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Brimstone and Treacle


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A: Dennis Potter Pf: 1977, Sheffield Pb: 1978 G: Drama in 4 scenes S: Living room of suburban home in England, 1970s C: 2m, 2fGrumpy Tom Bates, a middle-aged office-worker, tyrannizes his meek, house-proud wife Amy. Their daughter Pattie, once an attractive art college student, was brain-damaged in a car accident two years previously and can now only utter incoherent sounds. Their first visitor in ages, Martin Taylor, a dashing clean-cut young man, enters with the pretext of returning Bates's wallet to him. Claiming to have been secretly engaged to Pattie, he sings to her, soothes her, and speaks of his love. Martin invites himself to stay to look after Pattie, who, in her inarticulate way, seems desperately to protest. The next day Martin persuades Mrs Bates to go to the hairdresser, then has sex with Pattie. Mrs Bates returns home happily, and is curious about the smell of sulphur. She and Martin pray for Pattie's recovery. When Bates returns home that evening, he remains suspicious of Martin and argues with his wife. It becomes clear that Pattie had her car accident as a result of discovering her father having sex with her best friend. Encouraging his racist views, Martin ingratiates himself with Bates, sends the couple off to bed and begins molesting Pattie again. When she screams, he runs from the house, and the astonished parents discover that Pattie can speak again.

A: Dennis Potter Pf: 1977, Sheffield Pb: 1978 G: Drama in 4 scenes S: Living room of suburban home in England, 1970s C: 2m, 2f

Best known for his television dramas, which mix naturalistic action with fantasy, Potter here follows the same formula by introducing into a dreary middle-class household a minor devil, who frequently exchanges meaningful looks with the audience. The irony that a demon exposes the emptiness of the Bates' marriage and brings about Pattie's cure is made problematic by seemingly condoning the rape of a mentally disabled character.

Subjects: Literary Studies (Plays and Playwrights).


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Dennis Potter (1935—1994) journalist and playwright


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