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Critical Analysis of Our Day Out by Willy Russell

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Well-known playwright, Willy Russell, wrote the play ‘Our Day Out’ in the 1970s; the play is about a group of secondary school children who have a limited amount of intellectual skills, knowledge, and abilities. They go from their school in an underprivileged area in Liverpool to Wales for a day out, which is intended to be to a castle in Conwy but ends up being a trip to shops, a zoo, the castle, a beach, and a fairground. While they and their four teachers are on this trip, they argue, fight, and do not get on with each other at all, but as the day goes on, one particular teacher starts to understand what the kids are like and the reasons behind why they are like that.

‘Our Day Out’ has a few main characters which are crucial to the plot and meaning of the play; these are Mr Briggs – a strict and disliked teacher; Mrs Kay – a laid back and caring teacher, and a student who goes by the name Carol who is not well off money-wise and education-wise, and she is a member of Mrs Kay’s progress class.

Mr Briggs is very strict, harsh in his tone and manner, threatening, controlling and is not as friendly as Mrs Kay since he is an extremely professional persona and is trusted by the head very much as the head told him that he’d ‘like you (Mr Briggs) to go with her (Mrs Kay)’ and ‘keep things in some sort of order,’ this shows that he is trusted because he is professional and is professional because he can be trusted, so that makes him an authority figure.

Unlike Mrs Kay, the student body does not like him in any way whatsoever; when he comes aboard, the coach ‘the kids sigh’ as they know what he is like, i.e., a fun despiser and education admirer. Mr Briggs also feels the same way towards the progress class kids; he does not like them either because of how insufficiently intellectually developed they are; for example, he says to Mrs Kay out of the anger he gets because of the kids ‘you’ve got some real bright sparks here…a right bunch’, he pokes fun at their special educational needs as he is not empathetic and understanding as Mrs Kay is.

He misunderstands the students in many ways because he does not try or even want to understand them or their backgrounds. When Briggs is on the couch in conversation with a couple of the kids, he asks them about their parents. He does not seem to fully comprehend and relate the replies to what they are like, i.e., what they are deprived of; he says to one of the children, ‘I thought you meant he was away a lot’ after he asks him where his dad is. Briggs automatically assumes that the boys’ father goes out to sea’ not that his fathers no right, and when Mr Briggs has taken the boys reply of ‘he just comes round every now an’ then…to get money off her’ in, he pauses due to the effect of shock.

In the first scene, we actually met Briggs, he was driving adjacent to the impoverished Liverpool streets; the lollipop man, Les, refers to him as an ‘arigant git,’ which shows he is not respected by anyone, not even people who do not know him as a person.

In my opinion, the second most crucial scene happens in the zoo. As they are about to enter the zoo, Mrs Kay flatters Mr Briggs, by telling the kids that he is an expert with animals. Mr Briggs’s attitude changes here; he becomes friendly towards the kids. I think this is because one Mrs Kay complimented him to the kids, and because the kids are asking him questions, he did not need to shout at them because the kids wanted to know the answer, so the kids started to talk to him more. So he got to know them. When Mrs Kay asks Mr Briggs to come to have a drink in the cafe, Mr Briggs is uncertain he does not want to leave the kids alone, but he goes and has a cup of tea in the end with Mrs Kay. She tries to get him to call her Helen, but he doesn’t; he probably thinks that is not professional. I think that Mr Briggs never relaxes; he is always tensed. When Mr Briggs and Mrs Kay return to the coach, they see that all the kids are back early; this comforts Mr Briggs that they are left on their own and are fine; they even return early. When some zookeepers abroad, the coach Mr Briggs defends the children, which signifies him trusting them. He does not jump down throats asking what they have done, but the kids have stolen animals from the petting zoo as it happens. All the kids’ trust in Mr Briggs has now depleted, and he now feels the same he did at the begging if not worse. Mr Briggs then feels the need to take over the trip’s running; he does not let Mrs Kay discipline them and let her handle it. Mr Briggs then decides that the trip should go to the castle straight away and when they get there to split up into four groups, one member of staff to each group. I think that Mrs Kay is still in control, but she lets Mr Briggs think otherwise to make it easier for herself and other staff.

One of the foremost scenes in ‘Our Day Out’ is the cliff scene in which Mr Briggs and Carol feature. Willy Russell has cleverly used stage directions in this scene to buildup tension. He has used stage directions a great deal, so more tension is given off in this play’s emotional part. An instance of where tension is created via stage directions is when Briggs’ movement is described, ‘he starts to move towards her. She takes a step towards the edge of the cliff’; this gives off tension by the short and simple direction while also describing short and simple movement.

Briggs’ original attempts at getting through to Carol failed and were futile, so he had to change his approach. At first, Briggs techniques were his usual bossy, cruel and hasty ones such as ‘Just come here!’, ‘Now you just listen to you me’ and ‘I am not putting up with a pile of silliness from the likes of you’; these techniques did not seem to work with Carol cause she knew this time she was the one in control and with power, not him. Nevertheless, then Briggs realized this and knew that Carol was also conscious of this. So from bossy and dominant, he had to change to caring, friendly, and understanding. As an alternative, he started engaging in conversation (in which he found out about what Carol’s life is like); he does this by asking her caring questions such as ‘how would you survive out here?’, which give out a positive effect to Carol as she would feel more cared about and wanted.

Also, via the cliff scene, Briggs learned quite a fair amount from progress class student Carol. One of the things that he learns is that the professional and strict way is not always the way forward; there are more gentle and triumphant methods. Besides learning better teaching-related techniques, he has also come into reality by knowing why the kids are like what they are like.

After the cliff scene, Mr Briggs’ behaviour and interaction changes by being more sympathetic and thoughtful; he is now aware that the kids are underprivileged through no fault of their own. Before he changed, he called out to Carol in a controlling and threatening way ‘Carol Chandler! Just come here’, but since that failed, he had to change his way of communicating, and so that phrase developed to the likes of ‘Carol, please come away from there.’ The primary means in which Carol caused Mr Briggs to change is when she said to him, ‘if you had been my old feller, I woulda been all right, wouldn’t I?’ this affected Briggs by him realizing his mistake in misunderstanding them so much and thinking that they (the progress class kids) know absolutely nothing. Consequently, his behaviour and interaction changed towards the children for the better; he felt as if he now knew them correctly and did not despise them anymore.

As the coach approaches the school at the end of the day out in Wales, Mr Briggs changes his appearance slightly from fun-loving to more smart and strict. When he becomes aware of Mrs Kay’s photographic evidence, he says to her, ‘it would save you having to pay for it. I could do it in the lab’, which shows he seems to have learned to put his barriers down a little and that there is more to life than doing everything professionally by abiding by rules 24/7.

As Briggs changed towards the negative near the end of the play, he changed positively as well. His language changed from critical, mean, and negative thinking, ‘you know very well that on school visits you wear school uniform’ to more understanding, cheerful and kind, ‘we’ll let the uniform go this time’ towards the students and fellow teachers.

When Mrs Kay had just approached and informed Mr Briggs about Carol going missing, one of the things he replied with was ‘when we get back, I’ll have the whole lot of you!’ he said this because all the other teachers (Mrs. Kay, Colin, and Susan) had not behaved how he did/how he wanted them to. However, by the end of the trip, Mr Briggs attitude towards them changed; as a replacement for his usual tone, he used more polite vocabulary to turn them down ‘No…I’d better not…thanks all the same though,’ so I do not think that he will turn them in after using up so much effort in being polite and respectful to them.

After going on this trip with the progress class kids, I think that he will change his ways of dealing with the students at least a little bit, if not a lot because he now knows much more about them and feels more pity keener on them. From his old bossy, instruction-firing self, such as when he calls Carol by shouting out ‘just come here!’, he will change his tone to more courteous and somewhat negotiable. So instead of using that quote to call out to Carol, he will, in the future, use something like ‘please come over here, Carol.’

As Briggs will be dealing with the children more positively, that does not mean that he will live up to his words. In the zoo scene where he is discussing how interested the children are in animals with Mrs Kay, he volunteers to ‘come along and give them a small talk with some slides that I’ve got,’ but I do not think he will do that because it sounds pretty much like one of the things that you say and mean but know you will never get round to doing it for one reason or the other.

Mr Briggs has changed during this progress class trip by starting to know and understand the children’s backgrounds; if he did not socially interact with them, he would not have changed or learned anything about them at all. Besides understanding them more, he has also started to realize that they are not as dumb he had always thought; they do know about their chances in life is limited, and they do know some bits and pieces. An example of where Briggs becomes aware of their vast amount of knowledge and understanding is at the cliff when he tries to cheer Carol up by saying ‘what’s to stop you…getting a good job…and moving out here when you’re old enough’ to encourage her and give her hope, but to his amazement, his attempt failed, and Carol replied ‘Don’t be friggin stupid.’

Russell has made this particular scene very dramatic by using brief and straightforward stage directions such as ‘he gingerly approaches her’ and has selected the vocabulary very carefully to make it even more dramatic.

Throughout the play, Mr Briggs has given the impression that he has been changing and developing into a better person, but I do not think these changes to Mr Briggs are permanent. I think this isbecause when the coach gets nearer to the school, he ‘puts his tie back to normal…straightens his hair…combs his hair’ if he were to change for good, then why would he bother? His changing his ‘fun’ appearance back to his strict one is obviously because he does not want to stay that way or be seen like that; this trip was a one-off time for him. Another example to support my point is also at the end of the play when Mr Briggs’ pulls open the film and exposes it to the light, crumbles it up’, Briggs appears as if he is embarrassed and humiliated by the way he acted. He would not have wrecked the film if he was to change permanently – I get the idea of him being embarrassed and humiliated because if he were not to change permanently for a different reason, he would still want to treasure the memories unless he was to be completely heartless, which he is not. The only change that looks as if it is permanent is the amount of sympathy and understanding he now has for the kids, and I also think that he will be a little less harsh like in the end, he tells Linda off softly about her non-uniform. So, in my opinion, Mr Briggs will be a better person, but there will not be as much change that would be preferred. 

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Critical Analysis Of Our Day Out By Willy Russell. (2021, November 10). GradesFixer. Retrieved December 8, 2021, from
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