How does Sheriff build tension in Act 2? Jodie Horton Sheriff creates a lot of tension in Act 2 in many different ways. He uses structure as a way to create tension including, stage directions, setting/staging and characters actions. Tension is initially built in scene 1 by the use of Sheriffs structure, the men are waiting in the trenches for six days with nothing to do, to the audience the real boredom of the trenches and the men would be exposed. The men talk about everyday things such as the bacon they are eating for breakfast “look down straight on it from above, sir, you can see the bit o’ lean quite clear. pg37 The start of the scene is boring but light hearted, it shows how the men have a sense of family between them, struggling to create a normality of everyday life. But however the structure and mood changes later on in the scene when Stanhope asks to censor Raleigh’s letter. “D’you understand an order? Give me that letter! ”pg 48. The structure of this scene creates a lot of tension, because the audience will be calm and peacefully watching the men go about their daily life’s but then the scene abruptly changes into Stanhope’s actions of fury.
It would be unexpected and shock the audience, creating tension and awkwardness. Sheriff also creates key tension in the plays stage directions, which would be seen on stage. During scene 1 when Stanhope kicks off about Raleigh’s letter Sheriff uses stage directions to intensify the tension. She uses words such as ‘stammering’ ‘nervously’ ‘astonished’ ‘trembling’ and ‘shouting’ before the lines of the characters. This gives a real sense of the emotions of the characters as in a play it is hard to show the thoughts of characters so this has to be done through action.
These actions create tension as it shows the conflict between Stanhope and Raleigh, and Raleigh being intimidated by Stanhope, which would be obvious to the audience through Raleigh’s stammering and nervousness. Also the staging of the play is important as it is constantly cramped, claustrophobic and dark. So when an argument does spring up between characters it can be escalated by the enclosed space, making the situation hard to avoid or easy to walk away from. So the tension isn’t ever really escaped but hangs around for a longer period of time that what it usually would.
In scene 2 Sheriff creates tension on stage between Stanhope and S-M. “Stanhope: then we advance and win the war S-M: [pretending to make a note] Win the War. Very good, sir. ” Pg 51 Sheriff has cleverly added the little stage direction to create tension. It is known that the attack id extremely risky and very likely to be fatal, it is unlikely for many men to survive. So when Stanhope is talking to S-M, S-M is almost sarcastic in his response to signify the hopelessness of this attack, pretending to make a note of winning the war to show the disbelief S-M has in Stanhope.
Then the tension is built up even more by Stanhope “But you understand exactly what I mean, sergeant major” pg 51. Death is never really addressed or spoken about during the play, it is always a subject that is ignored and covered over by the men to help them cope in the difficult situations. Stanhope openly bringing it up in this line brings in a lot of tension. Although the line is not direct and doesn’t speak about death very openly, it is one of the first points in the play that death between two characters is discussed.
Bringing in tension and sad emotion from the audience at how hopeless the men are going to be in this attack, and the futile loss of life it will involve. Jodie Horton Furthermore Sheriff creates tension in the conversation between Stanhope and the Colonel. There is a lot of pauses in between the spoken conversation about the attack. This makes the scene slow to watch on stage creating a lot of tension. Stanhope also talks in the short sentences to the colonel, which is surprising as the colonel is higher ranked than him “A surprise daylight raid under a smoke screen…” “Quite” pg 53.
The Colonel also stutters when Stanhope asks if he should go on the attack, the Colonel replies “ Oh, No, Stanhope. I-I can’t let you go. ”pg 53. This again brings back the hopelessness of the attack, the fact that the Colonel doesn’t want Stanhope to go on the raid shows that the raid is ridiculously dangerous and the Colonel doesn’t want to risk losing his best officer. As sheriff has wrote a play and not a novel, it is a challenge to expose the characters true feelings and emotions and this has to be done purely through their actions.
Raleigh is a key character in showing us about Stanhope’s character. Raleigh represents the old life of Stanhope, and how badly Stanhope has been affected by the war. Raleigh’s often surprise and shock at Stanhope’s actions and bursts of rage or drunkenness, show use the true character change in Stanhope. Creating tension in the audience by symbolising the horrors of the war and the tolls it took on men, this would have been quite upsetting especially as the play was released not long after the war had ended, so the majority of the audience would have experienced he war and would know people who had lost their life in the war. Also Sheriff uses Osborne’s characters to bring home the worry about the raid. Osborne has always been the character to reassure, cheer up and look after the other men. He was like a father figure to the men and they called him ‘Uncle’. Near the end of Act 2 Osborne’s character changes slightly, he speaks in shorter sentences “Not Yet” “Maybe” “Yes” pg 64. This is very unlike Osborne’s character especially when speaking to Raleigh’s who he often wants to reassure and stay positive with.
This change is Osborne’s character is quite significant as he has lost hope and is almost certain that he is going to die during the attack. As such a positive caring and loving character has lost hope, it builds a lot of tension in the scene, as the audience would be questioning Osborne’s sudden character change, realising the dangers of the attack, the emotions the men bottles up and dealt with and the bravery they held.