This year we are studying Billy Liar and My mother said I never should. They are two different plays, dealing with different issues and themes. I am going to explore these differences and similarities in some detail.
One of the biggest and most important contrasts would be the genre of the two plays. My mother said I never should is a straight drama. It’s a very realistic play with serious issues, requiring naturalistic acting, to show the relationships between the generations. Billy liar is a comedy, but has serious underlying themes, where a young man desperately tries to escape his mundane life and become a higher-class member of society, and his dreams of this gets him into some difficult situations. The way these two plays are performed is also different. The set of my mother said I never should is representational in style, which enables actors to move from one period to another easily. In this play the focus is not on the details of the set, but more on representing the characters, their flaws and the conflicts that occur between them. Billy liar is realistic in style; they are a believable lower middle class family from the north of England in the 1960’s.
Billy liar is set in the north of England in the 1960’s, in a typical lower middle class detached house. My mother said I never should is set in different places around England in the periods of which they were children. The opening scene doesn’t have a specific period in which it is set, but all the characters from the four different generations come together wearing costumes from the different times. In the first act the scenes are not necessarily in chronological order, and the scenes jump. The duration of time, which the play is set in, is from 1940 to 1987. The play takes place in Manchester, Oldham, London, and The wasteland.
The main theme in Billy Liar would be the conflict between the family members. Billy is unhappy living with his family and wants to move to London to become a scriptwriter. While he can’t do this he frequently lies to people, telling them things about him that are not true. An example of this would be when Billy tells Barbara that he has a sister when really he doesn’t, and she finds out. His parents are not happy with his behaviour but really cant do anything about it. His parents are never really happy towards Billy, this is where we see similarities in My mother Said I never should, where the different generations have conflicts with their mothers, to a certain extent the daughters are all trying to please their mothers but never do.
Billy gets engaged to more than one person in the play, he can’t realistically love them all so he’s engaged for the wrong reasons. Also he keeps trying to call engagements off, but never manages to. This shows that he’s a bit cowardly in some of the situations he manages to get himself in to and doesn’t say how he feels. Billy doesn’t live up to his family’s expectations, they are always telling him to find a nice girl and get a ‘proper’ job and settle down. This theme runs into My mother said I never should. Jackie gets pregnant in the play and has Rosie. Rosie is then taken by Margret who brings Rosie up.
In the play Jackie is a free spirit, who comes and goes as she pleases, and we sometimes are made to believe that Margret resents Jackie. We get this impression because Margaret’s dad was proud of Jackie and left her his assets when he died, this made Margret slightly jealous, ‘its funny how a job was never a good enough excuse for me, I think father disapproved’. We get this impression, because of the subtle lines, the facial expressions and the gestures throughout the play. Although Rosie doesn’t know that Jackie is her mother, the two characters are quite close and Margret comes between them by not letting them see each other as often as they would like. This creates more conflict between Jackie and Margaret.
The two plays cover many issues. Billy liar was set in post-war England, and the memories of the rationing and poverty are shown by Florence who is still living in the second-world war. The characters in this play have an attitude where the are constantly trying to socially better themselves, that’s why Billy was sent to grammar school, and he dreams of living a better lifestyle in London. He tells his mother he is not ‘ordinary folk’. Rita is also looked down on for being lower class, and Alice says she has ‘met her sort before’. Florence is a very racist, she represents attitudes against the black people coming over from the West-Indies in the (wind rush), This highlights the fact that her behaviour and attitudes are very old fashioned, narrow minded and unfair, but typical of some people in that society. Billy makes reference to the peace movement, which played an important part in the events of the 60’s, which included marching against nuclear war and fighting.
In my mother said I never should the main issue that’s dealt with is the attitudes towards women, their place in society and their duties and expectations as a daughter, mother and wife.
Early in the play, Dorris had a career as a teacher that she was forced to give up because her duty was to be a housewife and bring up a family. It was revealed later in the play that Dorris never really wanted to be a mother, but felt she had to in order to fulfil her role as a housewife.
Dorris disapproved of Margret, because she wants to move away to London to marry an American, instead of following her parent’s wishes and marrying a local dentist and stay near home. She has a job as a typist, that isn’t very well paid and when she gets a promotion her husband leaves her.
Jackie gets pregnant at a young age and is forced to give up her child and let Margret bring her up. This is because having children out of wedlock was frowned upon, but Margret never tells her that Dorris was an illegitimate child aswell. Also Margaret feels the only way Jackie can get on is by giving Rosie up
In both plays, sex before marriage is brought up. In Billy liar the characters have very different views on this. Alice and Barbara reflect society of that time and disagree with it. While Rita and Liz, also Billy thinks that it’s alright to have sex before marriage. This is like in My mother Said I never should. Dorris talks about how her mother was frowned upon for having a child out of wedlock, yet Margaret keeps her mother’s illegitimacy a secret from Jackie. Jackie got pregnant when she wasn’t married. Margret disapproved of Jackie and forced her to hand over her child, Jackie feels un-supported by society and her mothers beliefs that she needs to give her daughter up to pursue her career.
The attitudes towards women going to work in My mother said I never should change over the generations. When Dorris got married she had to leave her job that she enjoyed and stay at home to be a housewife and a mother, although this changed as Jack (Doris’s husband) left all the money to Jackie to support her career. When Margret gets a fulltime job her husband leaves her.
In this essay I have explored the themes, attitudes to society, the characters and have come to the conclusion that these plays are similar to some detail, but the way they are performed and the way the different generations are portrayed is different. My mother said I never should is a very serious drama, whereas Billy liar is entertaining as it is a comedy, yet deals with serious issues.