Here’s another scene which carries a theme from the Billy Liar post – ‘escape/something more’ in mid-century Britain (or anytime, come to that). Waters of the Moon ran between 1951 and 1952 at the Haymarket Theatre, London, at the same time as the Festival of Britain. At first glance it’s everything the angry young men and women came to dismantle in the coming years: a drawing room drama about the lives of the ‘bourgeois’ classes…
The playwright, Norman Charles Hunter, spent some time convalescing in a Devon military hospital during the war and throughout his recovery would go walking around Dartmoor. On one occasion he stopped for tea at a mothballed hotel, of the type with long-standing residents. He recalled it later when coming across a quote from William Hazlitt: “To what a point of insignificance may not human life dwindle! To what fine, agonising threads will it not cling!”
It is a drawing room drama, with all the familiar devices. And yet there’s some genuine empathy for the characters whose lives are disturbed for a few days at New Year by the rich and dynamic Helen Lancaster, whose car and family have become snowbound.
It’s a fascinating study of how Britain is perceived at this time: the hotel residents are mostly stereotypes, but either wrestling with aspects of the ‘leash’ that Shelagh Delaney is talking about here, helpless in the face of change, or simply ‘used to it’.
Evelyn Daly is the daughter of the hotel’s family, her mother is widowed, her brother may or may not have TB, and her life consists of tending fires and the needs of the guests. Aided by the crate of champagne bountifully shared by Helen, who has instigated an unheard of ‘party’ for New Year’s Eve, she steps out of line.
This clip is from a version filmed in 1980, with stalwart actors of the time reliably producing an era: Joan Sims, Virginia McKenna, Ronald Pickup, and Penelope Keith flawlessly recreating her stock role. So many things echo back and forth over these decades, from the fifties to the eighties. Evelyn (played by Lesley Dunlop) is politely consoled as unbalanced and bundled to bed with an aspirin, while Helen Lancaster/Penelope Keith says it all with her verdict at the close.