Cream Cracker Under The Settee
The name of the play that we are studying is ‘Cream Cracker under the Settee’. This play was written in 1987 by a middle aged Alan Bennett who was born in Leeds in 1934. He grew up through the Second World War and in his play he writes about how views on life have changed over the years. The play is part of the ‘Talking Heads’ series of plays in the 1980’s. ‘Cream Cracker’ is a dramatic monologue in which Doris, a 75 year old “lady of leisure”, speaks throughout. Doris is played by Dame Thora Hird who has just recently passed away.
The play explores the changes within society from when Alan Bennett was a child, through the sixties and to the 1987. In the 1960’s, the younger generations were getting most of the love and care from the family but the elderly were beginning to be seen as a hindrance. The play also explored how people had changed with the feeling that it was necessary to lock their doors and to be very secure rather than leaving the door open like they did in the ‘olden days’.
Doris’ personality changes throughout the play, as in the beginning, Doris wants to be independent but Zulema, Doris’ care worker, has forbid her from doing any housework. This enrages Doris as she believes Zulema doesn’t clean her house properly as she says “Zulema doesn’t dust. She half dusts”. This is pointing out that Doris is quite fussy with the help that she receives from Zulema and doesn’t seem to be grateful for any of it. There is proof that Doris is correct about the way Zulema dusts when she finds an old cream cracker under the settee. Doris intends on keeping the cream cracker to send off to social services to show that Zulema doesn’t dust her house.
This shows that Doris is quite spiteful. Later on in the play, Doris seems to be quite dull but she also recites quite a few conversations that her late husband Wilfred and she had. An example of which is when she spoke about the garden and that Wilfred wanted to have a bush but Doris wanted concrete. Wilfred argued about it having non character but Doris wanted it because of the hygiene. This shows that Doris is quite obsessive about hygiene and now she has to try and keep her house tidy otherwise she believes she will be put in Stafford House, an elderly home, but in fact, it is the other way round. By cleaning Doris is putting herself at more risk of being put in Stafford house as she is not very good on her feet and suffers from dizzy spells and has a pacemaker. This will make the audience feel sorry for her and will make them hope that she doesn’t fall or be moved to Stafford House.
The way in which Doris speaks makes her seem very realistic and can help people in the audience relate to her in many ways e.g. you could relate to someone you know such as an elderly relative when she’s breathless. This makes it feel as if you know Doris more than you actually do and makes her seem like a real person who would be very easy to like. She also brings up past conversations she has been a part of as I mentioned before which help the audience to become more interested in the play as they are finding out what Doris is like and what kind of things she chatted about with her husband.
Doris’ life story is quite a moving, involving and very emotional journey. Alan Bennett makes the story very interesting and even more involving by making the actress look directly into the camera and making her seem like she’s upset and choking through her sentences. She tells the audience about the way that, when Wilfred and she were younger, they were trying for a baby and when they were having the baby, it was a still birth. The midwife then wrapped the baby boy, who Doris wanted to call John, in newspaper and Doris was horrified by this. She saw this action as saying that the baby was dirty and that it was worthless. By the time Doris had awoken, the baby had gone. This makes this part of the play very sad and distressing.
There are many unseen characters in this play which Doris interprets in her own special way. She mimics a lot of the characters, especially Zulema, and she is also talks quite sarcastically about Zulema in the way she talks to her. You see this when Zulema says about Doris being unable to run around with the Ewbank and all Doris says in reply is “Yes, Zulema.” This would make the audience feel sorry for Doris but in the same way happy that she isn’t going to let Zulema boss her around. Another character that is introduced by Doris is Wilfred. We first hear of Wilfred when Doris knocks the photo of the two of them from the mantel piece when she attempts to dust and falls off the buffet.
This would make the audience gasp in shock and feel sympathetic for her when she says “we’re cracked Wilfred”, which means she is referring to her leg as she may have broken it and that their marriage is cracked. There are a few other characters used in the play such as the little boy who pees in the garden, which shows how disrespectful young children are nowadays, the neighbours whose leaves blow onto Doris’ garden and the policeman who comes to check on her at the end of the play. These characters are all well timed to come into the play as it breaks the scenes up nicely and is like a chapter in the story being broken by turning the page. If Alan Bennett hadn’t put these breaks in the play could have become a bit boring.
Alan Bennett uses his genius and past experiences to make the play realistic by making Doris very able to relate to. A lot of old people from the same era as Doris are very reluctant to change like when Doris is in her own home and Zulema mentions Stafford House, she becomes all defensive and wary of what might happen next. This will create a lot of interest as people may be threatening their elderly relatives with being placed in a home if they cannot cope on their own and then the people will be able to see how it could be affecting them.