Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 701
Susan Traherne, the central character of the drama, who is profoundly frustrated in her attempt to find personal and professional fulfillment in postwar England. At the age of seventeen, she served as a Special Operations Executive Courier, working with the French Resistance against the occupying Germans in 1943. After the war, she regards the future with hope and optimism but finds only frustration and boredom. Her life peaks emotionally when she meets a British agent, known only as Codename Lazar, under dangerous circumstances in France. She is courted by Raymond Brock, a career diplomat who loves her, and by a working-class lover named Mick, with whom she attempts, without success, to have a child. After she suffers a nervous breakdown, Brock marries her and attempts to care for her. Always restless and unpredictable, Susan manages to ruin Brock’s career, then deserts him. Although her motives are ambiguous, Susan is meant to be a sympathetic character.
Raymond Brock, a career diplomat, forty-one years old in 1962, who first meets Susan in Brussels in 1947 and agrees to help her through a difficult situation when the married man with whom she is traveling dies of a heart attack. Brock later courts her in London and marries her after an explosive situation that results in her nervous breakdown. Brock is described as delightfully ingenuous, a man whose natural humor is eroded by years of dull, bureaucratic service at the Foreign Office, where mediocrity is valued and rewarded.
Alice Park, Susan’s friend and flat mate after the war, a would-be writer, bohemian, and nonconformist. She later becomes a teacher, then a social worker, founding a home for unwed mothers. She is sprightly, optimistic, witty, and slightly younger than Susan.
Sir Leonard Darwin
Sir Leonard Darwin, a career diplomat and Brock’s superior in Brussels in 1947. He distinguished himself in Djakarta. In scene 7 (October, 1956), he is disturbed because his superiors did not inform him of their policy regarding the Suez Canal. A man of high principles and old-fashioned values, he resigns in protest. When he later dies, his funeral brings Brock and Susan back to London from their post in Iran.
Codename Lazar, the man Susan meets in France in 1943 while on a military mission. They meet again years later at a shabby hotel in the seaside resort of Blackpool in 1962. Like Susan, he wants “some sort of edge” to the life he leads but has not found it in peacetime Britain. Instead, he has become a corporate bureaucrat, with a wife and a home in the suburbs. He is Susan’s male counterpart.
Mick, Susan’s working-class friend, whom she chooses to be the father of her child. He falls in love with her, but when he is unable to make her pregnant, she humiliates and rejects him, brutally and violently.
Sir Andrew Charleson
Sir Andrew Charleson, a man in his early fifties, the head of personnel at the Foreign Office. A cold, calculating, and ruthless man, he explains to Susan that manners and tact, not intelligence, ensure success and promotion. After he explains that “behavior is all,” she threatens suicide if her husband is not advanced. Sir Andrew responds by forcing Brock into early retirement.
Dorcas Frey, a tall, heavily built seventeen-year-old blonde who attends Darwin’s funeral with Susan, Alice, and Brock in 1961. Alice teaches history to her at the Kensington Academy. She desires an abortion and asks Susan for money.
Louise, a teenager from Liverpool who poses nude for Alice in 1952, when Alice is attempting to become an artist, in the scene in which Susan shoots at the rejected Mick.
M. Wong, a short, “permanently smiling” sycophantic Burmese diplomat whose obsequious manner and imperfect English create humor during the banquet the night Darwin decides to resign from the foreign service over the Suez crisis. Privately, Darwin calls him an “appalling wog.”
Mme Wong, as much a caricature as her husband, who attempts to socialize by summarizing the plot of one of Ingmar Bergman’s films, though she is confused about Bergman’s nationality.
John Begley, a twenty-two-year-old functionary at the Foreign Office, with impeccable manners.
Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1486
Madame Aung accompanies her husband to Susan and Raymond's dinner party in 1956. She is characterized by Hare as "small, tidy and bright.'' Her only action in the play is to begin to tell the story of an Ingmar Bergman film she recently viewed. She mistakenly states that Bergman is Norwegian and Darwin firmly corrects her by mentioning that the famed director is in fact Swedish.
Monsieur (often abbreviated as M.) Aung is the First Secretary of the Burmese Embassy whom Susan and Raymond entertain in their Knightsbridge home in October of 1956. The stage directions describe M. Aung as "almost permanently smiling—short [and] dogmatic." Aung acts quite flattered to be in the presence of Sir Leonard Darwin and is overtly complimentary and deferential to him throughout Scene 7.
Susan first meets Brock when she approaches him at the British Embassy in Brussels, Belgium, in 1947 after her friend Tony dies in a hotel. Hare describes Brock as "an ingenuous figure, not yet thirty, with a small moustache and a natural energy he finds hard to contain in the proper manner." Brock becomes Susan's husband after taking her out of a mental hospital somewhere between December, 1952, and October, 1956. He does not seem bothered by dishonesty when it suits his purpose or coincides with his beliefs. He lies for Susan so that Tony Radley's wife does not find out that her husband was traveling with another woman. Later, Brock seems unruffled by the fact that Darwin was lied to about the Suez Canal episode. Brock is described by his superior, Sir Andrew Charleson, as an unexemplory employee; however, his patience with Susan and her various mental challenges throughout the years suggests a certain level of Plenty, was made into a film by Twentieth Century-Fox in 1985. Hare wrote the script and Fred Schepisi directed the film. The drama starred Meryl Streep as Susan, Tracy Ullman as Alice, Sting as Mick, Charles Dance as Raymond, and John Gielgud as Sir Leonard Darwin.
In the later years of Plenty's chronology, Brock has lost his career in the foreign service and is working in the insurance industry. He is introduced in the first scene (what is, chronologically, his last scene in the play's non-linear sequence of events), naked, drunk, drugged, and unconscious, with Ms wife preparing to leave him.
Sir Andrew Charleson
Charleson is the Chief Clerk in charge of personnel matters for the Foreign Service. Susan discusses Brock's career with him following the couple's return from Iran. Charleson can be read as a condescending character in that he treats his assistant with little respect. Hare characterizes Charleson as a man in his early fifties with "far more edge" than Darwin. Perhaps by edge, Hare means to say that Charleson is direct and to the point. He tells Susan quite frankly that her husband has been tested and although he has risen beyond one challenge, he is honestly a rather average man in terms of his performance in the Foreign Service.
Sir Leonard Darwin
Darwin serves as a superior to Brock in the Foreign Service. He is a tactful and patriotic diplomat. He has faith in the reconstruction of Europe following World War II and does not take Europe's greatness for granted. He is an upstanding man who believes in his country until he is deceived about England's role in the Suez Canal incident. This deception provokes his resignation from the Foreign Service.
Darwin takes a moral stand that counters what would have been the appropriate diplomatic reaction, which is to support his country without question—despite his feelings of betrayal. As a result of his resignation—and, overall, his commitment to the truth regardless of decorum and expectations— Darwin is shunned by society, as evidenced by the small turnout at his funeral While Susan claims to be motivated by truth, it is Darwin who represents genuine honesty in Hare's play.
She is Alice's seventeen-year-old history student from Kensington Academy, where Alice begins to teach during the play. Dorcas attends Sir Leonard Darwin's funeral as Alice's guest. Having had sex with one of Alice's friends in an effort to acquire drugs, Dorcas becomes pregnant. After Darwin's funeral, Dorcas asks to borrow money from Susan in order to get an abortion, although she claims to need the money for a hand operation.
Lazar is the man Susan accidentally meets while she waits for a shipment of guns and explosives during the war one evening. He is an agent for England and Lazar is only his code name (his real name is never revealed). Susan often wonders about Lazar in the years following the war. He tracks her down in England nineteen years after their first meeting in France. They have sex m a cheap hotel, and he tries to tell Susan about his life after the war. He feels that he has sold out in some fashion because he works in the corporate world and has a wife and a home in suburbia. Despite wanting to reveal something of his life following the war, Lazar ultimately hides his true identity from Susan He leaves her, stoned on marijuana, without telling her his real name (he tells her the name she has always known: Lazar). Lazar's absence throughout most of the play as well as his shadowed identity code him as a mystery man. In a way, he represents all that has been elusive in Susan's life; it is the enigma that surrounds him—and the possibility that he possesses that which would make her life whole—that maintains Susan's interest for so many years.
Mick is a friend of Alice's who Susan approaches to father her child. He is a friendly younger man who still lives with his mother. He is from a lower class than Susan and thus does not spend time in the same social circles as she and Brock. Mick agrees to father the child and the two spend eighteen months trying; however, they are never successful. Mick winds up feeling quite horrible and used by the experience. He would like to continue to be involved with Susan yet the two agree not to see each other any longer. Mick later confronts Susan despite their agreement; however, she wants nothing to do with him and shoots her gun above his head. Later, Susan tells Lazar that Brock paid Mick to appease him after the incident.
Alice is Susan's self-proclaimed Bohemian friend. Susan meets Alice in 1947 and stays in touch with her until the play's end in 1962. Alice leads a rather carefree existence, sleeping with married men, doing drugs, working inconsistently, and crashing at Susan's home on occasion. Alice encourages Susan to break free from the things that Susan believes restrain her: Brock and her job. Alice seems to enjoy the drama that such action would present Alice seemingly dislikes England as well as its social expectations. Throughout the course of the play she resists these expectations and helps those whose lives run counter to the country's dominant cultural expectations—as evidenced by her plans to use Susan and Brock's home as a kind of halfway house for expecting unwed mothers.
Susan Traherne is the rather complicated protagonist of the play. She is both volatile and passionate, as exemplified by her unpredictable outbursts and her lingering feelings for Lazar. Susan suffers from mental instability that manifests itself in her brutal and unabashed honesty. She serves in World War II as a courier for the English in France, and after the war she is disillusioned, constantly confronting the boredom and inanity of her subsequent jobs. She has trouble adjusting to postwar England and seems lost in her admiration of the past; through her memory and the mundane quality of her present life, her years with British intelligence have achieved an idealized (an unrealistic) perfection. She thinks longingly of the war and her love affair with Lazar.
Susan finds herself alone at the end of the play. She goes from serving a country in a war on foreign soil to being ostracized by that country by the end of the play's chronology. In the beginning, Susan willingly accepts this outsider status. In the end, her status as someone who is alienated can be seen as self-inflicted or as a punishment that others (perhaps unjustly) impose upon her (like other points in the play, Hare leaves this issue ambiguous). Although Susan is characterized as mentally unstable, she claims her actions are motivated by a desire for change and truth—bolstered by her willingness to say that which others will not. Despite her declarations of allegiance to the truth, Susan comes to represent something else entirely: unfulfilled hopes and ambitions. Like her native country, Susan reaches her apex in the victory of World War II; in subsequent years she and England will both fail to sustain their dreams of empire and influence