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A Comparative Study between Shakers and Picnic on a Battlefield

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For my GCSE comparative study, I shall be comparing two plays – ‘Shakers’ and ‘Picnic on a Battlefield’. During this comparison I shall be exploring both play’s period, society, culture and style. The play which I performed for my GCSE scripted performance was Shakers by John Godber and Jane Thornton. Written for four female actors, Shakers tackles the issues surrounding living and working in a male-dominated society during the 1980’s.

The majority of the play is set is a cocktail bar and it stars four waitresses who switch from role to role, playing the many characters that come into shakers. Carol, Adele, Nicki and Mel are all young women with high hopes and dreams of achieving their aspirations in order to leave their strenuous, lowly paid, laborious bar work jobs and find success in non-working class careers. Picnic on a Battlefield, written by French playwright Eugene Franklin, was set in 1914 – during the time of the First World War.

The play features four main characters, two parents, their son and a foreign soldier (the nationality of this foreigner was not specified). The two parents travel to visit their son, who at the time was serving as a British soldier on a battlefield, bringing with them a picnic for the three of them to eat. During this time a foreign soldier is caught by the British solider and the play then develops to show how the three Brits react to the finding of this prisoner.

Despite both plays being written during the twentieth century, there is about seventy-five years difference between the times in which there were set. Although this time appears to be insignificant, taking into account the social and technological changes that have taken place during 1914 and the late eighties, the difference between the periods of the two plays is quite considerable. Both plays are specific to their time period and it could not be justified being set at a different time as they both make obvious suggestions as to when the play was set.

It is easier to figure out when Picnic on a Battlefield was set because there are a lot more hints than in Shakers – the fact that Picnic on a Battlefield was set during a war which the British partook in narrows the possible date, in which the play was set, down a little. As with Shakers, we need to make assumptions, i. e. in the ‘Chelsea Girl’ scene a conversation takes place as to how the two girls liked the Duran Duran. Carol: Have you heard this music?

Chuffin’ hell. Adele: Duran Duran; it’s great This pop group was most popular during the eighties and therefore this is a factor which indicates that Shakers was set at this time. Also, many conversations that take place during the course of the play include the issue of high unemployment – this was a matter of great concern during the 1980’s. During performance not only would the set suggest two separate time periods, but the costume which was worn would to.

As with our play, Shakers, where the girls would be dressed in more modern, more suggestive clothes (because at this time it was socially acceptable), the characters in Picnic on a Battlefield would either wear military uniform, or old fashioned clothes. It would be expected that a woman’s garments would cover her body from head to toe, as it was also expected that gentlemen wore hats. Another major difference between the play we performed and Picnic on a Battlefield, is the diversity between the two societies in which the two sets of characters lived.

Shakers was quite obviously a female-dominated play and we deduced this by paying particular attention as to how the playwright intended Shakers to be performed – during the course of the play male characters are introduced – the audience can clearly see that this play is written from a female’s perspective when we ridiculed these men, by playing them with such vulgarity. Picnic on a Battlefield is certainly male-dominated, apart from there being more male characters than female characters, the place in which the play was set indicates the fact that the society was male-dominated.

On a battlefield during 1914, the men took charge, lead the troops and fought for their country. It was thought that a battlefield was no place for a woman. The characters of Shakers were part of the working-class society in which people had to accept that this meant long hours, hard work and little pay – the girls continually complain throughout the play about this:- Nicki: … I hate this job; the hours are awful, the customers less than polite. They treat you like shit, but unemployment is so high that any job is a job…

We chose to set Shakers in Liverpool – the Liverpudlian accent is often seen to be a very ‘common’ accent, therefore the audience could therefore assume that we were members of the working-class. In contrast to this the characters in Picnic on a Battlefield came from the middle-class and we could also deduce from their more well-spoken accents that there of a higher class. However, in Picnic on a Battlefield, the characters were clearly of very different statuses. The captured foreign solider was obviously of the lowest status because we was treated as a prisoner.

The British solider was then of a slightly higher status and his parents were of even higher status (the father being higher than the mother. ) So, in this play there was very unequal status distribution. In contrast to this, the characters in Shakers were all of equal status; they were all working-class women which had identical jobs in a cocktail bar. No character was shown to be financially higher than the other, nor did any character have more lines than the others.

The plays cultures were obviously very different, (with one being set in 1914 on a battlefield during World War I and one being set in the 1980’s in Liverpool, they were bound to be. ) However, there is a significant similarity to be considered when discussing the cultures and that is how both plays mock the way in which the characters live in society. In Shakers, it’s the characters that do the mocking, but in the Picnic on Battlefield, it is the playwright who does the mocking.

As previously mentioned, when we performed men on stage in Shakers, we played them to live up to their stereotypes – loutish and rude. It was not only the men which we played stereotypically, it was the girls too. Fussing with our hair, complaining about make-up and commenting on clothes were just some of the ways in which we mocked the way in which there were so many stereotypes in the society which Shakers was set. For the audience to notice this mocking, the lines were not wholly responsible – it was the actions, movements and gestures of the characters that were.

The characters’ lines were responsible for showing to the audience that the play mocked the British in Picnic on a Battlefield. The parents automatically began judging the foreign soldier simply because he didn’t speak English. The playwright extensively mocks the way in which British people make assumptions about foreigners simply on the basis that they are foreign. Both plays are intended to be played in a natural style – more so Picnic on a Battlefield than Shakers though.

Picnic on a Battlefield is played naturalistically throughout; where as in Shakers there are signs of abstract theatre, i. . there are comments which are made in the play which have been indicated in the script to be said to the audience for them to work. Mel: Hi (To audience) She gets right up my arse. Nicki: (to audience) She gets right up my tits. (To Mel. ) Late aren’t you? Another way in which Shakers is not completely naturalistic theatre is the fact that the four women play all of the characters throughout the play – and the audience knows this. We played all the characters in the play, deliberately showing to the audience that we are doing this purposely.

The reason why we did this was so that audience could see the mocking of stereotypes mentioned early. During performance, when we were play male television producers, we wore suits but with skirts. This worked because the audience could see that we were playing men by the way we talked and the way we sat, but knew that we girls because we were still wearing our waitress skirts – this meant that the audience could understand that we were deliberately playing the men how they would have been perceived by society, instead of acting naturalistically.

I conclude that the comparison of these two texts highlights that both plays have some aspects in common regarding the purpose of writing each play (to mock the false perceptions society has of different people), but there are more aspects of the two plays which differ mainly because of the massive difference in the two plays’ time periods. This not only affects their societies and cultures, but it affects the costumes, the language and the historical on-goings of each play.

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