Inside Out – A Romantic Comedy, In Several Acts.

by richardhutton

Main Characters: Li (Chinese-English), Tom (White-English), Jo (White-English), Ben (Black-English).

Miscellaneous characters: Tom’s mother, two repairmen, Maeve, the world’s least helpful shop assistant, café staff/customers, nightclub patrons, actors in a Christmas pageant, a venerable Chinese man, a food-stall vendor, and the people of my home city.

 

 

Act 1 – Scene 1

[A rainswept city street, in Hull; at the onset of Winter.

Tom enters through the unexpectedly unlocked door of his flat, and stands in the hallway. The interior looks bereft; as if denuded by an uninvited guest].

(Tom) Not again.

[A muffled bump sounds. The kitchen door opens]

(Mother) Hi!

(Tom) This is a pleasant surprise.

(Mother) Really?

(Tom) No.

(Mother) I’ve tided up for you.

(Tom) I do wish you wouldn’t.

(Mother) Somebody has to.

(Tom) They really don’t – I am a grown man: I can manage housework.

(Mother) Nonsense! I like doing it. It reminds me though…

(Tom) Yes.

(Mother) …have you thought about getting married?

(Tom) No – I have explained this. I’m not in a relationship with anyone.

(Mother) That’s hardly a reason!

(Tom) Well, it kind of is.

(Mother) Nothing to stop you finding someone, if you make an effort.

(Tom) There is, actually. Lots of things, as it happens.

(Mother) Nonsense. Did you know you can get mail order brides, these days?

(Tom) What?

(Mother) Would you like me to look into it for you?

(Tom) No – thank you.

(Mother) Only, I know you tend to be a bit embarrassed about this sort of thing.

(Tom) I am unusual that way, admittedly.

(Mother) I don’t see why.

(Tom) I’m sure some men would welcome their mothers perusing a catalogue, and selecting a marital partner for them; but everyone’s different.

(Mother) It’s okay if you have some niche interests.

(Tom) I don’t, thanks.

(Mother) I was discussing this with your father…

(Tom) Why, exactly?

(Mother) …and he made some good suggestions, really – by his standards.

(Tom) Look, I honestly don’t…

(Mother) Even your sister agreed.

(Tom) Liz, or Em?

(Mother) Well, both did, as it happens.

(Tom) It’s good that they could agree on something.

(Mother) It is, isn’t it?

(Tom) Was there anyone else you mentioned this to?

(Mother) Of course not! Well, Mr Johanssen, actually – and he says…

(Tom) Wait, your neighbour?

(Mother) He says you can get all sorts from mail order, these days.

(Tom) What was he referring to – out of interest?

(Mother) I…don’t actually know; but he was really quite enthusiastic. I didn’t wish to inquire further – not my business, of course.

(Tom) No; of course not.

(Mother) But it sounds quite promising, wouldn’t you say?

(Tom) No. No I wouldn’t.

(Mother) There isn’t a need to be old-fashioned about these things. Not in this day and age.

(Tom) I think that some fashions are old for a reason. This happens to be one of them.

(Mother) What? Anyway, you can’t be alone your whole life.

(Tom) Why not?

(Mother) Because I worry about you; and I won’t be around forever.

(Tom) I know – I’m grateful. I won’t say for which part.

 

 

Act 1 – Scene 2

[The office building of a local paper. A diminutive woman of a certain age, called Maeve, is walking along a short corridor; in the direction of a small office.

Its door is slightly ajar, and the disembodied voices of two repairmen can be heard emanating. They groan intermittently. Maeve stops outside, with her back towards the wall, and listens].

(Workman 1) If you just push it into the rear, you should feel a click.

[Maeve looks shocked, and blushes]

(Workman 2) Like this?

(Workman 1) Not like that, no. When it’s in right, you’ll feel it start to pulsate.

(Maeve) “Pulsate”?

(Workman 2) Pulsate?

(Workman 1) Vibrate.

(Maeve) “Vibrate”!

(Workman 2) I can’t feel anything at the moment.

(Workman 1) Well, just reach around, and then slot it into place. Jiggle it back and forth a bit, if you need to. Work it in and out.

(Workman 2) Here?

(Workman 1) Not in that one – the other one.

(Maeve) “Other one”?

(Workman 2) Bear with me – I’ve not done this before.

(Workman 1) Well, there’s a first time for everything, isn’t there?

(Workman 2) Nothing’s happening.

(Workman 1) It will.

[Maeve presses her back against the wall]

(Workman 2) Still nowt.

(Workman 1) Take it out, and give it a rub; then push it back in again.

(Maeve) “Give it a rub”?!

[The momentary sound of vibration is audible]

(Workman 2) [Moans with satisfaction]

(Workman 1) There you go.

[Maeve winces again]

(Workman 2) Is it supposed to be glowing like that?

(Maeve) “Glowing”?

(Workman 1) It does that sometimes. Just hold it in, a moment longer. Give it time to get flowing properly.

[Maeve sinks down the wall onto the floor, cringing, and clutching her necklace.

Li enters the scene – wearing a dress emblazoned with a traditional Chinese pattern; but the design is contemporary and Western]

(Li) Are you okay, Maeve?

(Maeve) [Starts, and stands up] Oh! It’s disgusting – that’s what it is. Utterly disgraceful! Like Sodom and Gomorrah this place. And going on in full earshot of unsuspecting people! Anyone could have walked past here – anyone at all!

[Workman 1 steps out of the office. His overalls are not quite over all, at the rear]

(Maeve) Sordid miscreants!

[Maeve exits]

(Workman 1) What’s her problem?

(Li) I’m really not sure I could say. Have you managed to fix the printers yet? 

(Workman 1) Give us chance, love – we’ve only just got started.

(Li) Didn’t you arrive here an hour ago?

(Workman 1) You can’t rush this sort of job. It needs doing properly.

(Li) Okay – but do you know when you’re likely to be finished?

(Workman 1) Hard to say. Could be any time between now, and the end of the day; easy.

[Li departs]

(Workman 1) [Tuts] Women [shakes head].

(Workman 2) What was her problem?

(Workman 1) Just that time of the month, I suppose. Always much ado about nothing.

(Workman 2) When will we be finished?

(Workman 1) Twenty minutes; give or take. Might go for lunch before then, though.

 

 

Act 1 – Scene 3

[A nightclub; where Ben works as a barman. Tom is sat opposite Ben, on the other side of the bar. Music plays loudly in the background.

Tom gazes at various women in the club; and then glances at the men close to them, who are much more prepossessing than him. Ben notices]

(Ben) Nothing to stop you just taking a chance, once in a while, mate.

(Tom) It’s not that simple.

(Ben) Sure it is! If you like the look of someone, why not just go up to them and say hello?

(Tom) Lots of reasons.

(Ben) Such as?

(Tom) Reasons. Lots of them.

(Ben) Okay. How about the lass in the green coat, there?

(Tom) I’m too old for her.

(Ben) You’re not that old.

(Tom) I’m not that young, anymore, either.

(Ben) What about them, then, with the bow?

(Tom) I’m too short for them. What if they wanted to wear heels?

(Ben) So, how about the one in the tan jacket; on the seat then?

(Tom) I’m too pale. It would be like they had a specter haunting them.

(Ben) So what about them with the braids, then?

(Tom) Be serious.

(Ben) I am being serious!

(Tom) Women like that are never single – and even if they were, they would hardly be interested in somebody like me, now, would they?

(Ben) How do you know?

(Tom) Let’s just leave it, please.

(Ben) If you’re going to be so picky, you’ll never find anybody.

(Tom) That really isn’t the issue – I’m not the one who thinks anyone’s beneath them.

(Ben) How can you be sure they think that?

(Tom) Well, if you were a woman, what would you think of me, as a man?

(Ben) If I was a woman?

(Tom) If you use your imagination. I assume it would be necessary.

(Ben) Okay. Well, your handwriting is illegible.

(Tom) That’s true. I’m good at typing, though; so it evens out.

(Ben) Your taste in music is not the best.

(Tom) I don’t agree; but to each their own.

(Ben) Your dress sense is terrible – there really is a lack of effort being made there, lad.

(Tom) Fair enough. I suppose.

(Ben) Your eyebrows do that thing, where they sort of meet in the middle; but don’t quite manage it.

(Tom) Fine. I guess.

(Ben) When you shake someone’s hand, you clasp it with both of yours.

(Tom) Well, that’s hardly anything.

(Ben) I’m only telling it like it is – from a woman’s point of view. Women usually like men to be a bit more…manly.

(Tom) Like what?

(Ben) You know – for men to be good at…being men.

(Tom) That’s really clarified matters. That’s incredibly helpful.

(Ben) You know what I mean. It would be wonderful if a woman found meekness attractive. But that’s just not how we are.

(Tom) We?

(Ben) I’m playing the part.

(Tom) You don’t think that somebody should see beneath the surface?

(Ben) I’m saying, ultimately, you just have to learn to live with yourself; one way or another.

(Tom) Meaning…?

(Ben) Some things you can change – some things you can’t; and you can’t be something you’re not, now, can you?

(Tom) Are you still acting the role?

(Ben) That’s my view as a man; and as a woman. So to speak. Best of both worlds, there, mate.

(Tom) Okay; but if you can’t avoid being a certain way – and people don’t care for you as you are – then where does it leave you?

[Ben replies “no man’s land”; but his words become lost in the opening roar of a new song]

 

 

Act 1 – Scene 4

[A bustling café; lunch time]

(Li) I don’t mind being alone.

(Jo) Really? I mean – really?

(Li) I would prefer it if things were different; but they’re not.

(Jo) If you don’t want to be alone, then you have to go out, and look for someone. No-one is going to just walk right up to you. Not men, these days, anyway.

(Li) How many men would be interested in someone like me?

(Jo) Well, how many of them do you need to be interested in you?

(Li) One would suffice; but even so.

(Jo) There are men who will be, I’m sure. If you just give somebody a chance; and let them get to know you, properly.

(Li) That’s what bothers me.

(Jo) Why?

(Li) You know why.

(Jo) I do; yes. But why not take the initiative, and see where it leads? Make something happen?

(Li) It’s not that simple.

(Jo) Sure it is! Well, okay, it isn’t. But it still is; even if it’s not.

(Li) It didn’t end so well the last time I met someone.

(Jo) No; I know it didn’t.

(Li) I don’t want that to happen again.

(Jo) Okay – but what do you want?

(Li) Not to wind up in a hospital, again.

(Jo) I know.

(Li) He didn’t seem that way, at all, Jo. And then…

(Jo) What you see isn’t always what you get.

(Li) I thought he knew…when I tried to explain…he could have just let me leave. I wanted to. Well, I didn’t; but still.

(Jo) You can’t always run away.

(Li) No.

[Jo reaches over and takes Li’s hand. Li tries to return the gesture, but knocks a paper cup full of coffee off the table, into Jo’s handbag]

(Li) Sorry.

(Jo) It’s alright. Actually, no it’s not – because my phone was in there!

(Li) Sorry!

(Jo) It’s alright.

 

 

Act 1 – Scene 5

[A clothes shop, on Whitefriargate]

(Tom) Must we do this?

(Ben) Yes. Yes we must.

(Tom) Why though, really?

(Ben) It’ll be good for you.

(Tom) I know nothing about clothes. Couldn’t you just find something you’d think was right, and then…

(Ben) I see – because I’m a black man, I must know a lot about clothes?

(Tom) No; of course not.

(Ben) I see – because I’m a black man, I must not know a lot about clothes?

(Tom) No! Look, are you going to help, or not?

(Ben) I might. I might not, now.

(Tom) I don’t even like clothes, really. What kind of person would care about something so silly?

(Ben) Consider the lilies?

(Tom) Consider the sow’s ear, you’re trying to refashion.

(Ben) Sometimes you have to open your mind, a bit. Just look around, and see what takes your fancy. Then, go for it.

(Tom) Okay. Fine. The shirts over there look quite decent.

(Ben) That’s the women’s section.

(Tom) Are you sure?

(Ben) Since when do men wear lace negligees?

(Tom) Why not just wear what you like, though?

(Ben) You can wear what you like – if that’s your thing.

(Tom) It’s not; but still?

(Ben) Because if you want to make the right impression, you have to follow the rules.

(Tom) The rules?

(Ben) The rules.

(Tom) Elaborate; please.

(Ben) Rule one: keep it muted. Don’t wear too much of it – but express yourself, freely; and make it vibrant.

(Tom) Rule two?

(Ben) Aim for subtle and meaningful; but be striking and novel.

(Tom) Is there a third rule?

(Ben) Stand out from the crowd; but blend in with everyone else.

(Tom) So, in terms of actual clothing?

(Ben) Light shirt – dark trousers. And a tie.

(Tom) But why?

(Ben) The rules!

(Tom) Who invents these?

(Ben) People.

(Tom) Who, specifically?

(Ben) Just…people.

(Tom) Why can’t you change the rules?

(Ben) Look, just get whatever you want. I won’t be the one wearing it, will I? [Walks away, briefly]

(Tom) I don’t know what I want. [Looks around] I’m talking to myself. I’m still talking to myself. In public; with people looking at me. Thinking I’m unusual.

(Shop Assistant) Are you alright there? Is there anything I can help you with?

(Tom) I don’t know what I’m looking for.

(Shop Assistant) Well, what are you looking for?

(Tom) I don’t know.

(Shop Assistant) But what are you looking for? I mean, what is it that you’re looking for, exactly?

(Tom) I really don’t know.

(Shop Assistant) Well, okay – but if you need help with anything, just give us a shout.

(Tom) Is there anything you can help me with?

(Shop Assistant) What do you need help with?

(Tom) I’m not sure.

(Shop Assistant) When you figure it out, just let me know, and I’ll be happy to help.

[Li enters the scene]

(Tom) Actually, I don’t mind these trousers – and this shirt; but they don’t really look right together. Have you got anything which is the same; but different?

(Shop Assistant) Like different colours, but the same designs?

(Tom) No – I mean, haven’t you got anything that looks the same; but just looks different, somehow?

(Shop Assistant) I don’t know, mate. I only started working here eight months ago.

(Tom) Okay, but say you were going to wear a tie with them – not that I like wearing ties – but if you had to, what would be the best colour?

(Shop Assistant) Whichever, really. They’re all fine.

(Tom) Sure; but just as an example?

(Shop Assistant) Well, we have a two for one offer on ties at the moment, if it helps. Or maybe not, actually. Might’ve been last week, that, come to think of it.

(Tom) This really isn’t helping.

(Li) You need a spot colour.

(Tom) A spot colour?

(Li) The trousers are grey, and the shirt’s white – they’re both neutral tones. So you need a colour which contrasts with them.

(Tom) Why?

(Li) It brings out the qualities of the other two. Such as they are.

(Tom) But like what, exactly?

(Li) Like blue, or red. Or purple – which would suit you better. Although it looks a bit dull as a colour scheme – but to each their own.

(Tom) It is dull, isn’t it? I really don’t like men’s clothes at all.

(Li) You could always experiment with the ladies’ range.

(Shop Assistant) That’s on the other side of shop.

(Tom) I know – thanks. No – thanks. I won’t be doing that. People think I’m unusual as it is.

(Li) Anyway – it’s up to you to wear what you like.

(Tom) Do you work here? I mean – for longer than eight months?

(Li) No; I just like clothes. This is a good time of the year to find something different, and new.

(Shop Assistant) New stock’s in next week. No – might be the weekend, actually, that. I can find out, if you like?

(Li) I’ll come back next week, thanks.

[Li departs; Ben returns]

(Ben) Who was that?

(Tom) I don’t know.

(Ben) You didn’t think to ask?

(Tom) I didn’t know who she was.

(Ben) That’s generally why you ask. You don’t think maybe she would have liked you to find out?

(Tom) I doubt it.

(Ben) Maybe invite her somewhere, sometime? She was making the first move, there?

(Shop Assistant) It’s certainly possible.

(Tom) I didn’t even know who she was.

(Ben) That’s why you invite someone out. That’s the reason behind it.

(Shop Assistant) It’s right, that.

(Tom) What if they were already with someone, though?

(Shop Assistant) That’s a good point, actually.

(Ben) They could just say no. It’s not the end of the world.

(Shop assistant) True. Hadn’t thought about that.

(Tom) Would it be right to ask somebody out, when you don’t even know who they are?

(Shop Assistant) I know who she is.

(Ben) Really?

(Shop Assistant) Sure. She comes in here all the time – she writes that fashion advice column for the paper. I mean, I don’t know that much about clothes…

(Tom) Really?

(Shop Assistant) … no; but it’s worth reading all the same. Some good tips in there, actually.

(Ben) Like what?

(Shop Assistant) Like what women like, and the like. Like that.

(Tom) Like, what women like? Or, like, what they…like?

(Shop Assistant) Yes. No. Are you going to buy those, then?

(Tom) No, thank you. Yes, actually. No.

 

 

Act 1 – Scene 6 

[Friday. Jo has taken Li to the nightclub where Ben works. They sit down in a seated area; with cocktails in hand]

(Li) Maybe this isn’t the best idea.

(Jo) Why not just stay a while, at least; and see what happens?

(Li) Okay.

[The flimsy plastic cup Li is holding splits. The drink spills down the dress Li is wearing, and ice cubes scatter everywhere]

(Li) Of course that would happen.

[Li stands up, and begins to wring the dress out – but it is obviously soaked and stained. Jo clears ice cubes out of her hand bag, into a nearby bin. Li sits back down on an edge of the wet seat; legs crossed at the knee]

(Li) Can we just go, please?

(Jo) Sure – but give me a moment, here.

[Jo dabs the contents of her handbag with a tissue]

(Ben) Look.

(Tom) I know.

(Ben) So? Why not just go and talk to her?

(Tom) Why would she want me to, though? I mean she’s with someone. They look like they’re about to leave, anyway.

(Ben) Do you want to go and talk to her?

(Tom) I do, but I don’t.

(Ben) Well, then, go and say something – before she leaves.

(Tom) Okay – I will. No – no I won’t.

(Ben) You will.

(Tom) Fine – I can do this. I can. I really can.

(Ben) You can.

(Tom) I can’t. Are you sure it’s a good idea?

(Ben) For crying out loud – just go and talk to her!

(Tom) And say what?

(Ben) I don’t know. Something.

(Tom) Something?

(Ben) Something!

(Tom) Okay – something. Like what?

(Ben) Will you go. Go.

[Tom walks towards the area where Jo and Li are seated; then looks back at Ben – who ushers him on tidily]

(Tom) Hi [awkward pause]. That’s all I’ve got.

(Li) It’s enough to start with.

(Tom) I wanted to…thank you…for talking me out of buying that awful outfit the other day. In the clothes shop – the one with the clothes.

(Li) I remember it.

(Tom) Great! So…thanks.

(Li) It’s okay.

(Tom) I didn’t experiment with the women’s clothing.

(Li) There’s always next time.

(Tom) Yes. No. But I did buy a tie – although I know women wear ties; these days. Some do, at least. It was a man’s design though. I think; anyway.

(Li) Okay.

(Tom) Not that I don’t think, that you can’t…can I get you a drink? I mean – to say thanks. I have…[checks wallet] this much money. Which isn’t a lot. And the drinks cost a fortune in this place. But I know the barman – he’s okay. Usually. So it’s okay.

(Li) Maybe some other time; it would be nice.

(Tom) It’s okay. I’m…sorry.

(Li) No – I meant, maybe some other time, it would be nice.

(Tom) Not to worry.

(Li) No, really, I meant…

(Tom) I understand.

[Tom walks away]

(Li) [Voice drowned out by music] Don’t leave, please. I would like…

[Jo looks at Li disapprovingly. They both depart. Tom returns to the bar, and retakes his seat]

(Ben) So, how did it go?

(Tom) Like I expected.

(Ben) Bad as that? Impressive. Sorry, mate.

(Tom) It’s okay. Thanks.

(Ben) Can I get you a drink?

(Tom) It’s okay. Thanks.

 

 

 Act 1 – Scene 7 

[A bright Saturday morning; in Trinity square. Tom is standing amidst the front row of a small crowd. It has gathered to watch street performances; as part of a Christmas market-festival, being held outside the Minster.

One act is the Green Ginger Ensemble. It comprises a troupe of actors wearing costumes, and masks: some heroic, some grotesque; some animalistic, and some comical.

Musicians play in the background. Flutes trill. Drums beat.

Li and Jo are at the market, exploring the more esoteric clothing on sale. They notice Tom].

(Jo) Why not just go up to him? I mean, really – why not?

(Li) It wouldn’t be right.

(Jo) Why would it be wrong?

(Li) You know why.

(Jo) Find a way.

[Jo and Li approach the area where Tom is standing; and join the audience – in watching the onset of a shadow theatre production. An unseen puppeteer begins to work the strings.

The curtains part, and reveal a calm ocean.

Three fishermen board three fishing boats – and sail into the waves; on a journey to the Land of Near & Far. Their quest is to rescue a princess – confined in the palace of a sorcerous Wu.

The Wu emerges, becloaked.

The Wu takes a tear from the eyes of the princess. It pearlesces; then forms an iris, which awakens into a dragon.

From wood, its horns splinter into being. Metal sharpens into claws, and water threshes into a tail. Earth broils into its roar; and fire flares to form its breath of ice.

The Wu commands the dragon to obey; and the creature spirits its creator up to the crest of the mountain, on which the palace stands.

Perched upon the dragon’s shoulders, the Wu holds a teacup in the palm of one hand; before swirling their crooked fingers in its contents. They blow over the surface of the cup.

A tempest begins. It engulfs the ocean and the mariners.

Tidal waves rise from both sides of the sea; and scatter the boats east and west. The sky darkens – and a blizzard unfurls; turning the water into a tumult of mist and rime.

The Wu blows on their teacup again. The sea winds roar, and billow into the fishing vessels – which sink one by one; leaving the matelots stranded in the bitter depths.

The skies lull, once more. The sun glimmers; and the Wu returns to their palace.

Two mermaids emerge from the deep, and rescue the stricken men – placing one fisherman on a life raft, formed from debris; before taking the remaining sailors gently away into the fathoms with them. 

A golden phoenix descends from the sky, and lifts the lone fisherman upwards, mounted on its back; seated between its burning feathers. Together, they wing towards the Wu’s palace.

The Green Ginger actors whirl in the background – the shadow puppets twirl in the foreground. Their momentum increases as the musical tempo crescendos; faster and faster and faster.

The fisherman and phoenix alight on the roof of the palace. The princess unlocks the palatial gates from within. She mounts the Wu’s dragon steed; and the two charges wheel away against a firmament of setting sun and budding moon.

But the Wu is not finished; and uses their teacup to unleash another commotion.

Lightning flashes, and thunder cracks. Gales squall, and the sun devours the moon; then disintegrates. Emptiness fills the sky. All is subsumed in darkness, and starlight.

The fisherman and princess, on their dragon and phoenix mounts, fly through the sparkling gloom.

They encircle the Wu – who is transformed into icicles by the dragon’s breath; then engulfed in flames, from the tail-feathers of the phoenix.

The Wu convulses, and explodes into fireworks. The acting troupe burst firecrackers. The smoke of each scene clears.

The fisherman and princess have returned to the palace. They stand facing one another; their hands in each others’ hands.

The dragon and phoenix ascend into the sky, and whorl. They pattern the air with yin and yang – against a backdrop of the milky way; bridging heaven and earth.

As one, the music stops, the actors become motionless, and the shadow theater curtains close.

The audience applauds.

The actors take off their masks, and bow; then withdraw from the scene in silence. The crowd disperses; and people wander on to view other attractions, elsewhere in the festival.

Tom, Li, and Jo remain in place. After a moment passes, Jo discreetly nudges Li forward, towards Tom]

(Li) Hi.

(Tom) Hi. I’m Tom, by the way. I think I forgot to mention that yesterday; in between giving you the rest of my life story. What’s your name?

(Li) Li. Would you like to invite me out sometime?

(Tom) I would; yes.

[Awkward pause]

(Tom) Sorry – I see. Where would you like to go?

 

 

Act 2 – Scene 1

[Tom and Li are leaving a Cantonese restaurant together. They exit its door to the sound of customers talking, and dishes being scraped with cutlery; then begin walking through Trinity square.

An old Chinese man, worse for wear – and serenading the moon in his native language – is leaning on a lamp-post. He looks at Li, then addresses Tom imploringly as the pair walk past; before resuming his reverie]

(Tom) What did the message in your fortune cookie say?

(Li) “All that glisters is not gold”.

(Tom) Can’t argue with that – I suppose. Where is it you’re from?

(Li) Here.

(Tom) You know what I mean.

(Li) My parents came from Hong Kong. They had to leave when things changed [Li is wearing a necklace; and points to its crucifix pendant]. They’ve not returned, since.

(Tom) Have they wanted to?

(Li) Sometimes. They’ve never felt quite at home, here; somehow.

(Tom) Do they miss living there?

(Li) Not the country, so much – but the people: their friends. Neighbours. Family. They miss those.

(Tom) They haven’t found it the same here?

(Li) Not quite. Some people are friendly; but some…maybe not so much. Plus, they can’t speak English very well – my mother, especially. It isn’t always so easy for them to fit in. Things can be difficult, sometimes.

[A full moon is in the night sky. The Minster bells peal for midnight; and snow begins falling. Tom puts his overcoat around Li’s shoulders.

The snowfall continues – descending onto the city: onto the square, the surrounding streets; and the people walking through them. The lamp lights glisten. The world turns silver, and quiet].

(Tom) Do you speak Chinese?

(Li) Some.

(Tom) What was the man we saw earlier saying?

(Li) If England want to prosper, they need a more creative midfielder.

(Tom) That’s very true.

(Li) It’s very late.

(Tom) It is. I live not far from here – would you like to come home with me?

(Li) No, thank you. It wouldn’t be right.

(Tom) I’m sorry – I hadn’t meant to be forward.

(Li) It’s not like that – it would just…

(Tom) It’s okay. You don’t need to explain. I can still walk you home.

(Li) No, please – thanks. It’s only around the corner anyway. It’s….

(Tom) It’s okay.

[Li hands Tom his coat back, and departs. The snow gives way to rain; and sleet begins to mire in the gutters. The lamp lights flicker. The square and its surrounding streets grow empty. Tom is left standing alone]

 

 

Act 2 – Scene 2

[It is early morning; before dawn. Tom and Ben are seated in a café – with only the staff for company]

(Tom) I said the wrong thing, didn’t I?

(Ben) Maybe. It might be that she’s just more…traditional about all of this. You need the blessing of her parents beforehand – that type of thing.

(Tom) Perhaps she just doesn’t like me that way? I didn’t expect that she would, really. I can live with that – it’s okay; I just hoped that she did.

(Ben) Maybe she knows.

(Tom) Knows?

(Ben) You know.

(Tom) I haven’t said anything, though.

(Ben) Women notice the small things. Whether you want them to or not. Maybe that’s the problem – she’s twigged; and thinks you’re not being honest with her.

(Tom) Twigged? How?

(Ben) Intuition.

(Tom) Really? Intuition?

(Ben) Sure! Like when our lass sussed I was beginning to have a problem with drink – well before I even suspected.

(Tom) That was because you kept going home drunk, from work.

(Ben) True; but still. Women pick up on these things.

(Tom) You think it would be a problem, if she does know?

(Ben) Well, again, maybe she’s just old-fashioned.

(Tom) She doesn’t seem that way.

(Ben) Or her parents are. Some folk are a bit behind the times – it’s not their fault. It’s just their upbringing.

(Tom) Maybe.

(Ben) You can’t change someone.

(Tom) Well, no; but someone can change – if they just look at things differently.

[Ben looks at Tom]

(Ben) Go for it, then. What have you got to lose?

(Tom) Aside from dignity, the respect of my peers; and her?

(Ben) How many of those do you currently have?

(Tom) Fair point.

(Ben) Look, if it’s not to be, it’s not to be. It sucks – but you can’t change what you can’t change.

(Café assistant) Here’s your change.

(Tom) Thanks – you keep it, actually. As a tip.

(Café assistant) Sure? It’s three pounds.

(Tom) How much? Nevermind – it’s okay.

 

 

Act 2 – Scene 3

[The same morning; the same time. Li is seated opposite Jo, in a crowded and noisy café]

(Li) I think he knows.

(Jo) I’m sure he does. I mean, he’s a man; but I’m sure he’s figured it out, all the same.

(Li) Do you think he would care, if he doesn’t know?

(Jo) I suppose – but do you think he wouldn’t know, if he cared?

(Li) I guess. Do you think he doesn’t know?

(Jo) I don’t know. Do you think…?

(Café Customer 1) [Looking up from newspaper] Would you girls not shut up?

(Jo) We’re not girls; we’re women. So why don’t you shut up?

(Li) Please, Jo.

(Café Customer 1) No – you shut up!

(Café owner) Hey – don’t talk to the women that way, you.

(Café Customer 1) Shut up.

(Café owner) No, it’s my rez – you shut up.

(Li) Please – let’s just go.

(Café Customer 2) Why don’t you all shut up?

(Café Customer 3) Shut up, shut up, shut up, shut up, shut up!

(Café Customer 1) You shut up.

(Café owner) I can’t believe you don’t shut up.

(Café Customer 4) Shut up you.

(Café Customer 1) You shut up.

(Café owner) Shut up, all of you!

[Li and Jo both depart]

 

 

Act 2 – Scene 4

[It is mid-afternoon. Li and Maeve are both in a small office – seated at computers; with their backs turned to each other.

Outside, the sun is shining brightly; as can be seen through the window behind them. The room is noiseless save for the sounds of a radio, and typing.

The computers’ internet-connection crashes. Both Li and Maeve mutter their frustration at the same time; each saying “honestly”.

They turn around on their chairs, to face one other; and sit in silence for a moment]

(Li) Maeve. Are you going to the Christmas party?

(Maeve) No; no.

(Li) You have other plans?

(Maeve) No.

[There is a pause. Li looks at Maeve’s grey/brown hair, and grey/brown outfit]

(Li) Have you thought about dressing with more colour, Maeve? It would make a world of difference.

(Maeve) Wouldn’t know where to start!

(Li) Well – you have green eyes. Red would bring their hue out. So would yellow. Orange would work.

(Maeve) [Shakes head]

(Li) You could try something subtle, like jade – as a complimentary shade. It would look quite striking.

(Maeve) No – no. I don’t have anything like that, anyway.

(Li) Your figure’s not too different to mine – I have some things you can borrow, if you’d like.

(Maeve) No; thank you. I appreciate the thought; but there isn’t a point, really. I haven’t quite got your…I’m not so young, these days [Maeve gestures towards her greying hair].

(Li) You can always change that. There’s a whole rainbow to choose from, there.

(Maeve) [Hushed] It is dyed. [Unhushed] You can’t conceal your roots forever, though.

(Li) No; I suppose not. Here.

[Li takes off a mandarin-coloured silk neck scarf, which has an inlaid golden Chinese pattern; and gives it to Maeve, tying it on for her].

(Li) Silver hair makes a woman look handsome, Maeve. I think the style could do with being updated a bit, though.

(Maeve) A bit?

(Li) A bit.

(Maeve) Would you like a cup of tea?

(Li) Yes; please.

(Maeve) Will you come with me?

(Li) To get the tea?

(Maeve) No – to a salon!

(Li) Of course.

(Maeve) Ta.

(Li) It’s okay.

 

 

Act 2 – Scene 5

[It is dusk. A stall, manned by a female vendor, is selling a variety of cooked Chinese foods in Trinity square; as part of the Christmas market.

Tom is looking at the menu. Li approaches from behind him, without his notice].

(Vendor) What can I get you?

(Tom) I’m a bit lost, to be honest. What would you recommend?

(Li) You could try the chǎolìzi.

[Tom turns around]

(Tom) That sounds a bit…exotic. What is it?

(Li) Chestnuts.

(Tom) Right. Okay.

(Li) Would you like it if I came around for dinner?

(Tom) I would; yes.

[Awkward pause]

(Vendor) She wants you to invite her.

(Tom) [To the vendor] I know – thanks. [To Li] Do you want me to invite you? I mean, as before?

(Li) You just have to give me a day; and a time.

(Tom) Yes. Of course. When did you want me to invite you around?

(Li) Tomorrow night will be fine.

(Tom) Okay. So, that’s when you want to come around? Not when you want me to make the invitation?

(Li) Tomorrow night at seven would be fine.

(Tom) Great. What would you like me to make for dinner?

(Li) Anything will be fine; I’m sure.

(Tom) Anything, specifically?

(Li) Really – anything will be fine.

(Tom) But just as a sort of general idea…?

(Vendor) Chestnuts?

(Tom) Chest…no.

(Li) If you could make five-colour rice, that would be fine.

(Tom) I think the word ‘if’ is doing a lot of work in that sentence. But okay.

(Li) Okay.

(Tom) Okay. Unless there’s anything else that you’d prefer? Like soup?

 

 

Act 2 – Scene 6

[Tom’s flat – ornamented with Christmas decorations; including a small tree, adorned with dried fruits. It is late Sunday evening.

Li is wearing a Cheongsam, and a silver serpent hairpin. Tom and Li are both washing their dishes, after dinner]

(Tom) I think I know why you were upset the other night; outside the church.

(Li) I wasn’t upset. It just became a bit awkward – I’m sorry.

(Tom) There’s nothing to apologise for.

(Li) I should explain.

(Tom) Really – it’s okay. I know. I mean, I know people can see these things different ways.

(Li) You know?

(Tom) Sure. And people can find it difficult to accept, sometimes. It can be awkward – even, say, with parents who want the best for you. Maybe especially with them.

(Li) They don’t always find it easy when some things change.

(Tom) No. It can be hard for them to adjust.

(Li) But it’s not something that you find unusual?

(Tom) Well, I suppose I did, a bit – when I was younger. It’s not exactly what you’re used to.

(Li) No. I guess.

(Tom) But it doesn’t change who you are, or anything. Well, it does – but, it doesn’t.

(Li) You can’t help growing up a certain way.

(Tom) Exactly. And everyone’s upbringing is different; so, things can get a bit…complicated, sometimes.

(Li) Some things you can change; and some things you can’t.

(Tom) Right – you are as you are. It can make matters less than straightforward, though – between people; I know.

(Li) How long have you known?

(Tom) Maybe not always; but, of course, I did eventually realise – and then it seemed obvious, all along. It doesn’t have to be a big deal. It really doesn’t.

(Li) You don’t think it’s so strange, now?

(Tom) No, no. Not at all, anymore. Besides – I think if you care about someone, then you like them regardless, anyway.

(Li) I agree. It’s not something that has to come between people.

(Tom) No; of course. People always have plenty in common. Underneath. Everyone’s different, but they’re still…the…same. You know what I mean.

(Li) I do! Would you like me to make some tea?

(Tom) How is tea made in China?

(Li) With a kettle.

(Tom) You know what I mean!

(Li) There are different ceremonies. Sometimes it’s made to show respect, or gratitude; or to apologise, and seek forgiveness.

(Tom) Other times?

(Li) To revive relations, within families; when people have grown apart. Or to create a new bond between one person and another.

(Tom) Okay; so how would we do that?

(Li) One person fills a cup halfway with water – and the other person pours the second half in.

[They each pour water into the same cup]

(Tom) Not usually in an octopus mug, though?

(Li) It serves the purpose.

[The teacup falls from Li’s grasp, onto the floor. It breaks; and the liquid is strewn]

(Li) Sorry.

(Tom) It’s okay – I can clear that up later. Actually, I’ll sort it now. Actually no – it can wait. It really can. I’ll clean it up.

(Li) Where’s your bedroom?

(Tom) It can wait.

(Li) Are you sure?

(Tom) No. Sorry.

(Li) It’s okay.

 

 

Act 2 – Scene 7

[Tom’s bedroom. The curtains are open. The room is lit only by moonlight.

Tom and Li are kneeling opposite one another, on the bed – atop its scarlet sheets. 

Tom removes Li’s hairpin. Li kisses Tom, and leaves a trace of lipstick on his mouth.

Tom undresses.

Li undresses – placing the clothes to one side. 

It becomes clear that Li has a male body.

There is an awkward moment, before both people speak simultaneously]

(Li) I’m sorry – I thought…

(Tom) I’m sorry – I thought…

[Li walks out of the bedroom, with the clothes]

(Tom) Bugger. Bugger!

[Li walks toward the flat’s front door. Tom emerges from his bedroom doorway, holding Li’s hairpin]

(Tom) Don’t leave.

[Li stops still, and then turns around to face Tom – the dress, and a lace negligee, clenched in hand]

(Tom) Please. I would like it if you spent the night with me. We don’t have to do anything, if you don’t want to. You could just be my guest for the evening.

(Li) You want me to stay?

(Tom) I have some pyjamas you can wear. They’d look better on you than they do on me, anyway.

(Li) You don’t think I’m…unusual?

(Tom) That’s not what I think, at all. Not in a bad way, at least.

(Li) But when I took my clothes off…you…

(Tom) It just…wasn’t what I was expecting. But it’s okay. It doesn’t change anything.

(Li) I don’t understand. You thought I was…female; but you don’t have a problem with me being…?

(Tom) You don’t know?

[Li looks lost]

(Tom) I’m bisexual. I thought you had twigged…I mean, I thought you knew.

[Li shakes head]

(Tom) I wanted to say something – but it’s not so easy to find the right moment.

(Li) No.

(Tom) Plus, it’s put some women off in the past. Not only women – but…

(Li) It’s okay.

(Tom) I was hoping you’d like to be my girlfriend – if that’s the right word.

(Li) I would like that. It’s what I want.

(Tom) Is ‘girlfriend’ the correct term?

(Li) I don’t know. If it’s not, then what is?

(Tom) I don’t know. What do you want to be?

 

[Ends]

 

 

If you would like a soundtrack for an imaginary film version of this play (because, why not?) – or if you’d just like to read it anew, and have something to listen to:

 

Captain – Keep An Open Mind
(Act 1 – Scene 1: opening)

Altered Images – Don’t Talk To Me About Love
(Act 1 – Scene 1: playing on the kitchen radio in Tom’s flat, as his mother opens the door)

Lloyd & The Commotions – Perfect Skin
(Act 1 – Scene 2: playing on the printer-repairmen’s boombox)

Skunk Anansie – Hotel TV
(Act 1 – Scene 3: the music playing in the nightclub as Tom is talking to Ben)

My Bloody Valentine – Soon
(Act 1 – Scene 3: the music which drowns out Ben’s words)

Camera Obscura – Troublemaker
(Act 1 – Scene 4: playing on the café’s jukebox, as Li is talking to Jo)

Red Snapper – The Rake
(Act 1 – Scene 5: playing on the clothes shop’s PA, as Tom and Ben enter the building)

XTC – Love At First Sight
(Act 1 – Scene 5: playing on the clothes shop’s PA, when Li enters the scene)

Darling Buds – So Close
(Act 1 – Scene 6: the music playing in the nightclub, when Ben and Tom notice Li and Jo)

Pretenders – Message Of Love
(Act 1 – Scene 6: playing when Tom walks up and talks to Li)

Vashti Bunyan –  Winter Is Blue
(Act 1 – Scene 7: being played by a group of folk musicians at the Christmas festival)

Siouxie And The Banshees – Spellbound
(Act 1 – Scene 7: musical accompaniment to the shadow theatre/masked actors performance. Imagine the tune being played on traditional Chinese instruments, if you will)

Kitchens Of Distinction – Mad As Snow
(Act 2 – Scene 1: as Li and Tom are walking through Trinity square)

Patrick Fitzgerald – What Is Fruit?
(Act 2 – Scene 2: playing on the café radio, as Ben is talking with Tom)

The Sundays – Your Eyes
(Act 2 – Scene 3: playing on the café radio, as Li is talking to Jo)

The Cure – Close To Me
(Act 2 – Scene 4: playing on the office radio, when Li and Maeve are talking together)

The Shop Assistants – Somewhere In China
(Act 2 – Scene 5: playing on the vendor’s stereo, at the chestnut stall)

Lush – Thoughtforms
(Act 2 – Scene 6: playing on the radio in Tom’s kitchen, while Tom and Li are washing dishes/making tea)

Cranberries – Linger
(Act 2 – Scene 7: bedroom scene and ending)

You can, of course, compile your own songlist – as you wish

 

 

 

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For my friends

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(And everyone else as well, obviously)

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