In the book ‘Our Day Out’, Willy Russell interests us in the characters of Carol and Briggs by showing us the contrast of personalities and the difference in lifestyle between the two. The main differences between Carol and Briggs are that Carol is from a deprived background, while the teacher Briggs, probably doesn’t understand what kind of life Carol has out of school hours.
In scene One, the introduction describes Carol. It says that she is ‘rushing along the street wearing a school uniform which doubles as a street outfit and her Sunday best.’ This tells us already that she is poor and can’t afford new clothes, so she has to wear her school uniform most of the time.
When Carol is talking to Les, the lollipop man, she tells him that they are going on a trip. She tells him that only the ‘kids who go to the Progress Class’ are going, and explains that children go there if they are ‘backward’. This shows us that Carol doesn’t have a very high opinion of herself and she has a low self-esteem.
On the bus, Carol sits by Mrs Kay, the Progress Class’ teacher. As she looks out at the passing Liverpool, she says to her teacher:
“Isn’t it horrible, eh, miss.” She goes on to explain that she doesn’t like living in Liverpool, with the ‘dirt’. She explains that she likes the ‘nice’ places, with the trees and gardens. She asks Mrs Kay whether she would be able to live in a ‘nice place’ when she’s older. There’s a pause, while Mrs Kay looks for an appropriate answer, because she probably knows that Carol will end up living in poverty, like her parents, unable to afford many luxuries.
“Well you could try, couldn’t you, love, eh?”
When Mrs Kay treats the kids to an hour or two at the zoo, the kids decide to steal some of the animals! From what we have seen earlier on in the play, Carol has shown herself to be a girl who doesn’t break the rules, but she shows a different side to her when in the zoo. When the kids steal the animals, she also decides to join in with the antics as well!
After the kids return all the animals, they set out for Conwy Castle. When they reach the castle, Carol immediately sticks with Mrs Kay, following her to the tables by the sea. Then Andrews, another kid, says to them: “Wouldn’t it be great if we had something like this round ours.” Carol replies to him that they couldn’t have anything near where they live because they’d just wreck it, like they wreck everything that is given to them. Carol’s answer to Andrews shows that she would like something near her area to play in, but it is probably impossible because the people of the town would ‘smash it up’, like they chopped the trees down for Bonfire Night to burn them all, as she mentioned on the bus to Mrs Kay. It also suggests to us how she longs for something different, something better in her life than living in poverty with no money to buy luxuries for herself or her family.
When the kids are at the beach, Carol follows Mrs Kay around, asking her when they will have to go home. Mrs Kay thinks that Carol actually wants to go home, but in fact, she is enjoying herself so much she wants to stay there; she doesn’t want to go home.
When the kids are playing football, Mrs Kay is in goal and then says that Carol can take her place. Carol isn’t there. Mrs Kay, Colin, Susan (the young teachers) and Mr Briggs all go and look for her. Mr Briggs finds Carol standing on the edge of a cliff. Briggs tries to persuade her to come away from the sheer drop, but she refuses, and tells him to tell Mrs Kay that she is ‘stoppin’ here…in Wales.’ Briggs tells Carol not to be so silly and he moves towards her but she moves back, nearer to the edge of the cliff. She tells Mr Briggs that she will jump off the cliff, if he doesn’t move away from her. Mr Briggs becomes very aware of how close Carol is to the edge of the cliff. “Carol. Carol, please come away from there. Please.”
During the play we can see that Carol is a girl who doesn’t have a very high opinion of herself, and we can see this when she describes what kind of kids go to the ‘Progress Class’. She doesn’t have a very high self-esteem. We can see that she longs for a new and different life – in the play she tells Briggs that she’s staying in Wales, and also on the coach, she asks Mrs Kay whether she would be able to live ‘in one of them nice places’ when she grows up. Carol is the classic image of an underprivileged, vulnerable girl from the slums of Liverpool with no prospects and no chance of gaining a good job when she grows up.
Mr Briggs’ character is a complete contrast to Carol; he is a teacher who believes that things should be taught strictly; he also believes that you shouldn’t form a relationship with any pupils. We can see this when Briggs decides to come along with Mrs Kay and the other kids, he whispers to Mrs Kay: “You’ve got some real bright sparks here, Mrs Kay. A right bunch.”
Mr Briggs’ relationship with the children is more or less non-existent – he doesn’t really understand what kind of background the kids come from. He just thinks that they can’t be bothered to learn to read or write, but in fact, they come from deprived backgrounds and probably haven’t had the opportunities that the children who aren’t in the ‘Progress Class’ have. Briggs’ attitude towards the children is shown throughout the play, but we can see this more when he addresses the kids on the coach, when Russell uses words to describe his current mood: ‘suddenly barks’ ‘sighing, shaking his head’ and ‘accusing’. Briggs thinks that Mrs Kay is more like a ‘mother hen rather than a teacher.’
The children don’t really behave when Briggs is around, and when he confronts Linda Croxley about not wearing the correct school uniform; she doesn’t really take any notice of him, and is cheeky towards him. He tells her if she carries on with her attitude she’ll be spending her time inside the coach:
“I don’t care. I don’t wanna see no crappy castle anyway.” Briggs is appalled at this, and the fact that she swore indicates that the kids don’t have much respect for him.
When the Briggs and Mrs Kay are in the zoo cafï¿½, Briggs tells Mrs Kay he didn’t realise that the kids are actually interested in the animals, and he is enthusiastic at his own suggestion of bringing some slides in for the kids to see. When he finds out that the kids have stolen all the animals, he feels betrayed because he trusted the kids to behave themselves and act responsibly; but they don’t, and he is angry.
When Briggs finds Carol on the edge of the cliff, he starts to lecture her, asking her who gave her permission to come up here. When Carol tells him that she’s staying in Wales, he dismisses it and tells her not to be so silly. He takes a step towards her but she takes a step towards the edge, the sea looming below her. Briggs is astounded. When Carol tells him that he hates everyone, all the kids, he realises that he is strict and possibly people my feel uncomfortable when he is around, and in the end he has to beg Carol to come away from the edge. She does, but she slips Briggs catches her and then wraps his arms around her.
After they come back to the beach and get on the bus, the driver asks Briggs if it’s time to go back to school. Briggs suggests they take the children to the fair. When they get to the fair, Mr Briggs is like a different man. Mrs Kay takes a photo of him and Carol climbing out of a waltzer car, wearing a cowboy hat and handing a goldfish to Carol, and basically having a good time. On the coach on the way home, Briggs sits on the back seat, singing with the kids. The kids actually now enjoy being in his presence, unlike before when he came to sit at the back, they were ‘stifled and bored’ by his presence. Mrs Kay takes a photo of him with the kids on the back seat, wearing the cowboy hat, with his tie loosened.
As he sees the familiar surroundings coming into view, he slips back into his former personality, tightening his tie and straightens his hair. Briggs takes the photo film off Mrs Kay, and says that he will develop the pictures in the lab in school. When the kids and teachers have all left, he exposes the film to the light, destroying the photos. I think he does this because he is embarrassed he has let his hair down, in front of the children and the teachers, because usually he is strict and has old-fashioned ways of teaching. He doesn’t form any kind of relationship with the kids, maybe even the teachers, because he refuses Mrs Kay’s offer of a drink after the kids all go home.
In the play, Russell keeps us interested in the characters of Carol and Briggs by Briggs’ transformation during the trip; before the trip he is strict, and orders the kids around. He doesn’t really understand what background they come from – he just thinks that they can’t be bothered to help themselves when it comes to education. After the trip, on the way home, he is almost a completely different person! He started to relax, and be friendlier after the incident with Carol. I think that really opened his eyes; he saw that someone, a young girl, someone who has her whole life ahead of her, actually wanted to take her own life because of the life she has now. It made him realise that not all people have an easy life and he realised what kind of background people have.
Willy Russell uses comedy to a good effect in the play when the children decide to steal the animals, the stealing of the sweets, and the kind of language that they use.
When the coach stops at a roadside shop, the kids are robbing sweets and chocolate ‘left, right and centre’, behind the backs of the two men. The fact that it says that it is a usual trick, implies that it has been used before – the kids point up to jars on the shelves, and as soon as the men’s backs are turned, ‘racks of chocolate bars disappear into eager pockets.’
In the next scene (scene 16), it simply says: ‘the kids are weighed down with sweets.’ This shows us that they stole lots and lots of sweets, around ï¿½60, and they didn’t spend nearly that amount!
When the kids stop at the zoo, they decide to steal some animals! When they return the animals, they all walk out – rabbits, guinea pigs, chickens, even a young goat! The animals are all put into small cages, and then after the zoo-keeper leaves, Mr Briggs lays into the kids.
The kind of language that the kids use reflect on the kind of home life they have. They don’t really think about what they are saying, they just use the words talking normally. The kids use words such as ‘crappy’, ‘dickhead’, ‘bastards’, and ‘bloody’. The swearwords that they use are humorous because they talk like that towards their friends and even the teachers.
Will Russell uses tragedy to good effect, in particular on two occasions during the play. When Carol is on the edge of the cliff, when she asks Mr Briggs if she would have been ‘alright’ if he was her father, she means if she would have been alright as in gaining the right opportunities in life. She is thinking of ending her life so young because she knows, she knows that she wont be given the opportunities that other people will be given.
When Andrews is caught smoking at the back of the bus, Briggs sends him to sit at the front, then later he joins him. Briggs asks him how long he has been smoking and he asks him what his parents think of him smoking. Andrews replies that his father ‘belts’ him when he refuses to give him a cigarette.
During the play, we are given little insights into the lives of the children, and we can see that it is a very deprived background. They will probably never have the opportunities that other children are given, and as Mrs Kay said, they are made for the factories, but the factories have closed down, so they have even less opportunities now.