James Saunders   |   bibliography

Barnstable  -  by James Saunders (1959)

A Play in One Act

First broadcast on the 20th November 1959, on the BBC Third Programme, produced Donald McWhinnie.

Subsequently produced at the Questors Theatre, Ealing, with two other one-act plays, Return To A City and Committal, under the title Ends and Echoes, on the 13th June 1960.

CHARACTERS  (in the order of their appearance) -

CHARLES CARBOY, her father
DAPHNE CARBOY, Charles wife
SANDRA, the maid

The action of the Play passes in the drawing-room of the Carboys' home on a spring morning.

published by Hutchinson Educational (London, England), 1961
(New Directions, Five One-Act plays in the modern idiom - edited by Alan Durband)

published by Samuel French (London, England), 1965
ISBN 0 573 02015 9

"...a kind of parable played out against a background of theatrical clichés..."

"Barnstable is the second play in the trilogy Ends and Echoes which was produced at the Questors Theatre in 1960.... in Barnstable, nuclear destruction is deliberately made remote. Apathy, indifference, and a refusal to face facts: these are what give the play, with its mysterious character Barnstable, a further dimension.

At first sight, Barnstable is just another potboiler for Women's Institutes and Village Dramatic Societies, smug with upper-middle-class concern for the garden, and with conventional recourse to telephone calls, flower arrangements, and vacuous maidservants. One by one these postures are debunked. Moles in the lawn are preposterously more important than the collapsing of the west wing and the upper storeys of the house. Helen's self-recrimination comes to an absurd head in her dilemma over Harold's invitation to go riding. A sensitive girl, but one who is inextricably involed in social conformity, she can tell that 'something absolutely inane and dreadful is going to happen'. She cannot escape, though she tries to emigrate. She gets no help from her family or the church. Carboy, the Imperturbable Robinson of the trenches in 1915, calls for 'a balanced judgement in the light of an all-round assessment of the situation', and Wandsworth Teeter's metaphysics tell him that 'all is as it should be. To be otherwise is impossible.' Sandra, hopelessly out of her depth but ignorant enough to be talked out of her discomfort, drinks her cocoa, pathetically reassured by the reactionary forces which her betters represent. They were not disturbed by Helen's prophecy of doom and they are not affected by her death. Of the survivors, only Daphne knows that Barnstable exists, but she isn't likely to shake off the habits of a lifetime and rise above arranging flowers and preparing cocoa.

In Barnstable James Saunders has approached a highly relevant contemporary theme with a perceptive wit and a challenging technique that is all his own, notwithstanding the influence of Ionesco that lies behind some of his dialogue. The Bald Prima Donna ends where it begins; the cycle of futility has no proper climax. In Barnstable we are left wondering whether the human race will ever come to terms with the mysterious forces we are compelled to live with in this nuclear age.

Deliberately, the format of James Saunders' play is that of an outmoded style of theatre, and Barnstable, though he never appears, is the most menacingly real of all the characters."

(from New Directions - Hutchinson Educational, 1961)

James Saunders   |   bibliography

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