Tuesday, February 17, 2015

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Synopsis:  This play takes in a period of roughly four months, from August to November, around the time of Queen Victoria's Jubilee.  Liza Kemp is an 18-year-old factory worker and the youngest of 13 children, now living alone with her aging and incompetent mother. Very popular with all the residents—both young and old—of Vere Street, Lambeth, she cannot really make up her mind as far as her love life is concerned. She very much likes Tom, a boy her age, but when he proposes to her she rejects him ("I don't love yer so as ter marry yer").  Nevertheless she is persuaded to join a party of 32 who make a coach trip (in a horsedrawn coach, of course) to a nearby village on the August Bank Holiday (A bank holiday is a public holiday in the United Kingdom or in Ireland.  There is no automatic right to time off on these days, although the majority of the population is granted time off work or extra pay for working on these days, depending on their contract.  The first official bank holidays were the four days named in the Bank Holidays Act of 1870)  Monday. Some of the other members of the party are Tom; Liza's friend Sally and her boyfriend Harry; and Jim Blakeston, a 40-year-old father of nine who has recently moved to Vere Street with his large family, and his wife (while their eldest daughter, Polly, is taking care of her siblings).  The outing is a lot of fun, and they all get, more or less, drunk on beer.  On their way back, in the dark, Liza realizes that Jim Blakeston is making a pass at her by holding her hand. After their arrival back home, Jim manages to speak to her alone and to steal a kiss from her.
Seemingly without considering either the moral implications or the consequences of her actions, Liza feels attracted to Jim.  They never appear together in public because they do not want the other residents of Vere Street or their workmates to start talking about them.  One of Jim Blakeston's first steps to win Liza's heart is to go to a melodramatic play with her on Saturday night.  Afterwards, he succeeds in seducing her, although we never learn where they do it... obviously in the open.  But in the end they do "slide down into the darkness of the passage".  When autumn arrives and the nights get chillier, Liza's secret meetings with Jim become less comfortable and more trying.  Lacking an indoor meeting place, they even spend their evenings together in the third class waiting room of a railway station.  Also, to Liza's dismay, it turns out that people do start talking about them, in spite of the precautions they have taken.  Only Liza's mother, who is a drunkard and a very simple sort of person, has no idea what is going on.

Cast of Characters
Liza Kemp.
Liza Kemp is an 18-year-old factory worker and the youngest of 13 children, now living alone with her aging and incompetent mother.  Very popular with all the residents, both young and old, of Vere Street, Lambeth, England.
Mr. Kemp: Liza's mother, loves 'er beer/drink, afflicted with rheumatism.
Sally Cooper: Liza's friend.
Sally is a small, thin girl, with sandy hair and blue eyes, and a very freckled complexion.  She has an enormous mouth, with terrible, square teeth set wide apart, which look as if they could masticate an iron bar. 
Mrs. Cooper 
Harry: Sally's boyfriend 
Tom: a boy Liza's age.  Tom is a young man with light yellow hair and a little fair mustache, which makes him appear almost boyish; he is light-complexioned and blue-eyed.  He is rather bashful.
Jim Blakeston: a 40-year-old father of nine who has recently moved to Vere Street with his large family, and his wife.  He is a 
big man, tall and broad with large, masculine features and pleasant brown eyes.
Mrs. Blakeston: wife of Jim is a middle-sized, stout person anywhere between thirty and forty years old.  She has a large, fat face with a big mouth, and her hair was curiously done, parted in the middle and plastered down on each side of the head in little plaits.  One could see that she is a woman of great strength, notwithstanding evident traces of hard work and much childbearing.
Polly Blakeston: Blakeston's daughter
Children:  six boys, two girls
The Coachman
Mrs. Stanley: a neighbour, midwife
The Doctor

Act I, Scene One. 
Liza:   Come on, Danny, we aren't shy.  Let's dance!
(Three or four more pairs immediately joined them.  Suddenly there was a cry...)
The men in the crowd:   Hey, look it's Liza!  There's Liza!  I say, Liza!
(Liza, a young girl of about eighteen, with dark eyes, puffed-out and curled hair.  She is dressed in brilliant violet, with great lappets of purple velvet, and she has on her head an enormous straw hat with lavender feathers.)   Look at Liza!  Dressed to the nines!  I betcha' she spent a weeks wages on that dress!  Look at that hat!
(Liza sees what a sensation she is creating; she arches her back and lifts her head, and walks down the street, swaying her body from side to side, and swaggering along as though the whole place belongs to her.)   
The men in the crowd:   Uooooeeee!  Go, Liza! Go! Uoo-uoo-eeeee!
(The whole street joins in shouting and they give long, shrill, ear piercing shrieks and strange calls, that ring down the street and echoe back again.) Oo, uooeee, Liza!
(Liza puts on the air of a victorious seductress, and saunters on, enchanted at the uproar.  She sticks out her elbows and jerks her head on one side, and yells as she passes through the bellowing crowd.)
Liza:   Eat yer heart out mates!
(When she dances to the group round the organ, Sally cries out to her:... 
Sally:   Is that yer new dress, Liza?
Liza:   Well, it doesn't look like my old one, does it?
Sally:   Where'd ya' get it?
Liza:   (Dancing away.)   Picked it up in the street, of course.
Danny:   I believe it's the same one as I saw in the pawnbrokers down the road!
Liza:   That's it; but what were you doin' in there?  Pledgin' your shirt, or was it your trousers?
Danny:   I wouldn't buy a second hand dress at a pawnbroker's!
Liza:   Ah, but you'd look so fashionable!  Don't'cha' know?  I got the materials in the West End, I did!  And I had it tailored by my Court Dressmiker, so you jolly well dry up, old jellybelly.  Oohh, I say, Sally, let's have some dancin'!  Come on, Sally, you an' me'll dance togither.  Grind away, old man!
(Liza dances as a tempting seductress, with vamp and tease: the flirting of her eyes, the contemptuous curl of the lips, the exquisite turn of the hand, the dainty arching of the foot!  Suddenly she stops and disengages herself from Sally.)
Liza:   Oh, I sy, this is too bloomin' slow.  It's so slow it's makin me sick!  Let's have somethin' a bit more lively than this 'ere waltz.  You stand over there, Sally, an' we'll show 'em 'ow ta' skirt dance.
Sally:   You just wite till you see the ballet on Vere Street 'ere, Lambeth-we'll knock 'em dead!
Liza:   (To the organ grinder.)   Now then, Italiano, you buck up; give us a tune that's got some guts in it!
(She squashes his big hat down over his eyes.  The man grins from ear to ear, and, touching the little catch at the side of the organ, begins to play a lively tune.  The girls hold up their skirts on each side and dance through the difficult steps and motions of the dance.  They dance better than a trained troop.  But the best dancer of them all is Liza; she throws her whole soul into it.  Gradually the other couples stand aside, so that Liza and Sally are left alone.)
Sally:   (Blowing and puffing.)   I'm about done, Liza. I've 'ad enough of it.
The crowd:    Garn (Go on), Liza!
(LIZA gives no sign of having heard them, and continues her dance.  She slinks deftly and smoothly through the steps, and sways about.  She temptingly manipulates her skirt.  As the music tempo increases her feet move quicker.  She is getting excited at the adulation from the crowd.  She whirls round madly.  Her dance grows wilder and more daring.  She lifts her skirts higher and audaciously kicks her legs as she moves backward and forward.)
The crowd:   (Yelling.)   Look at 'er legs!  Look at 'er stockin's!
(Her stockings are of the same brilliant violet as her dress.  Then with a gigantic effort, she raises her foot and kicks a man's hat off his head.  The feat is greeted with applause.  She dances on, turning  and twisting, flourishing her skirts, kicking higher and higher, and finally she falls on her hands and turns head over heels in a breath-taking cart-wheel; tumbling into the arms of a young man standing in the front of the ring.)
Young man:  That's right, Liza, give us a kiss, now.  (Attempting to take one.)
Liza:   Git out!  (Pushing him away, not too gently.)
The crowd:   (Yelling.)   Yes, give us a kiss.  I'll gi' ye' a smack on yer cheek!  (As she dodged him.)  Ketch  'er, Bill, 'an' we'll all kiss her. 
Liza:   (Shrieking, beginning to run.)   Na, you won't! 
The crowd:  (Yelling.)   Come on, we'll ketch 'er.
(She dodges in and out, between their legs, and under their arms.  She picks up her skirts so that they might not hinder her, and takes to her heels along the street.  Men whistling, shouting, yelling chase her.  People at their doors cry out to her as she runs past.  Suddenly a man from the side dartd into her path.  She jumpd shrieking into his arms, and he, lifting her up kisses her.) 
The crowd   (Yelling.)   Give us a kiss, too, Liza.
Liza:   You wretch!
(She frees herself from his arms and slides into the door of the nearest house and is lost to view.  The crowd quiets and dissipates.  Lights down.)
End Act I, Scene One