It is clear from the quotations that Carol seems very perceptive about her situation here. The fact that Briggs speaks to her in an angry tone, implies that he is not bothered and therefore Carol is correct when she says, ‘You’ll get into trouble at school.’ This also emphasises the fact that there is no communication between Briggs and Carol, which is presumably what it is like with the other children, consequently it undoubtedly true that the children do not behave properly, due to the lack of teaching.

We see a change in Briggs’s personality in this scene from the quotation, ‘You sound as though like for you is just ending, instead of beginning.’ This quotation suggests that Brigs does care about the children, but shows it in an authoritarian way. For the first time, we see Briggs smile from the stage direction. This emphasises the change in Briggs’s personality but also suggests that he realises the children are humans and realistically need more support from parents. As a result, Briggs offers to go to the fair. Needless to say, in the pervious scenes, Briggs was angry when Mrs Kay let the children go to other places, for example the zoo, but in this scene it is clear that Briggs understands the children’s situation and he realises what will happen in the forth-coming future for the children. At the fair, pictures are taken of Briggs but when its time for going home, Briggs destroys the roll of film. Due to this, it could be argued that Briggs does not want anyone to see that side of him, maybe because of his reputation. However, it also suggests that Briggs is embarrassed of other people seeing the happy side of him and therefore he crumples the roll up.

‘Our Day Out’ includes many scenes that are humorous. However, these humorous situations reveal serious factors that portray the children’s lifestyle and we can predict the forthcoming future for them. An influence in the results of the children’s future could be argued re their parents and teachers, which Willy Russell tries emphasising this to his audience by adding humour. It could be argued that parents shape the people their children become and also their behaviour more than they may know as we see in ‘Our Day Out.’ Teachers also play a part in influencing students’ lives and futures by the way that they teach and how much attention and communication they have with the children. It also could be argued that due to the increase of social and environmental limitations, there was no particular interest or people to work due to a high amount of unemployment. As a result, children did not bother concentrating on life and their future. This leads us to Willy Russell’s main purposes. The play is initially to entertain his audience with a fine piece of comedy writing, but his main intention was to inform people of the lack of education, attention and communication teachers’ and parents’ had with students, particularly the progress class, as a result Willy Russell had a didactic purpose of writing ‘Our Day Out.’

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