Peter Gill, playwright and theatre director
Life Price
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O'Neill and Seabrook


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Life Price

by Jeremy Seabrook and Michael O'Neil

The English Stage Company

Royal Court Theatre, 9 January 1969

The Play

Life Price is set on a council estate in the Midlands and shows the reaction of its inhabitants to the murder of a local child. The authors are native to the Midlands and in a series of savage and very funny episodes they show the speech and attitudes of the people on the estate as well as how the rest of the country takes up the incident.

There will be one interval.

The Authors

Michael O'Neill and Jeremy Seabrook have known each other since they were eleven when they went to Northampton Grammar School. Jeremy Seabrook was born in Northampton in 1939, Michael O'Neill in London in 1938. They both went to Cambridge and since then Michael O'Neill has taught sociology in the U.S.A., lectured in a technical college and now teaches in a South London school. Jeremy Seabrook taught for three years in Northampton, took a Diploma in Social Studies at the L.S.E., and now works with educationally sub-normal children and their parents. He writes in New Society and his book. The Unprivileged, about Northampton street life, is published by Longmans. This is their first performed play, though they have been writing together since 1966 and are at present working on a play about the new radicalism in student society.

An Evening in The GaribaldiLife Price

Every night for half a century the women of Green Street gathered in the Snug of "The Garibaldi". It was a time of intimacy and relaxation, a time for gossip and scandal. But it became something else too. It became a time for self-justification against the outside world: among the peeling brown paint and the stained wooden tables, their conversation evolved into a declaration of faith in themselves and the standards by which they lived.

They talk of sex crimes reported in the newspapers. Mrs. Plackett is the most shrill-tongued of all.

"Yer kids ain't safe, are they, wi' people like that allowed to go roamin' the streets. " They believed that their children were the chosen prey of the millions of sexual deviationists they imagined peopled the outside world. Leaning forward confidentially. Poll Davies whispers hoarsely, "If it's them sort o' things you want you don't need to goo lookin' in the noospapers. "

Their heads close over the table like the petals of a flower at the approach of rain. "Oodjer mean ? Not... ?"

"Yis. Marlene Smith. " She looks round in order to ascertain that nobody is listening. "Mrs. Murwell told me she was gooin' past the bus shelter last night, and she just 'appened to glance in.... And there were Marlene Smith.... " She pauses dramatically, and looks from one to the other; "... with 'er skirt right up over 'er 'ead. " The petals separate as

the sun comes out, and they nod to each other.

"Oo was she with, then ?"

" 'E was a lorry driver. "

"I 'spect she could tell that an' all by just lookin' in the bus shelter".

Poll says firmly, " 'Is lorry were parked not twenty yards away. She's man-mad, that girl. Man-mad. "

One of the women is puzzled. "She can't be all there... I mean... to stop a lorry just like that.... She wouldn't even know wot 'e was like. "

Poll throws back her head and closes one eye. She speaks again with insight and authority, as one to whom no extreme of human conduct is in any way mysterious. "That sort don't.... Still she comes from a very funny family. 'Er mother's brother, look at 'im for a start. 'E 'ad a kink. 'E used to sit down be the Mill as they used for a bathing place till little Wendy Merton were drownded there, an' 'e useder be there from one end o' the summer to the other.... Just near where the kids useder get undressed. "

"Still you've only gotter look at that Marlene's mother. She's only ninepence in the shillin'. "

"Well, there you are, then, " says Poll, by way of explanation. 'Er ole woman was the same, she acted as if she'd bin put in wi' the bread and pulled out wi' the cakes. She was that damn mean she wouldn't give the drippin's of 'er nose away on a frosty morning !"

"Peuh, " snorts Poll contemptuously, "She wun't get no sympathy out o' me. She spoke as if the world were full of a dangerous and implacable kind of enemy who sought to make your sympathy flow like blood.

As the oldest one present, Ellen Youl knows it is her turn to give them the benefit of her eighty-six years' experience of life in Green Street. "I can truthfully say I'm never bin be'olden to nobody all me life long.... I'm never expected nothin' of other people and I'm never wanted 'em to expect nothin' o' me.... I'm kep' meself to meself and I'm never owed nobody 'alfpenny.... I'm never done nobody a bad turn and there ain't nobody on this earth I can't look straight in the eye.... An' if a foo more people could say as much, the world would be a damn sight 'appier place.... "

They murmur their agreement, and all the negatives in her bleak view of the world go unnoticed.

Everybody felt constrained to make her life appear identical with everybody else's. There was no differentiation in the way they spoke, in their ideas and beliefs and attitudes, whether it was the communal prejudice about the blacks or the Jews or the petrified wisdom that fell like pebbles from their mouths as they gathered every morning outside the general store. Their conversation consisted of identical expressions and idioms, and even the voice inflexions did not vary as they talked in the same sepulchral way about the death of a neighbour or the rise in price of some indispensable commodity, as if both of these phenomena had a shared and equally incomprehensible origin. They always appeared downtrodden and oppressed, and as they spoke disaster always appeared imminent, death, privation and want lay permanently in wait.

In the corner Granny Bray is crying silently into the dregs of her beer, and no one pays any attention to her because they think she is drunk. But she is crying because she remembers a Sunday afternoon in July that seemed to last for ever, cool beer in an enamel jug, the rickety wooden chair on the hot pavement, a ham tea and the voices of children. She cries not because she regrets it, but for no other reason than that she remembers; it may be the smell of the beer that releases it, and it rises up in her like a strong choking vapour, forcing the present into oblivion.

From The Unprivileged by Jeremy Seabrook, published by Longmans.
Women Julie Brown
Christine Hargreaves
Mary Macleod
Tina Packer
June Watson
Rube Diana Coupland
Den Derek Carpenter
Ray Anthony Sagar
Vi Thelma Whiteley
A Chief Inspector Alec Ross
Policemen Philip Woods
Edward Clayton
Reporter Philip Woods
The manager of a credit house James Mellor
A secretary Yvonne Antrobus
May, shopkeeper Mary Macleod
Stan, shopkeeper Anthony Douse
Teresa Julie Kennard
A female social worker Yvonne Antrobus
A television director Allan Mitchell
George Herbert Dunkley Anthony Douse
A female television personality Yvonne Antrobus
A psychiatrist Allan Mitchell
A churchman Patrick Godfrey
Director Peter Gill Life Price is Peter Gill's first production at the Royal Court since the triumphant success of his D. H. Lawrence season early in 1968. He has recently returned from taking The Daughter-in-Law on a tour of Rumania, Italy, and Yugoslavia, where it won a first prize at the Belgrade International Theatre Festival.
Designer Jocelyn Herbert Jocelyn Herbert returns to the Royal Court from the cinema where she was production designer on Isadora, directed by Karel Reisz and on Lindsay Andersen's If. One of the most influential of English stage designers, she has been connected with many of the Royal Court's most exciting productions.
Lighting Andy Phillips
Assistant Director Jonathan Wright Miller
Assistant Designer Andrew Sanders
Deputy Stage Manager Rosemary Curr
Assistant Stage Manager Eileen Bence
Betty Richie
Poster and programme designed by Brenda Lukey
Production photographs Douglas Jeffrey
Projections Sandra Lousada
Brenda Lukey
Sound David Cain
Set built by Ray Addison
Wigs by Wig Creations
Crisps by The Smiths Food Group Ltd
Bitter Lemon by Schweppes
Cash Register National Cash Register Co.
Coins by Juke Box Distributors Ltd
Scale by F. J. Thornton & Co.
Electrical installation Strand Electrical & Engineering Co.
Sound installation John Moore
Polish by Kiwi

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