James Saunders   |   bibliography

Neighbours  -  by James Saunders (1964)

First performance at the Questors Theatre, Ealing, October 1964, with the following cast -

   -    Ffrangcon Whelan
   -    Wyllie Longmore
    Directed by Alan Clarke

First professional performance in Great Britain at the Hampstead Theatre Club on May 8, 1967, in a double bill with LeRoi Jones' Dutchman. Subsequently it transferred to the Mayfair Theatre. It had the following cast -

   -    Toby Robins
   -    Calvin Lockhart
    Directed by Charles Jarrott
Designed by Patrick Downing

© 1968 James Saunders
published by Andre Deutsch, (London, England), 1968
(Neighbours and other plays - James Saunders)
ISBN-10: 0233960309
ISBN-13: 978-0233960302
also contains Trio + Triangle + Alas, Poor Fred + Return to a City + A Slight Accident + The Pedagogue

© 1968 James Saunders
published by Heinemann Educational Books, (London, England), 1968
(Neighbours and other plays - James Saunders)
ISBN-10: 0435237861
ISBN-13: 978-0435237868
also contains Triangle + Trio + Alas, Poor Fred + Return to a City + A Slight Accident + The Pedagogue
commentary by Ronald Hayman

© 1968 James Saunders
published by Penguin (Harmondsworth, England) 1971
ISBN-10: 0140481125
ISBN-13: 978-0140481129
(Four Plays - James Saunders)
also contains Next Time I'll Sing To You + A Scent of Flowers + The Borage Pigeon Affair

These seven plays by James Saunders... exemplify his range as a playwright in an impressive way. Neightbours: a situation between a white woman and a black man worked out in realistic terms so that it sounds and looks as though it might take place in any big city bedsitting-room....Various though they are, these plays have in common the qualities which make James Saunders so important as a dramatist: his poetic sense of language, his daring use of stagecraft, his humour, his compassion and his unfailing ability to touch the least incident into significance.

- (from the inside front and back cover of Andre Deutsch, 1968)

Two people. A man. A woman... black, white, liberal, impulsive. Two people sitting in a room stripping each other of their masks. This story, this play is about who we think we are, what we think we think until somebody places a mirror in front of us. It is about those prejudices (as a white woman and as a black man) we assume we don't have and those tensions we choose to ignore.

A black man. A white woman. And no "rule of thumb" to follow. These characters and their colors that cannot be pigeon holed. This man, this woman. The observer must not only watch the play, but herself. Not only should she see the prejudices and generalizations that are prevalent, but follow her own conclusions and expectations and see where they will lead her: maybe a dead end, maybe an unexplored room? Whatever happens it's about trying to jump over those conclusions we make so quickly and really stop to think, look and reflect.

- Djahane Salehabadi & Eamon Shelton (from an introduction to a performance given by them at Ecole d'Humanité, Switzerland)

It's the most naturalistic of the one-act plays. Although the woman is conceived more as the representative of a group and an attitude than as an individual, the accurate portrayal of the self-consciousness in both characters brings them very much to life. With the Negro, we get a psychologically accurate study of his nervousness, his manoeuvres to cover it, the chip on his shoulder, his aggressiveness and his self-involvement, which is alternatively arrogant and masochistic. The girl seems more negative at first, because she's on the defensive, but she's completely credible in her mixture of unrelated good intentions and self-righteous exasperation. If she starts off as an embodiment of the liberal dilemma, she ends up as a defeated individual, quite convincing in her willingness to sleep with him after all that's passed between them.

The two characters are good foils for each other because both are so easily embarrassed and because his defence against embarrassment is an insistence on her defining the terms of their relationship, while her defensive vagueness is particularly vulnerable to this form of attack. From the very beginning, he forces her to to say things she'd very much rather leave unsaid, and later he refuses to let her get away with 'You can do as you like so long as you leave me alone'.

"If you just tell me where the mark is I'll take care not to overstep it ... Knocking on your door for instance, now I take it I'm not to knock on your door any more. That's for ever, is it? I mean, for instance, if I wake up one night and the house is on fire, and I knock on your door, will you call the police in? I want to cover myself, you see? ... We don't like getting our bottoms kicked, it's an idiosyncrasy, so we get ourselves these rules of thumb. We still get kicked anyway, that goes without saying, but that way we can blame ourselves instead of whoever's doing the kicking.

WOMAN: Look, you know exactly what I -

MAN: Not exactly; that's the point I'm trying to make, you see, we never know exactly. Now, as to passing you on the stairs, which as you say is near enough. I can't see how I can avoid passing you on the stairs now and then, unless we work out some kind of timetable, who's to be on the stairs when, and you wouldn't like that, it'd interfere with your freedom. And I can't get out through the window, not on the fourth floor ..."

In many ways we can see Saunders refining the techniques he's tried out in earlier plays. Instead of letting for instance the time-table for the use of the stairs develop as it might have done into dramatic action, the fantasy is just developed verbally and contained within the situation, adding to the tension of it by introducing in casual language an idea which seems flippant but which is demonstrably relevant. The characters have got themselves into an extreme situation where definition is necessary and verbal swordplay of the sort we've seen before becomes more desparate and dramatic. Altogether, action and dialogue are wedded more closely together and the end is not a twist but a climax that grows organically out of what's gone before.

- Ronald Hayman (from the commentary, Heinemann, 1968)

James Saunders   |   bibliography

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revised 16 February 2008
URL: http://www.jamessaunders.org/jsneighb.htm