Coursework - Observe the Sons of Ulster Marching Towards the Somme
How satisfactory do you find Part 1 of the play to be?
The structure of the play is certainly strange; McGuinness placed the end at the beginning, with the seven fellow soldiers dead. However, this is intended to emphasise the point of Old Pyper’s loneliness and regret. The imagery of the solitary Old Pyper, now an old man, is intended to remain with, and perhaps haunt the audience throughout the play, until the reasons are uncovered towards the end.
The passion and anger with which Old Pyper rambles within the first few lines of the play aim to intrigue the audience; perhaps they suggest insanity. This notion is supported by the fact that although he is alone in the room, Old Pyper appears to be talking to a number of people, as if they were in the room with him, which of course they are when they appear as ghosts later on in the scene. Those he refers to are his fallen comrades from the first day of the Somme, and it is soon clear that he was the only one to survive, and still after all the time that has passed, he remains bitter and resentful both to himself, his fellow soldiers and indeed God.
I feel that Part 1 is more able to be appreciated when experienced in written form, as it is easy to refer back to, whereas when on-stage once it has passed there is no means of moving back to check the speech of Old Pyper, as there are numerous ironic and regretful references mentioned in Part 1, to be realised later on in the play. One notable example is when Old Pyper mentions that he ‘enlisted in the hope of death’, and this decision is later criticised by Millen, who refers to Pyper as ‘a maniac’, and also Craig passes judgment on Pyper for being the only one to sign up not to sign up to represent the nation through the UVF. This final criticism comes among the final few words before the soldiers commence battle, and clearly has a major effect on Pyper, as the bitter irony is that he is the only one left alive, even though he was the only one who signed up cynically. Pyper however does not view his life as survival; ‘Darkness, for eternity, is not survival’.