Written by David Hare
First performance 13 June 1997
Place premiered London
Date premiered 1997
Playwright David Hare
Composer Richard Hartley
Setting Berkshire, London
|Characters Amy ThomasEsme AllenDominic TygheFrank OddieEvelyn ThomasToby Cole|
Similar David Hare plays, Tragicomedies, Other plays
Amy's View was written by British playwright David Hare, and originally premiered in London at the Royal National Theatre's Lyttelton Theatre on 13 June 1997. It was directed by Richard Eyre and starred Judi Dench, Ronald Pickup and Samantha Bond in the title role. It was then performed on Broadway on 15 April 1999. It was directed again by Eyre, with Dench, Pickup and Bond reprising their roles. It was revived in November 2006 with Felicity Kendal and Jenna Russell in the lead roles and toured various English theatres until February 2007.
- Contextual Information
- Plot overview
- Plot synopsis
- Plot analysis
- Character guide
- Character analysis
- Sample production history
The play takes place in Berkshire near Pangbourne, and in London, from 1979 to 1995. Over the course of these sixteen years, "a running argument about the respective virtues of traditional theater and the media arts weaves its way through espoused opinions on marriage, love, fame, fidelity, betrayal, personal and artistic integrity, and the sometimes elusive ethics of the corporate world, among other things."
David Hare is often noted for his critical views of British society, and although Amy's View is certainly a softer example of his cultural and political commentary, it does not escape the theme. It is important to place the play within historical contexts for analysis, as throughout the sixteen years during which the play is set, Margaret Thatcher was becoming increasingly prominent and powerful within the British government and Lloyd's of London was experiencing great turmoil in dealing with insurance claims.
Hare's own bias is also quite prominent in this work. As a playwright, he combines his internal knowledge of the theater with his seemingly outsider view of popular media and filmmaking to impose negative connotations upon growing technology based entertainment. However, it is interesting to note that Hare himself has dabbled in filmmaking, and so perhaps has an unexpectedly balanced view of the two mediums and their inherent flaws and advantages.
In addition, Amy's View is associated with Hare's informal trilogy based loosely on the theme of sacrificial love. The first, "Skylight, about a woman who for a while gives up her life for a man and then decides not to. Then Amy's View […] And then a third play, The Judas Kiss, which takes sacrifice as far as it can go." Taking this thematic thread into account helps to see the main message in this multifaceted production.
We are introduced to Amy, Dominic, Evelyn, and Esme (all the characters except Frank and Toby). Esme and Dominic immediately dislike one another because of their differing views: Dominic supports new media and aspires to become a filmmaker, while Esme defends the importance of the theater. We learn that Amy is pregnant, and Esme reveals this to Dominic – despite Amy's wishes that she says nothing of it.
We are introduced to Frank, Esme's neighbour and financial consultant, and their relationship is hinted at. Amy and Dominic are still together, with children, but Esme continues to disapprove. There is also a continuation of Esme and Dominic's argument over popular culture and theater. The argument turns into one over Dominic's right to be with Amy and there is such frustration that the couple end up leaving Esme's home abruptly.
Amy comes back to visit her mother, and we learn that Dominic has left Amy for a young actress. Esme has also lost all her savings in an investment scandal, and continues to refuse Frank's love interest. Amy and Esme again quarrel over her choice to be with Dominic, discussing her view that love should be given unconditionally. She does not want to admit that her mother was partially right, but is still frustrated that Esme cannot see why she loved Dominic.
Amy and Dominic have separated and Amy has died. Dominic, now a film director, goes to Esme (who is once again a successful actress) seeking peace between them in order to honor what Amy was constantly trying to achieve.
Amy's View is a four-act play set over the course of sixteen years.
Act one begins in 1979, in the living room of Amy's mother's home, which is decorated with paintings done by her late father, an obscure artist. Amy and her then-boyfriend, Dominic, are waiting for Amy's mother, Esme, to return from her theater performance in London. Esme's mother-in-law, Evelyn, is keeping them company while they wait. We quickly learn of a small publication Amy sold when she was a young girl called Amy's View, as well as Dominic's intense interest in cinema. Dominic has started a publication as well, called Noir et Blanc in which he reviews films, and which he hopes will lead him to a career in filmmaking. Amy realizes Noir et Blanc is quite like Amy's View, "except this time the view is Dominic's."
When Esme does finally return, she is instantly concerned about Amy's wellbeing, a foreshadowing of the reason Amy has come to visit. Esme and Dominic are introduced for the first time, and each has a tentatively awkward and distant demeanor towards the other. Dominic explains more about his magazine: "we ring people up and we’re terribly nice to them. Then we write something horrid which appears the next day." He and Esme somehow share a good laugh over this, but it worries Amy nonetheless. He continues, adding that, "these are well-known people. You think perhaps by now they’d be more secure. But not at all… It almost shocks me how much," which clearly irritates Esme, a prominent West end actress. Amy tries to ease the tension by inquiring about her mother's current play, but this quickly bores Dominic who is much more interested in discussing television or movies. He goes off in a huff to get some work done, leaving Amy and her mother to have a more private conversation.
After a short while of discussing Amy's career and relationship with Dominic, Esme suddenly announces that she knows Amy is expecting a child. This is clearly the reason for Amy's visit, to get her mother's advice on the situation, since she feels as though she cannot reveal the situation to Dominic. Esme spends time attempting to figure out just why this is, and why Amy would want to be with this sort of man. In the end, Dominic comes back down to ask a quick question, but Esme, unexpectedly and under Amy's protest, informs Dominic of Amy's pregnancy.
Act two takes place six years later, in 1985, in the same living room. Amy and Dominic, as well as their unseen children, and Esme and her new interest Frank, are returning from a ribbon cutting ceremony for a local fête. Everyone seems to be in high spirits, enjoying the summer weather, and it is briefly noted that Frank has begun looking after Esme's finances. The airy chitchat soon turns to conversation of Dominic's plan to interview Esme for his new television program – although she makes blatant attempts to escape his questions. He is putting together a piece about how he thinks the theater is dead and new generations can’t connect with the slow pace, the everyday bore of it all. Esme, although cheerful in manner and tone, resents Dominic, pressing that "it's always the death of the theater. The death of the novel. The death of poetry. The death of whatever they fancy this week […] It's off to the scaffold with everyone except the journalists!"
It soon comes out that Dominic has hardly – if ever – even been to any plays, despite his ego as a critic. (Throughout this exchange, we see Evelyn once again, but she appears to have Alzheimer's, as she continues to interject, asking where Bernard has gone, and does not recognize Esme.) As the conversation escalates, it is revealed that what they really seem to be getting at is whether Dominic deserves to be with Amy or not. Dominic, feeling insulted and extremely frustrated, starts to get the children together to leave while Amy and her mother argue over Esme's refusal to give Dominic a chance. With the disagreement still unresolved, Amy and Dominic leave Esme alone to think over what's been said.
Act three begins once again in the living room, eight years later in 1993. Amy arrives at the house looking for Esme to find Frank poring over various books and documents, Evelyn sleeping across the room in a wheelchair. Esme arrives not long after Amy, but is surprised to see her. It seems clear that they have not spoken for quite some time, and Esme is so glad to finally see her daughter again that she begins to weep as she hugs Amy. Once she has recovered, we learn that Esme has been acting as a nurse on a television show, and that Frank had been trying to marry Esme practically since the last time Amy had visited. Esme knows why Amy has come though, as her marital scandals have been all over the news since Dominic is now a "media monolith." It seems after all that Dominic had a weak point, and has just proved Esme right by leaving Amy for an attractive young Swedish actress. Dominic and Amy had married even, and yet he still could not commit completely. It was just the worry that Amy and her mother had discussed that night fourteen years ago.
The focus then shifts and we learn that Amy's mother has run into a bit of a rough patch with her investments – about five hundred thousand dollars worth. Amy is shocked and outraged of course, especially when she discovers that Esme's funds had been entrusted to Frank at Lloyd's of London. Amy wants Esme to petition, perhaps sue Frank, so that she may not have to pay all of the money back. Esme refuses, saying she knew what she was getting herself into and that she would have to face the consequences. This quarrel soon turns into another argument about Amy's relationship with Dominic. Amy wants her mother to know that there truly was a good, loving side to her husband, but that she hates to admit that she was wrong about some things and that Esme was right. There are intense emotions circulating throughout the two women as they grapple with their situations, and there is a heartfelt, although awkward, struggle as Esme tries to console Amy. In the fervor of the moment, before leaving, Amy says to her mother, "I went with Dominic because he was the future. I’m frightened of you because you’re the past."
Act four is set in 1995, and is set backstage, in a dressing room of a small West end theater. A young actor, Toby, comes in, speaking with Esme about the play as she begins to ready for the next show. When he leaves to get Esme a cappuccino, Dominic wanders into the dressing room. He has brought with him a box, tied with string, which he presents to Esme as a gift. He also reveals that he attended the matinee showing and enjoyed it very much. It is obvious that he has something else on his mind, however, and he soon inquires what has become of all the checks he has sent her, wondering if she was insulted by it. She explains that every income she receives goes to paying off her debt, so it would be of no use to cash them.
We slowly discover that Dominic has moved on to a new marriage and recently directed a hit film. They argue over Esme's relationship with Frank, her finances, the unnecessary violence of Dominic's new movie, and Dominic's new marriage. Then we learn that Amy has died due to a hemorrhage. Esme looks for some sort of emotion in Dominic, although he openly admits that, of course, he betrayed her. But he is clear in his reason for coming to see Esme. He knows that Amy "would have wanted that [they] should be friends." He doesn’t want Esme to waste the rest of her life hating him. He leaves, allowing her time to open her gift: bundles and bundles of five-pound notes.
Before jumping in to analyze a plot, it is important to take a step back and look at the components of plot structure. Amy's View is a linear play, which follows the common format of the Freytag Pyramid. The play begins in a state of equilibrium, experiences an inciting incident, causes the viewer to produce a major dramatic question, continues with rising action, climaxes, and then resolves itself to a new state of equilibrium. Here is an outline of these steps for Amy's View:
Aside from the general format of the plot, there are a few important contextual elements that become clearer in character analysis.
Amy Thomas is a young woman, just twenty-three at the start of the play, who is the daughter of Esme Allen. She is "dark haired with an unmistakable air of quiet resolution." She created a small publication when she was a girl called Amy's View. She is in a relationship with Dominic.
Esme Allen is Amy's mother and a prominent West end actress. She is forty-nine at the start of the play, and is "surprisingly small, her manner both sensitive and intense. Something in her vulnerability makes people instantly protective of her." She constantly butts heads with Dominic, and has an interesting relationship with Frank.
Dominic Tyghe is Amy's boyfriend (or husband, depending on the moment of the play). He is a year younger than Amy, and quite attractive. He is an orphan, having never known his parents, and aspires to be a successful filmmaker.
Frank Oddie is one of Esme's neighbors, as well as a commissioning agent for Lloyd's of London. He looks after Esme's investments and other financial matters. He is "in his early fifties, easy going and amiable," and he is desperate to marry Esme, who continues to refuse him year after year.
Evelyn Thomas is Esme's mother in law, Amy's grandma. She is "white haired, in her late seventies," and lives with Esme. She becomes increasingly decrepit - both physically and mentally - throughout the play.
Toby Cole is a young actor in his twenties who works in a production with Esme at the end of the play.
It is important to keep in mind that the characters we see from beginning to end (all but Toby, really) age about sixteen years throughout, so their general demeanor and appearance should change, if just slightly.
When analyzing characters of a play, they can be looked at in three different ways: literally, functionally, and symbolically. The characters’ literal descriptions are provided above, but we will go into functionality and symbolism below. There are seven general functions that a character can serve within a play: protagonist or agent of action, antagonist, confidant, foil, comic relief, and utilitarian. There are also more specific descriptions of character roles depending on the genre of the play. (See Genre, below.)
Amy serves as the protagonist throughout the play. (In this case, the protagonist is separate from the agent of action, Esme.) Amy is the focus of the play, as the title bears her name and she is constantly trying to just make everything work. All of the major events are centered around her as she works her way through the tangle of relationships with Dominic and her mother. Specific to a tragicomedy, Amy could be considered the innocent victim, making Esme the protagonist. She is sort of taken advantage of by Dominic and her relationship is rejected by her mother – she has done nothing wrong and yet is being abused, attacked, and dismissed at every step.
Esme could also be seen as the protagonist, but she is more accurately the agent of action – the one that sets things rolling and makes things happen. She is the one that tells Dominic of Amy's pregnancy, and she is the one who seems to react to Dominic's one-sided commentary on theatre and media. She also acts as a confidant to Amy, since Amy always seems to be visiting her mother when something in her life has gone wrong and she needs advice and consoling. Specific to tragicomedy, Esme is Amy's teacher, giving her examples of how to live her life and how to give her love.
Dominic is of course the antagonist. He stands in the way of almost everyone in the play. He is not fully committed to Amy, and therefore keeps her from achieving her full potential as a girlfriend/wife/lover/partner or whatever she is striving to be for him. He is certainly a hindrance to Esme, whom he is at constant odds with over the issue of the theater, and he causes additional problems by creating a barrier between Esme and Amy.
Frank could be considered a foil to Esme, since he is rather easy going and doesn’t complain or get worked up easily. This contrasts greatly with Esme's strong emotional response to almost anything. Although she may remain cool, you can see that she is analyzing and calculating to take control of the situation. Frank just sits back and watches the action – often missing something in the conversation, or at least pretending to be uninvolved. Frank could also be considered the buffoon, since he creates an additional obstacle between Amy and Esme by screwing up Esme's finances.
Evelyn is possibly included for an alternative sort of comic relief. Some of her intrusions and comments seem off-hand and irrelevant, drawing attention away from the chaotic turmoil of certain scenes for just a moment – even if they are not necessarily funny by nature.
Toby does not particularly serve any role – he is really just sort of utilitarian. He is included at the end to move the story along, but does not particularly contribute to the meaning of the play.
Symbolically, Amy represents those that provide unconditional love, the optimists who believe that everything will work out, while Esme dismisses her love and refuses to try to understand why she feels so strongly. On a different note, Dominic clearly represents the evolving popular culture and new media, and perhaps even the "Thatcherite greed" of that era in England, while Esme embodies the spirit of the theater and those that cling to the past.
When distinguishing the genre of Amy's View, one must take a look at the four classic categories: tragedy, comedy, melodrama, and farce. Farce can be ruled out to begin with, and the play really only holds one component of a melodrama (man against man), but the play does not fit neatly into either tragedy or comedy. Take a look at the general factors that must be present in each:
- deals with man and god
- begins and ends with an assumed moral code
- contains a mood of solemnity
- deals with characters ‘better’ than us
- tragic hero, nemesis, innocent victim
- suffering, insight
- restoration of moral code, sense of redemption
- deals with man and society
- begins with a flawed society and ends up with an open one
- contains mood of ridicule, laughter, wit, jokes, etc.
- deals with characters ‘lower’ than us
- blocker, teacher, buffoon
- new open society, marriage"
There are very important components from each genre that are definitely present within the play, and some from each that are completely absent. The play does not deal with god, but does have aspects of man versus society in the debate between theater and new media. It begins and ends with a moral code (the idea that love conquers all and should be given unconditionally), contains a mood of ridicule and wit, but deals with characters that are both above and below us. It has a tragic hero (Esme), an innocent victim (Amy), and perhaps a nemesis (Dominic), as well as a teacher (Esme) and a buffoon (Frank). There is certainly suffering, as well as multiple confrontations and a climax, insight, and a marriage (although the marriage is not technically a happy one, and is not at the end). Based on these observations, one can conclude that Amy's View is a tragicomedy.
Going a little more in depth, we can specifically define tragicomedy as "tragedies with happy endings," which is relatively applicable to Amy's View in that it follows the general train of a tragedy, but there is a sense of gratitude and fulfillment at the end when Dominic apologizes to Esme and the two seem to finally find peace with one another. This pattern is visible in addition to the face that the play draws from several components of each genre. Importantly, tragicomedy must be distinguished from a drama, in that a drama is sort of a mashing of all four classic genres, while tragicomedy is clearly only a combination of tragedy and comedy.
In considering the style in which this play was written, it could be helpful to place it in a time period. It was published in 1997, and takes place from 1979 to 1995. It is clearly set in the modern era. Interestingly enough, it does not follow a modern model. It is much more pre-modern, in that the subject of the play is stable, we understand it, whereas modernism would present certain problems in our viewing. There are also clear cause and effect relationships, and it is generally unified and linear. The play does stray slightly into modernism in that there are questions of morality when Dominic leaves Amy, and the social order is challenged when Esme is forced out of theater and into television. Esme also loses her savings through Lloyd's investing misfortunes, and Dominic rises from a nobody-critic to a big-time film director.
In terms of more specific styles, each address author concerns, comprehensibility, plot construction, character substance, setting, and language. In looking at realism, the author is most concerned about "the impact the evils of society will have upon the human spirit." This can be either issue driven, where there are specific references to societal issues and historical events, or character driven, where the play follows the change in characters more closely than related facts. Amy's View is actually sort of a mixture of these, addressing the conflict between theater and new media, but also drawing on the growth of the characters as they navigate this changing culture.
Comprehensibility, of course, deals with the way in which the world is presented and how easy it is for us to understand. A realistic play must be logical and probable, which Amy's View certainly is. Plot construction must also be logical and linear. Amy's View is just this, following a cause and effect pathway, despite being broken up over time. Characters of a realistic play should naturally be realistic as well – lifelike and believable as real people. The only place where this is stretched is in Dominic's role, where some critics find the actor struggling to "make the character human." Setting and language obviously need also be realistic, perhaps set in a limited space (Esme's living room) and using dialogue that "reflects the lives of the audience."
After analyzing each component of a realistic play, it is clear that Amy's View follows a realistic model.
The language style is of course colloquial. Sentences are generally very short, even in the occasional more lengthy monologues. It jumps between soft and concerned, creating pauses and carefully placed verbal cues in the lines, to rather witty and harsh, with perfectly timed responses so as to create a quick volley of argument between the characters. This shift is especially noticeable as the play wears on, as situations intensify and emotions rise. It is "brilliantly paced both in the writing and in Eyre's moving, funny, and richly rewarding production."
One could also assess various strategies of the actual sound of the words – consonants versus vowels, dissonance and alliteration – but these components do not seem to play a large part in the overall sense of the play. It is much more about timing and content of the dialogue rather than the literal sound. Each character uses rather similar effects so that there is no noticeable variation in the sound of the speech in terms of individual use of language.
Theme refers to the overall content, the main message that is presented through the dialogue. In this particular play, there are two overarching, intermingled ideas presented.
The first involves the concept of love through the " examination of the delicate relationship between mother and daughter." Amy's view that love conquers all and that love should be given unconditionally is repeated throughout the play, and takes shape in her interactions with Dominic, as well as with her mother, and even reaches into Esme and Frank's odd coupling. It is a sort of "sacrificial love," as Hare himself puts it. Amy is devoted to Dominic, sacrificing some of her own needs in order to be with him, and despite Esme's disapproval. She gives him everything, including financial help to support his career endeavors, and he only repays her by falling for a young, blonde Swedish actress. She loved him unconditionally and it never really got her anywhere – in fact we never really even get to see the reasons why she loved him in the first place. In this respect, one might conclude that Amy and Dominic's relationship was just a front, a vessel to allow us to see the intricacies of Esme and Amy's bond. Frank, too, seems to love Esme unconditionally. He has waited years for her to agree to marriage, and yet she still refuses. It really takes some dedication to wait around, taking care of someone, when they will not give that same commitment to you.
The second idea is the clash of "theatre versus modern popular culture." This is, in some ways, a more direct result of dialogue content, rather than the emotional result we see from the first theme. Dominic obviously represents popular culture and new media. As a beginning critic and aspiring filmmaker, he passionately presents his ideas about the uselessness and bore of the theater and the fast-paced lure of television and film. Esme takes the opposite angle, arguing for the theater. Interestingly, Esme is the one forced to work in television, while Dominic rises in the media world. In the last act, however, we see Esme's return to the theater in a small production that continues to increase in popularity, while Dominic reaches his goal as a film director. It seems that both have found a balance and are successful in their own right. There was a sort of reversal, and then a new equilibrium where both mediums prospered. As Hare said in an interview on the subject: "The theater went through a period of not being in fashion. People said, ‘Is this form going to survive at all? Aren’t movies and television the democratic form?’ And that period in which people said the theater is an elitist form – we’ve lived through in England. What's wonderful is that we’re now out on the other side."
Stage, set, costume, and lighting are all considered aspects of spectacle. In order to address these elements in the context of Amy's View, it may be helpful to evaluate the original production, in which design was headed by Bob Crowley and lighting by Mark Henderson.
The stage is proscenium style, with "a series of receding proscenium arches as if the Berkshire home were itself a stage," all which help to create the visual effect of actually looking in on "Amy's View". "The curtain pulls up and opens like an ever-widening camera lens," which is an interesting concept, as the play is metaphorically a "series of snapshots from a woman's life." The set is repeatedly described as being "cozy", which helps the audience feel at home with the characters, while the distance of the actual stage still allows viewers see the performance through an outside perspective. However, as the play takes place over a period of sixteen years, there is a challenge when attempting to show the passage of time. Crowley flawlessly tackles the issue by putting "us in a deceptively basic, wide rectangular sitting-room set in which only the slipcovers change through the years." Set, and especially lighting, also play a large role in creating the atmosphere of the play. The casual set gives us a sense of the everyday human nature presented in the play, but the increasingly sharper and dark-contrast lighting gives us the additional sense of "passage of time and the end of innocence." This is most certainly important in the transition from Act 3 to Act 4, where we move from Esme's home to the dressing room of her current theater production. The mood here is much more urban and almost sends us "into another genre, the backstage drama" simply through altering visuals.
Reviews hardly mention music use in the play, aside from the fact that British composer Richard Hartley did the music in the original production. One thing that could be referenced in lieu of musical score is the rhythm of the dialogue, which is also discussed in the Language section: "It jumps between soft and concerned, creating pauses and carefully placed verbal cues in the lines, to rather witty and harsh, with perfectly timed responses so as to create a quick volley of argument between the characters. This shift is especially noticeable as the play wears on, as situations intensify and emotions rise. It is "brilliantly paced both in the writing and in Eyre's moving, funny, and richly rewarding production." "
Sample production history
A subsequent production followed at Nottingham Playhouse from Friday 5 to Saturday 20 November 2010, directed by Zoë Waterman. Esme Allen was played by Julia Watson with Kirsty Besterman as Amy, Ryan Early as Dominic, Robin Bowerman as Frank, Margaret Robertson as Evelyn and Thomas Eyre as Toby.