The major themes in Our Day Out

Our Day Out is set in inner city Liverpool in the mid 1970s. The fictional school is located in a neighbour with a high crime rate, drug use, prostitution, high unemployment, poverty and domestic abuse. The kids in the schools remedial class are all portrayed as economically unstable, poor and deprived children with different stories which reinforce the key ideas of the play. In 1981 there was rioting in Toxteth, a deprived district of Liverpool of which high unemployment rates were blamed for.

The setting of the play acts as a prelude to the riots.

Willy Russell adds elements of subtle humour which make the play funny and sad at the same time Early on in the play we are introduced to Carol Chandler who is evidently one of the poorest children in the class when she is revealed to be “wearing a school uniform which doubles as a street outfit and a Sunday best, eating half a sandwich and clutching a carrier bag” Here Russell is introducing us to one of the focal characters with a description which suggests that Carol’s family can’t afford to buy here a school bag, have to share food and can’t afford many clothes.

This portrayal of Carol is important as it shows the signs of social deprivation and establishes her economic status. She describes Conwy as “somewhere far away, I forget” (in response to Les the lollipop man’s question as to where the trip’s destination is). This also tells us she hasn’t been far from home before since if she’d been to Conwy before she’d would know it is only about an hour away from Liverpool.

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We feel a little sorry for Carol and feel guilty about her having to live like that while our homes are often full of materialistic goods and appliances that we take for granted. When up on the cliff she refuses to return to the trip and wants to stay in Wales. We immediately get a sense of her naivety though it is a quality rather than a weakness and she clearly doesn’t mean any harm at all. Carol has another quality of being appreciative of life’s simple things i. e. nature,since she can’t posses materialistic products for a small price, this is a quality we all hope to have .

She reveals to Mrs Kay-whom she looks to for mentoring, friendship and sometimes motherly love, which she can’t get at home that she wants to live in “one of them nice places with trees and that” and underneath Mrs Kay’s encouraging facade, she knows Carol is stuck in the poverty cycle and wants to get out. “Them nice places” also shows Carol’s lack of education. This is tragic but Carol’s implicit disorganisation and forgetfulness accounts for the play’s humour-I find this technique a very clever and powerful way of entertaining the audience and conveying the reality of these deprived children’s lifestyles. ‘

The play also focuses on Andrews, one of Carol’s peers in the progress class who has a similar lifestyle. Firstly, we learn that he smokes. He tells Reilly (an older ex-progress class student) to “Gis a ciggy”, in return for opening the window. Willy Russell continues with the theme of social deprivation by exposing Andrews’ mother as a prostitute when Digga refers to “all them fellas she picks up” This also tells us that Andrews’ mother not only has to practise promiscuity but has to risk her life on the streets of inner city Liverpool and we start to worry about Andrews’ mother putting her life at risk which makes us feel sorry.

The aforementioned quote also shows bad education and not being able to speak properly. When Briggs tells Andrews off for smoking, he is told that Andrews’ mother doesn’t take any notice but “me dad, he belts me” Ironically, Andrews is beaten because he won’t give his father a cigarette. Andrews has a nasty life and we take pity and feel empathic but the aforementioned irony accounts for the play’s humour, as does Briggs’ lack of understanding when he assumes Andrews’ father returns home because he is in the forces, when really, all he wants is the money.

This portrayal of Andrews establishes the area of where the school is situated a deprived area and includes individual cases of families struggling to survive. Russell also uses Reilly, an ex-progress class student as a mouthpiece for his ideas and to convey aspects of social deprivation. We learn that Reilly’s dad works at the docks and hates it. Unrealistically, Briggs tells Reilly to tell his father to “stop and take a look around. He may see things different then”, an unrealistic expectation.

Here we get a view of the docks through two different perspectives. To Briggs, an affluent middle class teacher the docks are historic and something to be proud of. To Reilly and his dad however, they are their means of employment which they have spent their lives trying to get away from. We also learn that Reilly has been motherless for ten years when Digga tells Briggs “he can’t swear on his mum sir she’s been dead for ten years” Reilly is in love with Susan, a young teacher in her early twenties who wouldn’t go out with Reilly in a million years.

Whether Reilly is being serious isn’t revealed, but it is possible that Reilly is fishing for Susan’s money, in other words a goldigger. This possibility shows that Reilly doesn’t have enough money of his own, so Russell is making us aware of social deprivation, a theme of the play. Reilly clearly has no respect for people above him in the school hierarchy, which shows lack of education, one of the play’s theme. Later on in the play Susan turns the tables on Reilly and makes sudden advances and Russell manipulates the audience into believing she is being serious.

She later tells him to stick to his own league and so forms a bond with 15-year-old Linda Croxley, a far more appropriate girlfriend for Reilly. We feel sorry for Reilly but being a motherless child has toughened him up and taught him to survive but his crush on Susan has a lot of comic element so contributes to the play’s humour. Mr Briggs and Mrs Kay are focused upon heavily during the play who both have very different views on which teaching method is better for the remedial class.

In a conversation with Colin, a young, less experienced teacher Briggs says “well you have to risk being disliked if you’re to do any good for these children” and refers to Mrs Kay’s teaching method as “woolly-headed liberalism”. From this we can easily draw a conclusion that Mr Briggs doesn’t think about the consequences of ruthlessness and all he is concerned about is positive results. Briggs obviously thinks because the kids missed out on a lot of education earlier in life they need some sort of intensive education technique if things are to be put right. He clearly sees respect from the kids as a nice extra when really it is essential.

Also, when Mrs Kay changes the itinerary of the trip and takes the class to the zoo, Mr Briggs’ response tells us he doesn’t want to deviate from the schedule and keep the kids bored, something in Briggs’ opinion would do the kids a bit of good. Colin later calls Mr Briggs a burke, and from this we can deduce that Mr Briggs is no more popular with his colleagues as he is with the students. On the other hand, Mrs Kay has a far more relaxed approach to educating the kids and a motherly, matriarchal attitude to the children-the two qualities awarding her street-cred with the kids.

Mr Briggs sees this as a bad thing (he also thinks she has a motherly air) and he thinks “if the antics in her department are anything to go by she always reminded me of a mother hen rather than a teacher”. From this quote we can conclude that Mrs Kay is less popular with her colleagues, though the opinions of the other staff on her philosophical view of education are undisclosed. During a chat with Carol on the coach, Mrs Kay puts her arm around Carol and the stage directions at this point describe this as looking like a mother and daughter.

Later on in the play she reveals explicitly that she is on the children’s side though this doesn’t come as a surprise to the audience. This relationship is important since Carol has to look to her teacher for mentoring and motherly love which she can’t get at home. This creates a possibility that Carol’s family maybe bad parents, socially deprived and not respectable. This reinforces the theme of social deprivation. All of these points establish Mr Briggs’ and Mrs Kay’s personalities and define the opposing forces.

Willy Russell uses this opposition to manipulate the audience into wondering what will happen to the children with two completely different teachers taking control of them for the day, providing some of the play’s humour. It also reveals society’s opposing viewpoints about education. Throughout the play, stage directions are used to conjure up more explicit visions of what is going on. They are very important because if you are reading the play the more visual humour is hard to convey with words alone. At the start of the play, in the morning the kids are “streaming in one direction.

They [the kids] are shoving, rushing, ambling, leering and jeering”. Here the strong use of verbs adds to the clarity of the description and “leering and jeering” suggests that there could be bullying going on. This shows lack of education- the kids obviously don’t know what is right and wrong and have a poor sense of ethics (also evident in stealing the animals and taking them on to the coach). Stage directions can also express the humour that can’t be conveyed with words alone. Just before leaving the zoo the animal keeper runs up to the coach “polo-necked and wellied”.

Russell could have easily omitted that description but running in wellies is almost impossible. The image of someone running in something hard to run in e. g. stilettos, wellies, ski boots etc. is often used as a scene of slapstick humour- as opposed to the more dry, subtle humour used earlier on in the play. Also, animals appear from “every conceivable hiding place and the coach is a menagerie”. This stage direction pictures animals swarming around a small area(the coach), scuttling from side to side, jumping out of luggage lockers and generally causing chaos.

This scene accounts for the play’s humour but in my opinion, it is hard to fully appreciate without a graphical representation. The visual medium of TV allows Willy Russell to use the device of visual metaphor. While the class are in the zoo they are compared to a captive bear in an implicit way and are trapped in different ways. The bear is literally trapped in the pit for visitors and tourists to see and it can’t do much, if anything to get out. The children, on the other hand are trapped in a more metaphorical way and stuck at their level in the social hierarchy and in the poverty cycle.

From Briggs’ line “don’t forget it was born in captivity so it won’t know any other life”, we get the impression Briggs feels the children should stay working class rather than climb the pecking order to a middle or upper class rank and mixing with the more affluent Liverpudlians, while keeping their coarse and vulgar demeanours. From this we can tell Briggs is politically right-wing and if real, would have been one of the many Britons who decided it was time for James Callaghan to call it a day it 1979. Mrs Kay thinks the children deserve better but is unsure as to which route in life is best for the kids.

Russell uses this technique again at the castle when comparing Mr Briggs’ old-fashioned teaching methods to the archaic, medieval castle-despite the fact he is younger than Mrs Kay, though you wouldn’t think so. At the castle there is also a showdown between Mrs Kay and Mr Briggs, and the castle provides the perfect backdrop for it. Mrs Kay’s idea of visiting the modern zoo goes well with her modern philosophical view of education. However, Mrs Kay’s expectations of the kids are a bit too low and aren’t likely to bring out the full potentials of the kids. Conversely, Briggs’ are too high and are less realistic than Mrs Kay’s.

Although neither teacher’s expectations are perfect (expectations of a teacher who gives the kids push and support simultaneously would be), Mrs Kay’s are more appropriate on the whole, and despite being too soft on the kids, Mrs Kay seems to know it is better to under-expect rather than to over-expect like Mr Briggs does because his views of education are far from appropriate and are no better for the kids than Mrs Kay’s. Willy Russell moves the play to a more dramatic climax which creates suspense-a literary device previously unused in the play. Carol’s naivety is reinforced by her explicit desire to remain in Wales.

At this point Briggs doesn’t change in personality but is now powerless and has no way of controlling Carol’s erratic and suicidal behaviour though knowing Briggs he is probably more concerned about being struck off and a legal inquiry than Carol’s state of mind and only told her she had hope to avoid the two aforementioned crises. When Briggs changes his ways Russell manipulates the audience into thinking Briggs is changing permanently and he will help the kids catch up and excel in life. However our expectations are dashed when the class returns to the city.

When Reilly describes the city as “horrible when you come back to it”, Russell tells the audience that the children must be used to their neighbourhood after 13-15 years of entrapment in the inner city. Linda is unsure what Reilly is talking about which shows that she was taken in by the trip. Russell’s message to the audience is that living in the inner city of Liverpool can toughen one up and as a result, enables the kids to survive almost anything. The ending is disappointing yet realistic and Briggs making a fool of himself through singing a ridiculous song in a cowboy hat adds a humorous side to this sombre scene.

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The major themes in Our Day Out. (2017, Oct 09). Retrieved from

The major themes in Our Day Out
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