The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time – Footnotes

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time – Footnotes

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time – Footnotes

The Footnotes to our episode on The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time include observations on the dramatic irony at work in the play – ironically it’s not as simple as we may think – as well as the uncommon and common challenges of parenting, and the peeling away of labels.

Dramatic Irony
Much of the emotional impact of both the novel and the play comes from the dramatic irony built into the perspective, where we know or understand more about what is happening than Christopher does.  We either intuit the truth, or in the case of the play we often actually see more by how the other characters react, and we recognise when Christopher is misreading a situation. When his mother is in hospital, for example, and Christopher wants to write to her or visit, we appreciate that his hope is futile. The pathos we feel for Christopher comes from this dramatic irony.

As does the humour. Our understanding precedes moments when Christopher gets it and calls out the truth in unexpectedly plain terms. We’re set up for his punch line. For example when Mrs Alexander tells him that his mother and Mr Shears were “very, very good friends” –  “Do you mean they were doing sex?” And of course throughout the play Christopher often responds inappropriately because he is not reading the situation as we conventionally are: “Did you mean to hit the policeman?” – “Yes”. Or when he asks Mrs Alexander to look after his rat Toby while he is in London, and she asks how long he is going for: “Until I go to university.”

Finally it is Christopher’s unique view of the world, his response to the usual flow of things that is so funny, engaging, and even challenging to our understanding. That’s also dramatic irony – where we think we know everything and in fact he shows us otherwise.

 

Joanne Henry as Mrs Alexander and
Connor Curren as Christopher,
UK Tour 2021-22,
c Brinkhoff-Moegenburg

 

Tom Peters as Ed and Conor Curren as Christopher, UK Tour 2021-22, c Brinkhoff-Moegenburg

We’ve all been there
When watching the play I had an even stronger alignment with Christopher’s parents than in the novel. This is partly to do with the perspective of the play which allows us to see them in the flesh so to speak, rather than just in Christopher’s mind. And of course as a parent what strikes me so powerfully is how hard it is for Ed and Judy. They have all of the usual challenges of being a parent, and then some. When they lose their temper or give up because Christopher is unreachable, we do not judge them as much as empathise with them. Who has not faced the humiliation of dealing with a child’s tantrum in public, for example, as Judy does with Christopher in the shop at Christmas? Or snapped at an adolescent who simply won’t budge, as Ed does.

Judy feels, and says, that she is a bad parent. She admits to not having the patience or stamina. We all sometimes fail to overcome our own selfishness or weaknesses to prioritise our children’s needs. She feels shame about her failures as a parent – perhaps such shame that it prevents her from coming back to see Christopher after she’s left. Her writing to him clearly does not resolve her shame, she carries it with her. It takes great courage for her to face that, and the practical challenges of living with Christopher on her own when she returns. The beauty of the play is that it does not sentimentalise the realities of being a parent.

Labels
We talked in the podcast about the fact that Mark Haddon has repeatedly said that Christopher isn’t a representative of a category of people who share a defining label, such as “Asperger’s Syndrome” or “Autistic”. The National Autistic Society identifies several behavioural traits that it suggests could be collected under a definition of a condition:
• significant difficulties in social interaction and non-verbal communication
• restricted and repetitive patterns of behaviour
• have intense and highly focused interests
• trouble expressing feelings in a conventional or socially appropriate way

We recognise these things in Christopher, but as Mark has pointed out these traits are often manifest in our own behaviour. We are more comfortable in repeated patterns of behaviour, our usual routine. We become obsessive about a particular pursuit, hobby or sport. And I’m sure we are all challenged at times by social interaction. It was particularly instructive to learn from Mark that several of the “odd” concerns that Christopher has, such as
his not eating foods that have touched each other on a plate, or not using a toilet someone else has used, are observances that he borrowed from people he knows – people who have not been labelled in a particular way.

I don’t mean to be glib in these comparisons however. It is of course a matter of degree and comfort, and the telling differentials are when our mental concerns cause us intense recurring anxiety or impact our ability function in day-to-day life.

For Mark Haddon the key is that Christopher is an individual, as we all are:

good literature is always about peeling labels off. and treating real people with dignity is always about peeling the labels off. a diagnosis may lead to practical help. but genuinely understanding another human being involves talking and listening to them and finding out what makes them an individual, not what makes them part of a group.

If you want to find out who someone is, just ask them.   
Mark Haddon, asperger’s & autism, markhaddon.com, 16-07-2009

 

The Texts
If you are interested in buying the play text or other related books, we’d be delighted if you choose to purchase them by following the links below. We will earn a small commission on every book you purchase, which helps to keep the podcast going. You will also be supporting an independent bookseller. Thank you.
Suggest a play
We’re always open to suggestions about plays to talk about, so if you’d like us to discuss a favourite of yours, please email us at plays@theplaypodcast.com. Let us know why you think we should cover it, and if you know anyone who’d be excited and qualified to talk about it with us (even yourself if modesty permits!).
Plays suggested for discussion by our Guests and Listeners - which gets your vote?
  • Add your own suggestion
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040 – The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, adapted by Simon Stephens

040 – The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, adapted by Simon Stephens

Simon Stephens’s magical adaptation of Mark Haddon’s bestselling novel The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time has been a smash hit around the world, loved for its innovative theatrical form and for its unique hero, 15-year old Christopher Boone, who teaches us to see the world differently. As the play embarks on a nationwide UK tour, I’m delighted to talk with Simon.

039 – Best of Enemies, by James Graham

039 – Best of Enemies, by James Graham

Best of Enemies re-enacts the explosive TV debates between American political pundits Gore Vidal and William F Buckley from 1968, and in so doing turns the lens on the corrosive nature of political discourse in our media today. Playwright James Graham joins us to talk about his fascinating new play.

038 – Macbeth, by William Shakespeare

038 – Macbeth, by William Shakespeare

Macbeth is a tragedy of love, ambition and betrayal, propelled by relentless energy and shocking violence, and infused by an air of the supernatural. Professor Emma Smith from Hertford College, Oxford, joins us to explore Shakespeare’s notorious ‘Scottish play’.

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The 2020 Theatre Diary – January

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The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time – Footnotes

Macbeth – Footnotes

Macbeth – Footnotes

The Footnotes to our episode on Macbeth include observations on the unnatural, propulsive pace of the play, and on the origins and interpretations of Shakespeare’s three ‘weird’ sisters.

“…’Twere well it were done quickly.”
The poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge called Macbeth Shakespeare’s “most rapid” play, and as Emma and I discussed in the podcast, the action certainly flies along. There is a very deliberate sense that events are running out of control, for at each stage in the plot the Macbeths act precipitously. The idea of time running ahead of them is established from the start – the announcement that the King and his company will stay with them catches them by surprise – Macbeth barely has time to get home before they are due to arrive and they can’t but be hastily prepared to host the court. Duncan staying with them immediately after they’ve learned of the witches prophesy also presents them with an unexpected opportunity; one that they’ve not had time to consider and which they must act on that very night.

In their acting to kill Duncan they obviously disrupt the normal sequence and pace of succession. When Duncan bestows his favour on Macbeth in making him the Thane of Cawdor, he tells him “I have begun to plant thee, and will labour/To make thee full of growing”. This would be the natural time scale, where Macbeth’s progress would be nurtured over time

Macbeth’s need to act fast is not only a practical one, it is also psychological. When he steels himself to do the deed quickly, he expresses the reflexive instinct not to want to look too closely at the fact of what he is doing. Indeed this urge to avoid thinking about his actions only accelerates: “From this moment/The very firstlings of my heart shall be/The firstlings of my hand. And even now,/To crown my thoughts with acts, be it thought and done.” His evil thoughts do not bear examining or arresting: “Strange things I have in head, that will to hand/Which must be acted, ere they be scanned.” 

Macbeth recognises the moral failure of his actions from the start – he cannot look clearly at himself for this would be to take responsibility: “To know my deed, ’twere best not know myself.” His disavowals suggest that he is trapped in a form of self-created trance. In one of her lectures on the play, Emma cited a mock modern court case that put the Macbeths on trial for murder in which they pleaded ‘diminished responsibility’ in their defense. Was Macbeth in the grip of a temporary madness? Or perhaps even of the controlling power of the witches?

After the relentless frenzy of Macbeth’s actions, Shakespeare suggests at the end of the play that the natural pace of time will be restored, when Malcolm proclaims that he will act judiciously “in measure, time and place.”

The winds of time
James McArdle and Saoirse Ronan
Almeida Theatre 2021
Photo: Marc Brenner
The three weird sisters in Orson Welles’ film of Macbeth, 1948

 

Suspected witches kneeling before King James, Daemonologie (1597)

 

The witches at The Globe theatre, 2010
Photo: Tristram Kenton

 

The three sisters at the Almeida theatre, 2021
Photo: Marc Brenner

 

The weird sisters
In the cast list for Macbeth as it appears in the First Folio edition published in 1623 the witches are identified as ‘First Witch’, ‘Second Witch’ and ‘Third Witch’, and also collectively as “three weird sisters”. In the main source that Shakespeare used for the story of Macbeth, Holinshed’s Chronicles from 1577, Holinshed describes the “weird sisters” as “goddesses of destiny…endowed with knowledge of prophesy”. At that time the word ‘weird’ meant something different to our connotation of strange or bizarre; rather it denotes fate or destiny, a force that is inescapable.

Shakespeare’s sisters are certainly endowed with a gift for prophesy, which suggests that Macbeth’s future is predetermined. Their power does not necessarily equate to their directly controlling Macbeth’s behaviour, unlike the role of the three Fates in Ancient Greece and other mythologies, who controlled humans to ensure that balance and order in the world was maintained. The Fates generally do not act with any malicious or evil intent, but to maintain stability. So why do Shakespeare’s witches seem to mislead Macbeth into his fate? By urging him to be “bloody, bold and resolute” because “none of woman born shall harm Macbeth”, for example, the Sisters help lure him into the very acts and arrogance that will destroy him.

Shakespeare’s figures owe more perhaps to the popular image of witches in his time, and in particular to the belief championed by none other than the King himself that witches were instruments of the Devil who must be hunted out and punished. James VI’s three-volume work Daemonologie, first published in 1597 and reissued when he became King of England in 1603, sought to educate Christians on the existence and practices of witches, and also contained an extract from the famous North Berwick Witch Trials of 1590 over which James presided. The account of the trial enumerated the motives and methods used by the accused witches, including one woman who confessed to having attempted to assassinate the King by casting a spell to sink his ship. The North Berwick witches were tortured and executed.

Shakespeare’s witches employ the kind of ritual practices described in the account of the North Berwick trials, including direct quotes from the witches’ testimonies. Banquo recognises the potential malevolence of the witches when he warns Macbeth that they may be “instruments of darkness” that could mislead them. As Emma suggested in our conversation, however, it is possible that the metropolitan audience at the Globe theatre in London in 1606 would have viewed these figures with more skepticism. The Shakespearean critic A.C. Bradley went as far as to say that the sisters are simply “old women, poor and ragged, skinny and hideous, full of vulgar spite”. He does grant that they may be the recipients of some limited supernatural powers, in particular the gift of prescience. As we’ve suggested prescience can easily be equated with pre-determination, and the witches seem to be part of a larger world view in Shakespeare and this play that believes that our actions are mapped out by greater powers, whether for good or evil. Lady Macbeth seems to suggest that these kind of forces are at work propelling Macbeth’s advancement:  “fate and metaphysical aid doth seem/To have thee crowned withal”.

By Bradley’s reckoning, however, even with the power of prophesy the witches are “an influence, nothing more”. Their words provoke feelings and thoughts in Macbeth that are already there. This leads modern interpreters to portray the witches more as hallucinations or psychological projections, elaborating on Banquo’s doubt that the figures they have seen may not have been real: “Were such things here as we do speak about?/Or have we eaten on the insane root,/That takes the reason prisoner?”

The witches represent the latent lust for power within Macbeth. Rather than an external power, evil is internal in human beings – what Bradley labels “the evil slumbering in the hero’s soul” – which doesn’t require much provocation to unleash it. This interpretation clearly fits more easily into our modern understanding of man’s independent agency, compared with ideas of demons and devils. Nonetheless our enjoyment of the witches comes from an apprehension that that all of these possibilities for their role in the play are imaginable together. We will forever be exercised by questions of what powers there are beyond our own, what the sources of evil are, and the indefinable scope of our own imagination and impulses.

The Texts
If you are interested in buying the play text or other related books, we’d be delighted if you choose to purchase them by following the links below. We will earn a small commission on every book you purchase, which helps to keep the podcast going. You will also be supporting an independent bookseller. Thank you.
Suggest a play
We’re always open to suggestions about plays to talk about, so if you’d like us to discuss a favourite of yours, please email us at plays@theplaypodcast.com. Let us know why you think we should cover it, and if you know anyone who’d be excited and qualified to talk about it with us (even yourself if modesty permits!).
Plays suggested for discussion by our Guests and Listeners - which gets your vote?
  • Add your own suggestion
You might also be interested in …
040 – The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, adapted by Simon Stephens

040 – The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, adapted by Simon Stephens

Simon Stephens’s magical adaptation of Mark Haddon’s bestselling novel The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time has been a smash hit around the world, loved for its innovative theatrical form and for its unique hero, 15-year old Christopher Boone, who teaches us to see the world differently. As the play embarks on a nationwide UK tour, I’m delighted to talk with Simon.

039 – Best of Enemies, by James Graham

039 – Best of Enemies, by James Graham

Best of Enemies re-enacts the explosive TV debates between American political pundits Gore Vidal and William F Buckley from 1968, and in so doing turns the lens on the corrosive nature of political discourse in our media today. Playwright James Graham joins us to talk about his fascinating new play.

038 – Macbeth, by William Shakespeare

038 – Macbeth, by William Shakespeare

Macbeth is a tragedy of love, ambition and betrayal, propelled by relentless energy and shocking violence, and infused by an air of the supernatural. Professor Emma Smith from Hertford College, Oxford, joins us to explore Shakespeare’s notorious ‘Scottish play’.

Recent Posts
The 2020 Theatre Diary – March

The 2020 Theatre Diary – March

Before the theatres went dark this month I was lucky enough to see Caryl Churchill’s A Number at the Bridge, and spend more than seven hours in thrall to Robert Lepage’s Seven Streams of the River Ota at the National. Plus, some thoughts on what we miss when there is no theatre.

The 2020 Theatre Diary – January

The 2020 Theatre Diary – January

The January roundup included both classic plays, such as The Duchess of Malfi, Uncle Vanya and Three Sisters, as well as recent musicals Dear Evan Hansen and Girl from the North Country

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time – Footnotes

Blue/Orange – Footnotes

Blue/Orange – Footnotes

The Footnotes to our episode on Blue/Orange include some further thoughts on the significance of the slightly awkward back slash in the title of the play.

The Title 
We talked during the podcast about the significance of the title, particularly of the superficially awkward back slash. The back slash implies something that is both blue and/or orange simultaneously, which of course the oranges are perceived as in the play. Likewise, the labelling of Christopher’s condition is ambiguous. At its simplest, the identity of an orange is defined by the colour of its skin, as Christopher is called black because of the colour of his skin. The analogy is signalled more explicitly when Robert refers in his report to the “blue-skinned orange” as being in the “minority given that other citruses are ordinarily orange”.

The semantics of our labelling people and medical diagnoses is cleverly conveyed in the artwork for the title of the play used for the recent production we discussed in the episode. The design shows a single capsule of medication, one half of which is orange and the other blue, but the words Blue and Orange are fixed to the reverse colours, so we experience that mind trick of not noticing that the orange half of the pill is actually labelled blue and vice versa. It reinforces the doubt that we should be acknowledging in the difficulty about labelling people and particularly of course in labelling mental health conditions.

The Texts
If you are interested in buying the play text or other related books, we’d be delighted if you choose to purchase them by following the links below. We will earn a small commission on every book you purchase, which helps to keep the podcast going. You will also be supporting an independent bookseller. Thank you.
Suggest a play
We’re always open to suggestions about plays to talk about, so if you’d like us to discuss a favourite of yours, please email us at plays@theplaypodcast.com. Let us know why you think we should cover it, and if you know anyone who’d be excited and qualified to talk about it with us (even yourself if modesty permits!).
Plays suggested for discussion by our Guests and Listeners - which gets your vote?
  • Add your own suggestion
You might also be interested in …
040 – The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, adapted by Simon Stephens

040 – The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, adapted by Simon Stephens

Simon Stephens’s magical adaptation of Mark Haddon’s bestselling novel The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time has been a smash hit around the world, loved for its innovative theatrical form and for its unique hero, 15-year old Christopher Boone, who teaches us to see the world differently. As the play embarks on a nationwide UK tour, I’m delighted to talk with Simon.

039 – Best of Enemies, by James Graham

039 – Best of Enemies, by James Graham

Best of Enemies re-enacts the explosive TV debates between American political pundits Gore Vidal and William F Buckley from 1968, and in so doing turns the lens on the corrosive nature of political discourse in our media today. Playwright James Graham joins us to talk about his fascinating new play.

038 – Macbeth, by William Shakespeare

038 – Macbeth, by William Shakespeare

Macbeth is a tragedy of love, ambition and betrayal, propelled by relentless energy and shocking violence, and infused by an air of the supernatural. Professor Emma Smith from Hertford College, Oxford, joins us to explore Shakespeare’s notorious ‘Scottish play’.

Recent Posts
The 2020 Theatre Diary – March

The 2020 Theatre Diary – March

Before the theatres went dark this month I was lucky enough to see Caryl Churchill’s A Number at the Bridge, and spend more than seven hours in thrall to Robert Lepage’s Seven Streams of the River Ota at the National. Plus, some thoughts on what we miss when there is no theatre.

The 2020 Theatre Diary – January

The 2020 Theatre Diary – January

The January roundup included both classic plays, such as The Duchess of Malfi, Uncle Vanya and Three Sisters, as well as recent musicals Dear Evan Hansen and Girl from the North Country

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time – Footnotes

Hamlet – Footnotes

Hamlet – Footnotes

The Footnotes to our episode on Hamlet include further thoughts on the nature of Hamlet’s ‘madness’, why the flawed hero retains our sympathy throughout the play despite some aspects of his behaviour, and how we can draw a credible psychological path for Ophelia’s descent.

More on madness
The question of how voluntary or “feigned” Hamlet’s madness is has challenged academics, actors and audiences for centuries. As we cited in our conversation, Hamlet gives us explicit notice that he is putting “an antic disposition on” and is “mad but north-north-west”; however there also seems little doubt that his connection with the external world is destabilised by the death of his father, his mother’s hasty remarriage to his uncle, and then by the visitation of a ghost and the burden of his charge to exact revenge. These things together would unsettle even the most stable of minds.

Hamlet’s soliloquies reflect his increasing disconnect from the external world. His mental stress engenders spiralling internal debate and indecision, a self-fulfilling descent into a form of madness. The strain is exacerbated by the fact that he largely has to carry his revenge mission secretly. He cannot confide in his lover, Ophelia, partly because he may not trust her not to betray his intentions to her father, but also because he may wish to protect her from the darkness of the world he has seen. Hence, although he delivers his counsel too sharply, perhaps his advice that she should hide herself away in a nunnery is an emotional plea that she may be spared the evil and dangers he must confront. For Hamlet a distance has opened up between them, or between now and the past, before the extreme events he has witnessed and is unable to share. Any romantic innocence in their relationship is lost for him.

He also seems unable to fully confide in Horatio, possibly because he intuits that it is not clear that Horatio grants that the ghost is as genuine as Hamlet warrants, and in time the instability of his own mind has gone too far to be able to relate to Horatio in the straightforward way he used to. So he is alone with his raging thoughts and despair.

The genius of the portrayal of Hamlet’s madness is that it rings true wherever on the spectrum between “put on” and involuntary it is played. His intelligence clearly enables him to effect the antic disposition, and at the same time his emotional volatility and mental desuetude could also be a natural  extension of his introspection and the stress that the situation imposes on him.

Kenneth Branagh as Hamlet
RSC 1992

 

 

Jude Law as Hamlet
Donmar 2008

 

 

Kenneth Branagh as Hamlet with
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern
in his 1996 film  

 

 

Sympathy for a flawed hero
Why do remain sympathetic to Hamlet throughout the play? At times we may exasperated by his behaviour: his doubts and delay when he has a just cause; his cruelty to Ophelia; his killing Polonius and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. But we remain on his side.

Although his killing Polonius is desperately unjust, we can forgive it as a momentary rashness, a dreadful accident.
The deliberate killing of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern is more difficult to accept. His actions may be justified as self-defense in that we and Hamlet are given no doubt as to Claudius’s murderous intent, but somehow we imagine that there must have been a way that Hamlet could extricate himself from the trap he was in without actually contriving their death. It is the coldness of his execution of the plan that makes us feel that he has stepped over a line, and we are now resigned to the fact that he has passed the point of no return. The duel will inevitably play out to a bloody end.

What sustains the drama and our sympathy for Hamlet is that the dilemma at the heart of the play is practically and morally irreconcilable. We empathise with his losing his father and having to watch his mother marry his uncle, and we certainly credit that he and justice have been wronged by Claudius’s crime of murdering his father. But like Hamlet, we are also conflicted by the moral constraint that personal vengeance and killing are ultimately wrong. He, and we, know that it cannot restore the past, and if he pursues a violent revenge it is not likely to come to a peaceful conclusion. What we see is a brilliant, but flawed human being facing an impossible situation.

 

“He is dead and gone”
Ophelia’s descent into madness can often seem shockingly abrupt, and her distracted behaviour also feel forced and melodramatic in style. Performing this scene can be a thankless challenge for an actor, being particularly exposed as the rest of the cast largely stand mutely and stare. The genuine tragedy of her collapse can only be appreciated if we can understand the psychological precedents that lead her to such distress. It may be that she is simply a naive young woman, who very quickly finds herself in perplexing and threatening circumstances beyond her control.

What she took for a promising romantic relationship with Hamlet turns into something deeply disturbing after she heeds both her brother and her father’s counsel to be more circumspect in her responses to him. She is naturally unsettled when Hamlet visits her “with his doublet all unbraced” and “Pale as his shirt, his knees knocking each other,/ And with a look so piteous in purport/ As if he had been loosed out of hell/ To speak of horrors”, and then does not speak to her. We could grant then that she undertakes her father’s request to draw Hamlet out in good faith because she is bewildered and distessed by his erratic behaviour. She is concerned for his well being, and seeks to understand this change herself.

When Hamlet lashes out at Ophelia in the nunnery scene, it may be that he has discerned something of her dissemblance in her demeanour, and feels betrayed not just by her returning his love letters, but also by her deception. Whatever the exact source of his pain and anger, Ophelia is further shaken by the inexplicable force and form of his response: “O help him, you sweet heavens!…Heavenly powers restore him.”  She is hurt and saddened by his state of mind.

In one of the most effective portrayals of the relationship between Ophelia and Hamlet that I have seen, these early scenes between them suggested not that Ophelia had been naive in her attachment to him, but that a deep and sensual connection had existed between them. One that he was as unhappy to sever as she was. He was not toying callously with her, he was lashing out in his own pain at what they have lost. A true love that can no longer survive in the face of the horrors that he must face. Given this depth of feeling in their original relationship, the scale of Ophelia’s pain and disorder is all the more credible and profound. Especially when you add the unfathomable horror that Hamlet murders her father.

Given these psychological precedents it becomes possible to imagine Ophelia being so distracted by grief that she falls into the stream in a kind of distrait trance, or as some would have it that she deliberately lets herself fall into the waters. Either way, when she sings that “He is dead and gone”, she may be lamenting the irretrievable loss of her father and/or her lover.

 

 

 

 

Daisy Ridley as Ophelia
in 2018 film “Ophelia”

 

 

The Texts
If you are interested in buying the play text or other related books, we’d be delighted if you choose to purchase them by following the links below. We will earn a small commission on every book you purchase, which helps to keep the podcast going. You will also be supporting an independent bookseller. Thank you.
Suggest a play
We’re always open to suggestions about plays to talk about, so if you’d like us to discuss a favourite of yours, please email us at plays@theplaypodcast.com. Let us know why you think we should cover it, and if you know anyone who’d be excited and qualified to talk about it with us (even yourself if modesty permits!).
Plays suggested for discussion by our Guests and Listeners - which gets your vote?
  • Add your own suggestion
You might also be interested in …
040 – The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, adapted by Simon Stephens

040 – The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, adapted by Simon Stephens

Simon Stephens’s magical adaptation of Mark Haddon’s bestselling novel The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time has been a smash hit around the world, loved for its innovative theatrical form and for its unique hero, 15-year old Christopher Boone, who teaches us to see the world differently. As the play embarks on a nationwide UK tour, I’m delighted to talk with Simon.

039 – Best of Enemies, by James Graham

039 – Best of Enemies, by James Graham

Best of Enemies re-enacts the explosive TV debates between American political pundits Gore Vidal and William F Buckley from 1968, and in so doing turns the lens on the corrosive nature of political discourse in our media today. Playwright James Graham joins us to talk about his fascinating new play.

038 – Macbeth, by William Shakespeare

038 – Macbeth, by William Shakespeare

Macbeth is a tragedy of love, ambition and betrayal, propelled by relentless energy and shocking violence, and infused by an air of the supernatural. Professor Emma Smith from Hertford College, Oxford, joins us to explore Shakespeare’s notorious ‘Scottish play’.

Recent Posts
The 2020 Theatre Diary – March

The 2020 Theatre Diary – March

Before the theatres went dark this month I was lucky enough to see Caryl Churchill’s A Number at the Bridge, and spend more than seven hours in thrall to Robert Lepage’s Seven Streams of the River Ota at the National. Plus, some thoughts on what we miss when there is no theatre.

The 2020 Theatre Diary – January

The 2020 Theatre Diary – January

The January roundup included both classic plays, such as The Duchess of Malfi, Uncle Vanya and Three Sisters, as well as recent musicals Dear Evan Hansen and Girl from the North Country

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time – Footnotes

Our Country’s Good – Footnotes

Our Country’s Good – Footnotes

The Footnotes to our episode on Our Country’s Good include observations on the parallels with the play-within-the-play, The Recruiting Officer.  

The Recruiting Officer
There is an additional richness in Our Country’s Good that comes from the parallels between its story and themes, and those in the play-within-the-play, The Recruiting Officer. The Recruiting Officer presents a satirical portrait of society in the country town of Shrewsbury, focussing particularly on the activities of several army officers whose mission is to recruit local men to serve in the army. Along the way officers don’t mind enjoying the hospitality of the local ladies, who in turn are seeking to recruit partners of their own. Although the play is a comedy of love and deception, like Our Country’s Good it also has serious things to say about social class, women’s position and prospects, and the realities of military service.

The many specific parallels between the plays begin with the simple fact that the Royal Marines sent to establish the colony in Our Country’s Good are of course recruits themselves. In fact a number of them do not appear to be happy that they have been selected for this challenging mission. By contrast to The Recruiting Officer, which is set in 1706 when the army were buoyed by a recent victory over the French, these officers have just suffered an historic defeat in America. It’s safe to say that morale is not high in the camp here. The fate of the convicts is also not dissimilar to the way that petty criminals were often impressed into the army – many are victims of trumped up charges or excessive sentencing.

Somewhat ironically the marines in Our Country’s Good express concerns about the specific choice of the play that the convicts are to perform. Ross and Tench, for example, are fear that the immorality of the officers on display in The Recruiting Officer could encourage insubordination or worse  in the company. The officers’ objections may partly be based on their understanding that The Recruiting Officer was notoriously candid in its references to sexual relationships, including overtones of homosexuality in the army, which may of course been too close to the bone for the service men.

Their assumptions about the immorality of the theatre may also stem from the historic view that actresses were commonly associated with being prostitutes – a connection which Major Ross makes about the prospect of the convict women being in the play: ‘Filthy, thieving, lying whores and now we have to watch them flout their flitty ways on the stage.”  Reverend Johnson underlines the point when he observes that his wife would certainly not entertain the idea of acting in a play: “My wife abhors anything of that nature. After all, actresses are not famed for their morals.” When the Reverend seeks reassurance from Captain Clark that The Recruiting Officer is a play that promotes marriage, there is further irony in the captain’s partial answer: “They marry for love and to secure wealth”, his failing to mention the other less salubrious behaviour of the officers.

The two plays literally overlap when characters in Our Country’s Good quote lines directly from The Recruiting Officer, and we cannot but draw parallels between the characters and the roles that they are playing. When Ralph and Wisehammer rehearse Plume and Brazen’s contest over Jack Wilful, for example, they are also enacting their own rivalry over Mary. When Arscott quotes Kite’s great speech about his being born a gypsy where he learned “canting and lying”, Dabby exclaims “That’s about me!”. The overlap is most strikingly felt in the magical scene on the beach where Ralph and Mary act out the exchange between Plume and Silvia dressed as Jack Wilful, when the force of their attraction all but overwhelms them and Silvia asks him to say “what usage she must expect under his command”. Ralph and Mary yield to the power inherent in the speech and consummate their love.

Our Country’s Good finishes with the opening speech of The Recruiting Officer. It’s a rousing, theatrical speech which promises a triumphant performance, triumphant simply because of the collective energy and purpose that have made it happen against the odds.

 

The Recruiting Officer
Donmar Warehouse 2012
Photo: Johan Persson

The Recruiting Officer
NYU Grad Acting Class 2014  
Photograph: Ella Bromblin

 

 

The Texts
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We’re always open to suggestions about plays to talk about, so if you’d like us to discuss a favourite of yours, please email us at plays@theplaypodcast.com. Let us know why you think we should cover it, and if you know anyone who’d be excited and qualified to talk about it with us (even yourself if modesty permits!).
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The Recruiting Officer – Footnotes

The Recruiting Officer – Footnotes

The Footnotes to our episode on The Recruiting Officer include observations on the multiple meanings of its title and the extraordinary story of its first production in Australia in 1789.

The Recruiting Game
There is at the very least a twin meaning in the title of The Recruiting Officer. We first assume that it refers literally to Captain Plume, or perhaps also collectively to Kite and Brazen, as the officers who have arrived in town to recruit local men for the army. Of course the officers are also open to recruiting women for their pleasure, if not to marry. In fact as Plume confesses, he often achieves both goals by targeting the women to get through them to their male acquaintances, as he does with Rose in pursuit of Bulloch and Cartwright.

It is also true that the women in the play are out to recruit, in their case long-term romantic or economic partners. Silvia’s mission is to recruit Plume; Lucy seeks to enlist Brazen; Rose will be happy to snare either Plume or Jack Wilful. The parallels between the recruitment games of the sexes come together of course in the figure of Jack Wilful himself, or herself. Plume believes that he is recruiting another man for his army, while also inadvertently advancing his and Silvia’s matrimonial negotiations.

And the twin meanings of the recruitment game are further articulated in the use of military language to describe the campaigns of love: Melinda is likened to Helen of Troy, requiring a ten-year siege to win, and when Worthy laments that he was “forced to blockade” when his “general advance” on her was repulsed, Plume urges him to “redouble his advance”.  The reciprocal metaphors are also used:  Plume is “married” to the regiment, and finally of course Plume settles down to marry Sylvia and to “raise recruits” of his own – their children –  who will perhaps become another generation of ‘recruiting officers’ as the cycle continues.

Nancy Carroll and Ffion Edwards in The Recruiting Officer
Donmar Theatre 2012.
Photograph: Johan Persson

 

 

 

 

The First Fleet’s production of the play
One of the extraordinary stories in the history of The Recruiting Officer is that of its being performed by a group of convicts in the newly-founded settlement in New South Wales in 1789. The ‘First Fleet’ carrying 1,400 people on eleven ships set sail in 1787 to establish the penal colony at Botany Bay under the command of Captain Arthur Philip. As the Governor in Chief of the new colony Philip was an unusually enlightened leader, for he saw that in the future the convicts would have to be constructively assimilated into the new settlement. Perhaps this vision inspired his initiative to stage their unlikely dramatic production. The performance was timed to honour King George III on his birthday on 4th June 1789.

The choice of The Recruiting Officer as the play for the convicts to perform seems appropriate to the circumstances of the colony. The Royal Marines sent with the convicts to establish the outpost colony were themselves recruited to this challenging mission, and the convicts were of course selected for their part in the venture in the same way that petty criminals were often impressed into the army.

The story of the convict production of the play was re-told in Thomas Keneally’s novel of 1987 The Playmaker. The Artistic Director of the Royal Court Theatre in London at the time, Max Stafford-Clark, was planning a new production of The Recruiting Officer when he came across Keneally’s novel. He was inspired to commission playwright Timberlake Wertenbaker to adapt the story into a new play that could run alongside their revival of The Recruiting Officer. Wertenbaker’s wonderful play Our Country’s Good premiered at the Royal Court in 1988, almost exactly 200 years after the extraordinary original performance.

Click here for our follow-up episode on Our Country’s Good!

The Texts
If you are interested in buying the play text or other related books, we’d be delighted if you choose to purchase them by following the links below. We will earn a small commission on every book you purchase, which helps to keep the podcast going. You will also be supporting an independent bookseller. Thank you.
Suggest a play
We’re always open to suggestions about plays to talk about, so if you’d like us to discuss a favourite of yours, please email us at plays@theplaypodcast.com. Let us know why you think we should cover it, and if you know anyone who’d be excited and qualified to talk about it with us (even yourself if modesty permits!).
Plays suggested for discussion by our Guests and Listeners - which gets your vote?
  • Add your own suggestion
You might also be interested in …
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038 – Macbeth, by William Shakespeare

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