Exam Brief: “The Long and the Short and the Tall” is a play that raises important, difficult questions about individual behaviour in Wartime. Such themes should be Universal in nature. Does this mean the play can be adapted to be set during any War such as the current ‘situation in Afghanistan’? Discuss.
“The Long and the Short and the Tall” Is a play about moral dilemma during War. It raises disturbing questions and yet offers no answers.
It is set during World War 2 in 1942. A small patrol of British soldiers is sent form their base; north of Singapore, on a reconnaissance mission to investigate the movements and strength of the Japanese opposition.
The ‘deserted store’ is of vital importance to the play as it is the set for all of the action of the play. The set creates an atmosphere, which allows different attitudes and the different characters to develop.
The play allows you to peer into the relationships between the characters and watch how conflict arises and how their attitudes and their personalities change and develop.
There are 8 characters whose personalities we see develop and change, they are; Sergeant Mitchem, he is in charge of the patrol, he is a fully trained and capable soldier. He is a natural leader and has obvious authority over the patrol.
Corporal Johnstone is second in charge and is quick to show his authority above the other members of the patrol. He doesn’t have the same sort of leadership qualities that Mitchem has. He is the least sympathetic towards the Japanese Prisoner of War.
Lance Corporal Macleish; he has just been promoted to Lance Corporal and takes his role very seriously. Macleish’s brother is also a British soldier, but is in a separate regiment to his brother. Macleish is emotional and changes his mind very quickly as circumstances change.
Private Bamforth, his attitude is a cynical one towards the War and towards the British Army as a whole. Bamforth is a stereotypical cheeky, chirpy cockney; he is “well-up” on the rules of the Army and takes full advantage of this when he needs to. Bamforth is a misogynist and he has a very sarcastic attitude towards anything and anyone.
“This boy couldn’t get home service in the sitting-room.”
Private Evans is another stereotype. He is a typical ‘dim’ Welshman. He is often the butt to Bamforth’s sarcastic remarks, but is too slow to realise what he is being called. Evans is gullible and credulous; he does as he is told when he is told and doesn’t disrespect authority.
Private Smith is one of the less predominant characters but he is easily related to the Japanese Prisoner of War; he has a wife and children back at home as does the Japanese soldier. Smith is only in his current situation because of conscription.
Private Whittaker is probably the worst suited person to be in the patrols current situation. He has had very little training as have most of the soldiers in the patrol, and he has only just made the age of having to do conscription. He is very vulnerable, and the tension within the ranks seems to have the greatest effect upon him. He attempts to fix the radio throughout the play and does this in the face of Bamforth’s teasing.
The play is designed to be set in a proscenium arch theatre, which aids in giving the audience the image of looking into a box. As the abandoned store is a simple box with only a door and two windows.
The set could be adapted to be performed on during any wartime situation. Instead of there being a jungle scene seen out of the two windows there could be a desert scene and rubble if it was being adapted to be set during the current situation in Afghanistan. Of the entire set there is only one thing that I would keep and that is the wooden veranda outside the hut. I would keep this because this aids in the effect given as we hear Smith and Macleish “clatter up onto the veranda”. If this was changed I think that the tension would not be built in the same way as if they had rushed across a stone veranda.
There are few props used throughout the play but all that are have a specific job during the play. The cigarettes are of vital importance and are still used in today’s Armed forces. These are a sign of trying to relax and are often used to bring people closer together in the play. A lot of the story revolves around a cigarette, if the Japanese soldier hadn’t have sneaked off for a quick cigarette then he would never have been taken a prisoner of war. The cigarettes are also important towards the end of the play as Macleish quickly changes his mind about the prisoner when he finds the prisoners cigarette packet full of British issue cigarettes, and turns against the prisoner as he thinks about his brother. The rest of the props would not have to be changed, as there significance is still a factor today. The radio would perhaps change in size but the concept of it being on the table when it was would still be important. Another important prop during the play is the photographs of the Japanese soldier, which shows us how the Japanese soldier is alike to Smith, and shows us how the harsh realities of war when dealing with the situation that the British soldiers find themselves in.
Individuals’ behaviour in their situation and within the confined space in another factor explored by the book. There is a great deal of character development within the book, which is explored through every character. The behaviour of the characters is changed within the book as their situations develop and change showing their real lives at home and what they are missing and being in their current position. Of all of the characters within the book the person who seems to have the most to lose is one of the quieter and non-fussy characters, Smith. Smith tells the rest of the patrol of how he has his wife and children back in “Blighty”. He talks about his new council house with Evans, Bamforth and Macleish, telling them about his gardening and sitting in his garden with his wife on a Sunday after lunch.
“Sit out on Sundays on it after dinner. Me and the missis.”
Bamforth is the character that changes the most through the play. His general attitude towards the Japanese changes, not a lot but enough for him to be the only soldier of the patrol who gives the Japanese soldier and respect and shows him some dignity.
“He’s a man!”
Through the play Bamforth’s attitude changes for the Japanese soldier but doesn’t really change towards the other members of the patrol. He keeps his insulting remarks right until the end of the play. He turns the tables on the members of the patrol showing the Japanese soldier more respect than he does to any member of the patrol.
Johnstone is the only member of the patrol who doesn’t have a great change of attitude towards anything. He maintains the same sort of attitude towards the members of the patrol but grows more hatred for the Japanese soldier. He likes to ensure that the members of the patrol know who is in charge. With the Japanese soldier, his attitude changes because of the way he sees the other members of the patrol treating him. I think he sees the other members of the patrol gradually seeing the Japanese soldier as a human being. The attitude of Johnstone toward the Japanese soldier was that of a racialist. He had no respect at all for the Japanese soldier and treated him and spoke to and about him as if he wasn’t even a human being.
“It’s a bloody Nip.”
Mitchem doesn’t really have an attitude with anyone, except Bamforth and the Japanese soldier. He treated everyone as a member of the team with the exception of Bamforth who didn’t really want to be a member of the team. He treats Bamforth the same way as Bamforth treats everyone else within the store. He adapts Bamforth’s sarcastic remarks and uses them on him.
“I’ve seen men who’d make a breakfast out of muck like you go in the nick and do their time and come back so that butter wouldn’t melt between their crutch. Don’t try and come the hardcase stuff with me, son. It doesn’t work.”
This is one of the ways in which Mitchem shows his authority and helps restore order within the ranks. With the Japanese soldier Mitchem has a very racist attitude toward him as it becomes clear the Japanese army are in the close vicinity. He suddenly goes from not wanting to have to kill him to having to make the decision about who he has to put first, the patrol or the Japanese soldier.
“It’s a war. Its something in a uniform and it’s a different shade to mine.”
“As far as I’m concerned, it’s all these lads or him.”
Macleish is probably the most unpredictable of all of the patrol as he changes his mind about things as it becomes clear that the Japanese army have broken through the British forces and are pouring down towards them. Macleish is constantly thinking about his brother and as he sees the situation change and he thinks that his brother has been killed by the Japanese army as this starts to emerge Macleish turns form defending the Japanese soldier form Johnstone, to trying to kill him after the prisoner of War is found with a packet full of British Issue cigarettes. Macleish, I think, is confused and upset when he thinks about his brother and what might have happened to him.
The rest of the patrol don’t really have any issues with their attitudes and do their best to get along with the rest of the patrol.
One of the main questions that is raised by this play is ‘when is it right to kill a man?’ This is one of the most difficult questions that anybody could be asked. During the play there is a change of mind about when they are and aren’t going to kill the Japanese soldier. As the soldier first makes his way into the store there is a quick few seconds where Evans, I think should have killed the Japanese soldier, but hesitates. Bamforth is the only member except maybe Johnstone and Mitchem who was willing to kill the Japanese soldier. But as I have discussed Bamforth becomes close to the Japanese soldier and at the end is defending him and putting his own life at risk.
During Wartime there are always moments when it could be argued that it is right or wrong to kill a man. Until an enemy soldier has surrendered there are no laws about killing them, but if the adversary surrenders then there is an International agreement of 1906, called the Geneva Convention, which regulates how Prisoners of War should be treated. If the Japanese soldier is and he was killed, then the person responsible would have broken the Geneva Convention, and would be liable to appear in front of a Court about breaking the rules of War.
Mitchem had to make the hardest decision throughout the whole book. He had to decide whether or not the prisoner would live or die. He had to review all of the pro’s and cons of keeping him alive or killing him. I think that Mitchem should have let Bamforth kill the Japanese soldier when he first entered the store, because after the Japanese soldier had shown the patrol the photographs of his family this meant that the soldier was showing how similar to Smith he was and he became closer to Bamforth, which caused the major change in Bamforth’s attitude.
Mitchem had reasons for keeping the soldier alive but these were far outweighed by the reasons for killing him, I think.
I think that Johnstone id the best soldier and the best-suited person to be in the situation that the patrol is in. I think that because his attitude doesn’t really change this makes him more reliable and causes him to debate in his mind about what he should do. I think that Johnstone has the overall right frame of mind to be a soldier; he sees the enemy and only as the enemy. He doesn’t allow himself to be distracted by things and he doesn’t change his mind once he has made his decision. Overall I think that if Johnstone had been in charge then there would have been none of the problems with the Patrol getting too close the Japanese soldier and that would have made the entire patrol more suitable to be in the predicament they are left in.
Of the rest of the soldiers that are there in think that Whittaker is the worst suited person to be there. I think that he has received his letter of conscription very close to his Birthday making him only just allegeable to be where he is. I think that he has received the most very basic training and doesn’t really know what he is meant to be doing. Throughout the play he doesn’t really talk or make much fuss, but at the end when he thinks the Japanese prisoner is threatening him he uses all of his ‘bottle’ to shoot him. I think he acts before he thinks which causes a very nasty scene at the end. He shows his immaturity when he fires the shot into the prisoner, showing that he doesn’t really know what he is doing.
Whether Whittaker is right or wrong to do what he has done is a very grey area during Wartime. He has protected himself by doing the first thing that has come into his head. If the Japanese soldier had complied with Whittaker’s wishes then he would have only been killed in a far more gruesome fashion. I think that Whittaker did what he felt was right and killed the prisoner.
As for the rest of the members of the patrol they are very similar to Whittaker except in age. They have all received basic training. They are all-different and have their own views on how the Japanese soldier should be treated. There is only Bamforth and for a short while Macleish who defend the prisoner. The rest of the patrol doesn’t really seem to care much about how they leave the prisoner.
If the play was being adapted to be set during the current situation in Afghanistan, I don’t think we would see an appearance of a similar character to Whittaker within the play. I think that if there was going to be a character similar to Whittaker then they would most probably be in the shape of a reporter. They would have the same sort of characteristics towards the War and their situation.
Willis Hall is very prescriptive with stage directions; this means that there isn’t a lot of room for change if the play was being adapted to be set during any other War. I think that Willis Hall has thought very carefully about where and how the audience view this play and has therefore decided that the best way for the audience to view the play he wants it to be viewed is to be so prescriptive so that things and people are where he wants them to be when he wants them to be there.
Because the play is designed to be set on a proscenium arch stage this makes his job of prescription quite difficult, as there are no ways that the actors can be in the wrong place at the wrong time. I think it helps an actor knowing so well where they have to be and when, it also helps the audience to view the drama as the shape of the stage creates the image of looking into a box, looking in on a microcosm.
If one of the characters was changed from a male to a female, I think that the atmosphere within the confined space would change dramatically. Within the confines ‘store’ during the original play, there are lots of conflicting attitudes. I think that the introduction of a woman into the play would create an almost mother figure for the rest of the patrol. I think that she would do a better job at controlling Bamforth than Mitchem does and I think that there would be a lot less of the sexist remarks. With all of the testosterone flying around within the original play, I think this causes characters to think that they are greatly superior to other characters.