My very short career as a playwright

AEGTI 2016 coverJust for fun, I wrote the opening scenes of a  play based on my novel An Englishman’s Guide to Infidelity .  Although I spent years in community theatre, it was a weird experience because none of the conventions of prose writing apply. See what you think. You can compare it with the book by looking at the free sample here.

Scene 1: A well appointed eat-in kitchen in a middle class British home. Offstage, the sound of children leaving the house for school.

Thea    [offstage] Now, no squabbling on the way to school. And mind that crossing.

Jack     [wearing a dressing gown and speaking on the telephone] Look, I’m sorry. I just don’t need you in the shop today. Yes, I know you need the job. Yes. Yes. I do understand. What? You don’t need to take that sort of line. What? Stuff you too, Susan. [he slams the phone down.]

Thea enters, wearing conservative work clothes and fixing her hair. She is carrying a grey and magenta cocktail dress, which she tosses over a chair.

Thea    I’m not sure they’re old enough to walk to school on their own. I wish we still had the au pair. Who were you talking to, by the way?

Jack     Nobody.

Thea    Nobody talks to nobody, unless they’re mad. Are you mad, Jack? After last night, I’m wondering if either of us is in our right mind.

Jack     It was just the book wholesalers. There’s a delivery this morning. God, I feel like my eyeballs have been boiled in toilet cleaner.

Thea    I’ve had worse anniversary dinner hangovers. Do you remember that filthy Spanish stuff we drank on our – what – fifth, was it?

Jack     Rioja with notes of blackberry and kerosene … and you spewed all the way down Kensington High Street …

Thea    No, that’s enough! I’ve changed my mind. I don’t want to remember it. Look, I’ve got to give a lecture at ten. Can you drop the dress into the dry cleaners on the way to the shop? Ask them to repair the seam under the arm while they’re at it. But tell them to take care. It’s not Marks & Spencer.

Jack     Thea, just sit down for a minute.

Thea    I haven’t got a minute.

Jack     You always have precisely five minutes up your sleeve for unforeseen circumstances. Give me one of them. It’s important.

Thea looks at her watch and sits down stiffly with her briefcase on her lap.

Jack     Thea, darling. Did I imagine what you told me last night?

Thea    Let’s talk about it after dinner tonight.

Jack     No, Thea. Now. Did you tell me that you found the Chancellor’s wallet by the Memorial Lake at the university?

Thea nods

Jack     And did you tell me that you relieved Sir Percy of nine hundred pounds, and threw his wallet in the lake?

Thea nods. Jack cradles his head in his hands.

Thea    Nobody saw me.

Jack     Thea, my sweet. You have a PhD in Ethics. In an hour from now you’re going to be teaching the flower of England’s youth about the difference between right and wrong.

Thea    That’s not really what ethics is about, not in an academic context.

Jack grips Thea’s wrists

Jack     Thea, I may be a simple bookseller, but I know a crime when I see one. You can’t rationalise it away with ‘nobody saw me’!

Thea    I’ve got to go.

Jack     And you spent the money on that dress? To wear for our wedding anniversary dinner?

Thea    And your eyes were popping out when you were watching me put it on. And when you peeled it off me – well, that was after you half tore it off me in the taxi home – I didn’t know where to put my face when the baby sitter let us in.

Jack     Thea, this isn’t you. You’re not like this. Is that what you meant – neither of us being in our right minds last night? Oh God. I remember, in bed. Did we …? Oh God. It was like we were twenty year olds, like wild animals. I need an Aspirin.

Thea    Jack, pull yourself together. We’ll sort this out.

Jack     Sort this out? Sort it out like a little misunderstanding? Sorry, officer, the money just sort of jumped out of the jolly old Chancellor’s wallet?

Thea    Jack, shut up.

Jack     What?

Thea    Shut up.

[Thea stands up and hugs herself, walks up and down staring at the floor]

Thea    Shall I tell you something, Jack? Something that bloody well shook me to the core? I finished a lecture the other day, and a student put her hand up to ask a question.

Jack     What did she say?

Thea    She asked me if I actually believed in anything. I stood there like an idiot, and then I switched to autopilot. Said it wasn’t relevant what I or anybody else actually believed in. What was important was that the question be asked.

Jack     And what did the student say?

Thea    She rolled her eyes up and gave me the finger.

Jack     The rude cow.

Thea    Not a whole finger, just the slightest gesture, but as clear as daylight. The whole episode left me in a spin. I haven’t been right since – not about anything, about who I am, about why a lecturer in philosophy suddenly doesn’t appear to believe in anything.  So Jack, I’m not in the mood for moralising about right and wrong right now.

Thea picks up her briefcase and walks out. Jack picks up the dress and holds it to his face, breathing its scent, then tosses it to the floor. He sits at the table and dials a number on the telephone.

Jack     Major Handwell! Yes, it’s me, Jack.

Very well. Very well indeed. And how’s the leg, Major? … Oh dear, sorry to hear that. Well, the medicos do marvels these days, you know… I beg your pardon? No, Major, not marbles. Just turn up that hearing aid a touch, if you will…

[becoming more patronising] Yes, lovely. Now, Major, I’ve tracked down that book. I talked to one of my contacts – just between ourselves of course – and they have a very tidy signed first edition… How much? Well, a few bob more than I’d hoped. I could do you a hundred and fifty quid. How does that sound? … Marvelous. What if I pop round this afternoon? … I beg your pardon, Major? … No, this is Jack, not Francis. I don’t know any Francis… I’m afraid I don’t quite understand. You’re saying that you’ll call me Francis from now on? … I see. And it’s just our secret, you say? I’ll be your nephew? … How much a month?

[aside] Bloody hell. Give me an allowance? He has lost his marbles. [To the Major:] Very generous of you indeed. Now, shall we say three o’clock? … Yes, a first edition, signed. See you anon, Major.

Jack takes a fountain pen and practices writing signatures on a sheet of paper. At last, satisfied with his work, he opens an old book and writes inside the front cover. He picks up the book and closely examines the signature, then puts it down, and rubs his hands.

 

Scene 2: The same kitchen, late in the evening. There are wine bottles and two glasses on the table.

Jack     They’re asleep. They seemed a bit disturbed tonight.

Thea    Pour me another glass, darling.

Jack     Steady on, Thea. You usually stick at one. Is there something wrong?

Thea    Nothing’s wrong. Just pour.

Jack     [Making a foolish face] Not even the smallest something? The teeniest?

Thea    Jack, can we have a serious talk? I mean a really serious talk?

Jack     Should I put on a special serious face. Like this perhaps? [grimaces]

Thea    No, and I don’t want to hear any of the other delaying tactics that you drag out whenever there’s something important to discuss. Don’t go all philosophical on me, either. You’re an amateur in that department.

Jack     Fair enough. What’s the topic of this serious talk?

Thea    It’s money, Jack. I got a phone call from the school, the bursar in fact. He told me that the cheque for the children’s fees had bounced. What’s going on, Jack? Is the bookshop in trouble?

Jack     Trouble? Oh no! What an idiot I am! I must have got the wrong cheque book out of the drawer. Actually, now I think of it, I did have a feeling I’d done something wrong when …

Thea    Jack, are we in trouble?

Jack     We? This is from the ethics lecturer who pinched nine hundred juicy smackers from a wallet. I’m not sure about the ‘we’.

Thea    Jack, that’s a lousy thing to say. I explained what happened.

Jack     Did you? Well, I must have missed it. Here, I’ll write a new cheque straight away. [He writes a cheque] There, all done, no trouble.

[They silently drink their wine, Thea looking slightly tipsy. She sighs deeply.]

Jack     Why the big sigh?

Thea    I hardly dare tell you, Jack.

Jack     Thea, what’s it been? Ten years? Do we have secrets? Come on, tell me the worst.

Thea    I paid the school fees myself, in cash.

[Jack leaps to his feet, spilling his wine]

Jack     Cash? What cash? We don’t have any cash!

Thea    It was Freda’s money.

Jack     Who’s Freda?

Thea    The lecturer I shared a filing cabinet with. The one who died. From Denmark.

Jack     Died? Dead? From Denmark?

Thea    Departed. Deceased. On the ferry from Dover.

[Jack refills their glasses]

 Thea    Her cheque book was among her things in the filing cabinet. I – borrowed it. Well, I suppose I took it really.

Jack     And you wrote a cash cheque? Where did you present it?

Thea    At the bank by the industrial estate. I wore a headscarf and dark glasses. I practised copying her signature from a letter I found.

Jack     Forging’s the more accurate word. How much, may I ask?

Thea    Five hundred pounds.

Jack     Did you ask for a balance?

Thea    Ask for a balance? Do you think I’m a crook? What, you think I’d planned to milk the account until it was empty?

Jack     Just checking, covering all the angles. So, where’s the chequebook now?

Thea    In the Memorial Lake at the university.

Jack     Keeping company with the Chancellor’s empty wallet? Bobbing up and down together having a chat, are they? ‘Hello, you don’t happen to have seen nine hundred pounds, my good man?’ ‘Sorry guv, some lady just had it away wiv five undred quid so I’m a bit short meself’.

[They refill their glasses and drink. Thea sniggers and Jack joins in. They burst into laughter.]

Jack     [composes himself] Since it seems to be time for confessions, I’ve got one of my own.

Thea    Don’t tell me. You short changed an old age pensioner by 20p.

Jack     It’s a bit more serious than that.

Thea    You mean … Chancellor serious? Freda serious?

Jack     More or less. More, actually.

Thea    [Thea gets to her feet unsteadily] You too, Jack? So we’re partners in crime? The Bonnie and Clyde of suburbia? That’s rather exciting, don’t you think? In fact, that’s the most exciting thing that’s happened to us in years.

Jack     [Takes the bottle and wraps his arm round Thea’s waist] I’ve never been to bed with a criminal. I’ll tell you the details upstairs.

[Curtain]

@ Stuart Campbell 2016

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2 thoughts on “My very short career as a playwright”

    1. Thanks, Kerry. It was interesting as an exercise in reflecting on prose writing because the differences are so stark: PoV, showing vs telling, sequencing – it all gets turned upside-down.

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