A New Place Of Exile

Richard Hutton

Category: Plays

Inside Out – A Romantic Comedy, In Several Acts.

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

 

 

 

*

For my friends

*

(And everyone else as well, obviously)

*

The wisdom of fools – a play, in one act

 

Characters: Lord Montgomery, Lord D’ancona; and a Valet.

The setting: 18th century England – a dank corridor, in the Houses of Parliament. The lords Montgomery and D’ancona stand together conversing; in their full pomp of powdered wigs, and high heeled shoes. Their faces are whitened with carcinogenic paste. A valet stands in attendance.

 

Act 1: Scene 1

(Montgomery) You have heard the unedifying news, I trust?

(D’ancona) Why yes, of course. Which news? It is all alike these days.

(Montgomery) About the machinations of this upstart in the ranks, Jérome Corbín. Making much commotion, of late.

(D’ancona) Oh, certainly. The fellow has ideas above his station.

(Montgomery) Rest assured, we will not be troubled by him. The arrogant fool will never become leader of the Plebeian Party – he simply lacks the breeding.

(D’ancona) Indubitably.

(Valet) Monsieur Corbín won his party’s leadership contest by a considerable margin, my good lords.

(Montgomery) Ah, he might very well have succeeded therein – but assuredly more by luck, than judgment.

(D’ancona) Yes, yes – indeed, my good Lord. Let us see how he flails, when challenged. The unobservant fool will not retain his station for long!

(Montgomery) Why, Lord D’ancona, your sagacity rivals even mine own.

(D’ancona) I would return the compliment, by declaring you my equal.

(Valet) Monsieur Corbín retained his office by an increased margin, following a leadership challenge, my good lords.

(Montgomery) Be that as it may, I confidently predict that Corbín will suffer a calamitous defeat, of historic proportions, during any vote generously bequeathed to the public.

(D’ancona) Indeed, he almost has my pity. I would offer him my advice; but I fear he would simply not understand it.

(Valet) Monsieur Corbín’s party fared remarkably well in the recent elections, my good lords.

(Montgomery) Impossible – he is but a fool!

(D’ancona) A complete fool! Only a personage of our wisdom could achieve such a feat.

(Valet) Historical precedents were set, my good lords.

(Montgomery) All well and good – but he will never become Prime Minister, unless he heeds our wisdom.

(D’ancona) No never.

(Montgomery) Never.

(D’ancona) Surely never.

The end.

Christmas At The Inn – A Play In One Act

91

Setting: two dining quarters in a small inn, separated by a grey curtain, which is heavy with dust; and drawn between the two rooms. The room on the left is the ‘Master’s Quarter’, reserved for high-paying guests; on the right is the dining area kept aside for servants, and for the lowlier guests at the inn.

The masters’ quarter is very fine, lit by a large fire and a three-branched silver candelabrum on the table: yet despite the light cast by these, the room still seems gloomy; and the areas not close to the fireplace are in heavy shadow. The masters’ room is quiet. The sound of the fire crackling away, and chairs when they scrape on the stone floor, are clearly audible. There is a coat-stand towards the back of the room, with an expensively tailored coat hanging on it. To the left hand-side of the Master’s quarter is a small, unlit corridor.

The servants’ area is very spartan, slightly smaller than the masters’ room, unheated; and it has only a candle for light – but it’s bright enough to see the faces of the people in the room by. It is a working room, with cupboards on the wall; and tankards, pots and pans hanging up. There is a door in the right hand side wall. The inn’s servant is sitting at the table, eating. The table itself is a plain wooden one; and has two benches for seats.

The Innkeeper and his wife are in the masters’ dining room. The Innkeeper’s wife is seated on a wooden chair, embroidering. Two guests – Lord Featherstone-Hough of Wensleydale, and his wife – are seated at the highly polished table in the middle of the masters’ dining quarter, eating – with silence between them. The Innkeeper is hovering about them noticeably. Both the Lord and the Innkeeper wear periwigs. Featherstone-Hough’s is voluminous and white; the Innkeeper’s is less ample and dark grey.

It is night-time. The Featherstone-Houghs are eating at the inn, while taking a break during the return journey to their home estate. Their coach is outside; ready and waiting for them to finish.

(Innkeeper) Lord Featherstone-Hough…
(Featherstone-Hough) [Glowers] Fan-shaw. Fan-shaw.
(Innkeeper) I see, I see. I do apologise, Lord Fanshaw.
(Featherstone-Hough) Yes; well.
(Innkeeper) Indeed I do, sir.
My wife must have written your name down quite incorrectly.
Will it be the full three-courses tonight, sir?
[Featherstone-Hough nods]
(Innkeeper) And coffee, and dessert? We have the most splendid…
(Featherstone-Hough) Yes, yes. Put it on my tab.
(Innkeeper) Yes, of course. Actually…
(Featherstone-Hough) Good man. You can add a tip to it.
(Innkeeper) Well, thank you, my lord, but…
(Featherstone-Hough) A respectable one.
(Innkeeper) A…pound?
(Featherstone-Hough) Two percent of the overall bill would be tolerable.
(Innkeeper) [Under breath] A pound it is then.
(Featherstone-Hough) What?
(Innkeeper) Nothing. Nothing – I will take no tip.
An honest ‘keeper’s wage is enough of a reward for me.
A privilege, even. A godsend. Ask no more, I say.
(Featherstone-Hough) It is at your discretion.
(Innkeeper) Well…
(Featherstone-Hough) Well what?
(Innkeeper) Truly sir, I am no more than a fellow that would make ends meet.
(Wife) And a tidy profit.
(Innkeeper) Be quiet.
(Featherstone-Hough) [Chewing, swallows] A scold was once made to wear a bridle.
(Innkeeper) I assure you, my lord, my wife has never once attempted to fasten any such thing on me.
She has certainly never succeeded. She knows her station.
The one we have is kept purely for the mice. It makes an excellent mousetrap. In fact…
(Featherstone-Hough) Mice?
(Innkeeper) We have no mice here, my lord. Certainly, none has ever been seen in this vicinity.
Whispered of, perhaps; but the bridle is merely an ornament, an antique, a family heirloom.

[The Innkeeper gathers empty crockery, and prepares further dishes]

(Featherstone-Hough) Marriage is just a simple question of respect.
(Innkeeper) My Lord Fanshaw, I do apologise.
(Featherstone-Hough) Yes; well.
(Innkeeper) Indeed I do, sir. I do indeed, sir. You must forgive my wife.
She’s not used to such distinguished, gracious company.
She doesn’t know how to behave herself accordingly.

[The Innkeeper’s wife puts her embroidery down, stands up and motions her husband into the corridor. The Featherstone-Houghs continue to eat in silence].

(Wife) He still hasn’t paid the bill his party racked up last year.
(Innkeeper) I know that!
(Wife) Well, are you going to ask him about it?
(Innkeeper) Of course, of course.
But there are means and ways – means and ways.
See, we need to attract a better class of visitor to this establishment.
Nothing works better than endorsements from the gentry.
You need money in order to make money…
(Wife) Well, that’s my point.
(Innkeeper) …horse dealers and bank clerks are all well and good;
But it’s the nobility who really pay by the pound –
And you need connections – a reputation and a standing – not riff-raff and refuse…
(Wife) Paying customers.
(Innkeeper) … muddying up the place embarrassing them to high heavens.
It’s a mutually beneficial arrangement. It’s quite simple really.
This will be the finest inn, on the finest road – in the finest country in the world.
The service will be magnificent: the porcelain exquisite;
The tea-pots of silver, the canteens likewise; bread-baskets gilt with lace;
Beer-tankards and flagons of pewter; a tea-urn decorated with gold.
People will be able to purchase an experience of gentility. That’s the ticket.
Who knows? With enough of a turnover I could buy a title;
One may even be forthcoming.
The gentry will surely wish to be guests in an established house –
The acquaintances of an equal would be fitting, perhaps even…
Well, at any rate, not visitors to a mere tradesman’s lowly hub.
It will mean having to turn some custom away, of course –
But you can’t climb the ranks without leaving the lower orders behind.

[The Inn’s bell rings noisily: the Innkeeper gives his wife a signal with a nod of his head; she then goes to answer the door – off stage – while the Innkeeper returns to the masters’ dining room. A few moments pass while the Innkeeper waits on Featherstone-Hough, rubbing has hands, partly with cold from standing in the corridor. The Innkeeper’s wife calls his name indistinguishably: the Innkeeper leans his head out of the dining room, into the corridor. He and his wife exchange words; though only the Innkeeper’s are audible].

(Innkeeper) What? No, no, no. No! There’s no room.
I’m sorry, but we can’t house everybody.
No. No. No. How much? Well, there’s the shed if you clear-out the firewood.
Fine. There’s space in the stable.
Look, it’s the best that I can do.
There’s a bucket. There’s a trough. There’s a floor.
Fine. I’ll fetch a blanket – just let me finish up here first.
And I want a deposit – up front.
[To Featherstone-Hough – shaking his head]
I do apologise for the interruption, my goodly lord.
A gypsy stable hand and his wife. [Tuts]
Is there anything you require, your graciousness?
(Featherstone-Hough) [Talking with mouth full, without looking at the Innkeeper, mumbles vaguely].
(Innkeeper) Brandy? Brandy – the very best [scurries and fetches it from a cupboard].
Fully French. Well, part Swiss, I think. Or Belgian.
[Featherstone-Hough – shakes head]
(Innkeeper) No? What then, your superbness?
Whisky? Rum? Surely not beer? Perhaps ale?
[Featherstone-Hough nonchalantly nods towards the Innkeeper’s breast-pocket]
(Innkeeper) My handkerchief?
[Hands it over to Featherstone-Hough, who empties his mouth into it, then hands it back without a word].
(Innkeeper) Thank you.

[The Innkeeper’s wife re-enters the room – the Innkeeper gives the handkerchief to her, and she puts it resignedly into a bin; before taking her seat and stitching again].

(Wife) They’re just putting their things in the stable. They’ll be through in a minute.

[Another guest staying at the inn passes through the room – his overcoat is wet and heavy – en route to the servants’ quarter. The man cheerily addresses Featherstone-Hough and his wife]

(Guest) How do you do, fella; misses?
(Featherstone-Hough) [Puts down his cutlery in disgust] Impudence!

[The guest leaves the curtain open and sits down noisily opposite the Inn’s servant: his voice carries from room to room].

(Guest) It’s bloody freezing out! It’s bloody freezing in!
What’s the eats? Bread? Ale? Ooh, not bad that.
The old gadger and ‘is missus next-door could do with a bit, by the looks of things.

[The guest laughs. The Innkeeper closes the curtain and grimaces].

(Innkeeper) The common herd [tuts] – no manners my good lord.
Little respect for their betters – for you – nevermind propriety.
(Innkeeper) [To his wife] I told you to send the meagre guests to the tradesman’s entrance.
Go and make sure the newcomers go that way.

[His wife puts her embroidery down, gets up and goes through the servants’ quarter off stage].

(Featherstone-Hough) A failure to defer to masters can have fatal consequences.
(Innkeeper) How so, my good lord?
(Featherstone-Hough) [Speaking with his mouth half-full]
Free and easy intercourse propagates the most dangerous and immoral opinions.
The designs the lower orders have, once voiced, give way to sedition.
I have seen it. I see something of it in your wife.
(Innkeeper) My wife? Yes, well, she persists, but she’s …
(Featherstone-Hough) The wife…[still chewing].
(Innkeeper) Yes, my decency; yes your gracious lord. I cannot apologise enough.
(Fanshaw) [points to his own wife with his knife-blade]
A marriage of forty-five years, and evermore.
(Innkeeper) An example – a sterling example.
Even for a lowly, trustworthy, commendable tradesman,
Whose own spouse is often quite the cause for pity.
(Featherstone-Hough) Pithy; quite.
(Innkeeper) Oh, don’t get me started. You know [Featherstone-Hough empties his mouth into a napkin]…oh.

[The Innkeeper’s wife re-enters the servants’ quarter through the door on the right-hand side, with a young couple – both are dressed poorly; the woman is mid-term, and unable to walk in complete comfort. The Inn’s servant is talking quietly to the voluble guest. The young couple take a seat near them: the man sits next to the guest, the woman – evidently very tired and discomforted – is helped to sit down next to the servant by the Innkeeper’s wife, who then fetches them food and drink, before returning to her own chair in the Masters’ room].

(Innkeeper) [To wife] No, no – go back around – the curtain must remain closed from now on.

[The Innkeeper’s wife ignores him and retakes her seat].

(Featherstone-Hough) It reminds me of France.
(Innkeeper) France? Oh no, no – none of that goes on here.
I keep a clean, respectable, upright…
(Featherstone-Hough) The indecorousness of the French woman is a sign of the times.
Uncouth and loutish. Fit for no gentleman on earth.
The restaurants are no different.
(Innkeeper) The license? The tawdriness? The ease?
(Featherstone-Hough) The seating arrangements.
Nobody chooses their neighbours; social precedence is considered irrelevant;
One is forced to take a seat next to the natives.
Those of a more genteel sensibility
Naturally prefer to dine in their own quarters, however confined.
(Innkeeper) Oh, yes. Of course. The only way to ensure a quiet meal.
(Featherstone-Hough) Conversation spoils good company.
Familiarity is the ruin of polite society.
The French converse freely with associates in the presence of strangers,
Without displaying any unease.
(Innkeeper) Disgraceful; truly atrocious.
(Featherstone-Hough) French shop-keepers would stare at you until their eyes were fit to rupture.
(Innkeeper) Oh, how horrid.
(Featherstone-Hough) It has arrived here.
The behaviour of the English plebeians has taken a notable turn for the worse.
It was mortifying when we arrived back in England.
Being looked upon in our carriage by all the idlers and common debris of society –
Staring and gaping at you like fish on a riverbank.
It’s what I said to the Parliamentarian we met in Dover – may he perish –
‘The obliging civility of the common people
Has been replaced with presumptions and insolence’.
I saw him writing it down.
(Innkeeper) Of course, of course. They’re all the same.
They visit us here all the time.
Government officials, health inspectors – all alike.
Always with the same attitude.

[Back in the servants’ quarter: all four people are sitting consciously close to each other for warmth].

(Servant) ‘S alright – draw near. Warmer that way. [To the original guest]
You’re itching – do you have fleas, man?
(Guest) Probably – if the horses have them.
(Young man) [Polite but weary] You sell horses?
(Guest) No, no: I sell the manure.
Costs nothing to produce, does it? But farmers pay for it by the barrel!
Terrific stuff – and a painless living.
(Young Man) It beats scratches and blisters, that’s for sure.
(Guest) Absolutely. As good as gold. And everyone needs to eat.
And none by the Lords and Ladies smell any better than I do, friend.

[The Innkeeper leans his head into the room and motions to the servant; who puts his own cutlery down, comes through and clears Featherstone-Hough’s table – taking the crockery to a small stand at the side of the room, and setting the dessert bowls – but remains in the room standing next to the fire. Featherstone-Hough has a spoon poised near his mouth but refuses to eat until the servant leaves. Eventually he puts his cutlery down forcefully].

(Featherstone-Hough) The servant.
(Innkeeper) Yes my lord. An excellent vassal.
(Featherstone-Hough) [Aggressively] It is degrading to be expected to eat in the presence of the lower orders.
(Innkeeper) [To the servant] Why are you standing there?
(Servant) It’s cold out there – my hands…
(Featherstone-Hough) Can’t afford to heat the servants’ quarters?
(Innkeeper) Nonsense – it’s perfectly well heated.
A veritable mountain of logs; a roaring fire.
(Servant) Not in the least…
(Innkeeper) Be quiet!

[The Servant goes to draw the curtain – the Innkeeper intervenes, and shoves the servant through, who knocks into the table spilling the guest’s ale on the floor. The Innkeeper’s wife gives her husband a look].

(Innkeeper) What? I pay the man enough.
(Wife) In food and lodging.
(Innkeeper) Precisely.
(Wife) It’s mid-winter and you make him sleep in the stable, and the dysentery…
(Innkeeper) [Coughs very loudly].
(Featherstone-Hough) Every inn should invest in a dumb-waiter.
(Innkeeper) Don’t be so sure.
(Featherstone-Hough) Yes; a dumb-waiter –
A small lift that hauls comestibles up and down from the basement.
Purchase one. The quietness is delightful – one forgets its existence;
As opposed to a mute servant and their silent insistence.
(Innkeeper) We have no basement here, my good lord.
We are but a small tavern – the ceilings are low, the walls are thin,
The plastering – if you’ll notice….
(Featherstone-Hough) Very well. Give me wine. The red.
(Innkeeper) Of course.

[The Innkeeper calls the servant back in; who leaves the curtain open. The guest’s voice is heard through the aperture: ‘the arse on it’ – the Innkeeper coughs again and closes the curtain. After serving the Featherstone-Houghs, the servant retakes his position standing next to the fire].

(Featherstone-Hough) The servant.
(Innkeeper) What? Oh, yes, of course. [Points to servant] You – out.
[Motions to wife] You – clear the table.
(Wife) Get bent.
(Innkeeper) What?
(Wife) Get…

[The Innkeeper splutters, and ushers his wife along with the servant, from the master’s room into the servants’ quarter – but realises he will have to clear the table himself and draws his wife back in].

(Innkeeper) Go and sit down and be quiet until I tell you. Get the coffee.
(Wife) And supposing…
(Innkeeper) [Marches her forcefully over to her chair by the arm] Silence. Not a word.

[His wife sits down and takes up her embroidery again. The servant has re-taken his seat at the table in the poor quarters. The Innkeeper goes back into the servants’ quarter, and addresses the servant].

(Innkeeper) Coffee, now.

[The servant gets back up and serves the Featherstone-Houghs; when he’s finished the Innkeeper bustles him back out again].

(Featherstone-Hough) [Speech slightly slurred] Worse, even worse on the continent.
Throughout our stay in France,
We’d been obliged to drink our wine and break our bread
In the same room as postilions, labourers and tradesmen.
They almost strove to drink out of the same glass at times;
Not content with drinking from the same bottle.
(Innkeeper) Oh my word, how horrid. My lord, I mean. Appalling.
(Featherstone-Hough) Time was, a person knew their place;
Time was, those who did not would merit the sword.
(Innkeeper) Lamentably no more. What has happened to the era of good manners?
You know, just the other day…
(Featherstone-Hough) At one inn, there was a Dutch footman –
(Innkeeper) Oh the Dutch! Don’t even get me started…
(Featherstone-Hough) … he refused to sit with his fellow servants,
Or remove his hat in our presence.
He would go into the servants’ quarter, cut himself a slice of bread,
And return to the parlour to eat it, speaking to his master and the ladies as equals.
Of course, the other servants were laughing all the while
At the thought of their masters dining with a servant.
(Innkeeper) Rightly so. Rightly so. Or wrongly so. Wrongly so.
The thought of a gentleman dining with a subordinate present. Outlandish.
(Featherstone-Hough) The French kindness to inferiors is spreading. It has arrived here.
It is a threat to civilization, no less – to good Christian society.
The French ease and familiarity;
Their easy going attitude towards mixing with lesser breeds.
Revolution is in the air.
(Innkeeper) Never fear, never fear. This is England.
(Featherstone-Hough) [Inebriation showing] The lowest and dullest of mankind outnumber us.
The French common have begun to get ideas above their station. Ideas spread.
Half-bred, half-educated. A herd, pushing at the gate.
So many persons there have raised themselves by their own exertions…
(Innkeeper) Contemptible. The Lord orders the estate, and all that.
(Featherstone-Hough) …indeed, so much so that everyone thinks himself entitled to rise.
Very few are contented to remain in the rank to which they were born.
(Innkeeper) Oh, I know, it’s like…
(Featherstone-Hough) It’s like breeding a horse.
If you maintain good stock, you produce a superior animal.
If you mix the mediocre elements with higher ones, however,
You get an inferior creature with pauce haunches and gimbly legs.
Unfit to win any race; unfit to pull a coach.
Unfit for any purpose, in fact. Useless.
(Innkeeper) Oh, yes. True breeding is…
(Featherstone-Hough) A matter of birth.

[The clatter of tankards being slammed onto the table and raucous laughter from the servants’ quarter peals forth].

(Innkeeper) Oh for God’s sake; what now? Excuse me.

[The Innkeeper goes into the servants’ quarter drawing the curtain behind him. He sees the ale spilled on the floor].

(Innkeeper) [Barking] Look at this mess!
[To the servant] You’re paying for this! This is coming out of your wages!
No, stay in your seat!
[To the three guests] You, you, and you: you sit in your places;
Don’t move an inch until I say so!
[To the servant] Clear this mess up!
It’s what you’re paid for, isn’t it?
In fact, no. Go to the stable – I’ll sort it out myself –
Where’s my wife?
[To the Guest] You as well – beat it. This is the second night in a row this has happened.
[To the young couple, morosely] You stay where you are: finish your food,
Then I’ll have my wife take you to your beds.

[The servant and the Guest get up, and exit via the door to the right; the young couple remain seated while the Innkeeper wipes the table down and dabs the floor. Meanwhile, Featherstone-Hough and his wife put down their cutlery quietly and leave without paying their bill; slinking calmly out through the corridor to the left, in a deft and practiced motion – Featherstone-Hough’s wife unhappily, but impassively, following her husband’s lead. The Innkeeper’s wife remains seated, silently, on the Innkeeper’s instruction; embroidering obstinately as they slope past. The Innkeeper returns].

(Wife) Your lord and his lady have left.
(Innkeeper) Be quiet!
(Wife) He hasn’t paid his bill.
(Innkeeper) Nonsense. His Lordship would never behave like a common…he will have left the money.
(Wife) He hasn’t.
(Innkeeper) Of course he has! He’s the fifth Lord of Wensleydale!
They don’t just bloody… wait.
You mean he didn’t pay you while I…?
No – it must just have been his distaste for …
He must have left it for me, somewhere.
No [checks the table for a bill] – no member of the nobility could be so…
You’re right; he hasn’t paid.
Not even for today’s fare. He hasn’t paid!
(Wife) He hasn’t paid his bill.
(Innkeeper) He hasn’t paid his bill!
(Wife) Apparently not; no.
(Innkeeper) A thief! A thief!
Nothing but a swindling, low-down dirty rotten common crooked thief!
Nobility! Nobility! High and mighty!
Nothing but a common crook!
Sitting there, picking his teeth like a common ragabond!
(Wife) Vagabond.
(Innkeeper) Spitting his offal into my handkerchief – my napkins.
(Wife) My embroidering.
(Innkeeper) Who’s the real beggar? The real low-life? That’s what I ask.
That’s what I want to know! And the worst thing – the worst thing! –
They’ll be half-way to Yorkshire by now!
If he wasn’t – if he wasn’t…if he comes back…
Well, I’ll not accept his custom again.
He’ll be turned away at the door like the first-rate fiddling felon he is.
Him and all his friends!
(Wife) Indeed.
(Innkeeper) Oh, don’t you see if I won’t! Drifting moochers.
I’d rather have the stable-hands pay visit –
They may not be up to much, but at least they pay.
In fact, yes, bring them in – go and invite them in.
(Wife) I will in a few minutes. I’ll let them finish their…
(Innkeeper) No, no, do it now. Do it now. Go on. I’ll set the table myself.
They may be poor, but they’re the true nobility, oh yes.
Honest labourers – the salt of the earth.
I’ll set the table for them myself. I will. Yes, I’m not too proud to.
I’ll have no airs and graces in this place. Paying customers are paying customers.

[The Innkeeper’s wife goes into the servants’ quarter to fetch the young couple. The Innkeeper begins to set the table; he thinks briefly about setting the remaining wine out, but decides against it; corking the bottle instead and putting it back into the cupboard. His wife returns with the couple – both sit down slightly awkwardly on the plush chairs. The Innkeeper’s wife re-takes her own seat and begins embroidering with her eyes averted].

(Innkeeper) Come, come. Sit down, sit down.
Here, have a glass of…water; have something to eat.
This is the finest mutton we have.
Beats bread and ale, doesn’t it?
[Talking to to himself] The Fifth Lord of Wensleydale.
Nothing but a common tapster – silk stockings, lace garters, velvet cloak!
A villain’s costume. A heart like a halibut – a face like a cod!
You know, there’s no wonder they secretly use prostitutes to improve the…

[Featherstone-Hough re-appears from the corridor].

(Innkeeper) My lord – you’ve returned.

[The Innkeeper looks from the Lord to the young couple, and hustles the pair of them out of the master’s quarter immediately, tipping the woman off her chair].

(Innkeeper) Get out, go on, get out! How dare you take the lordship’s place?
Sloping in here without my knowledge!

[Both return to the servants’ quarter].

(Featherstone-Hough) [Off-handed] I left my coat; be a good man and fetch it will you?
(Innkeeper) [Bows politely] Yes of course; at once my lord.

[The Innkeeper nods to his wife, who sighs imperceptibly, and puts down her embroidery. She then goes to the coat-stand, and returns with Featherstone-Hough’s coat. She walks past Featherstone-Hough and hands it pointedly to the Innkeeper, who places it around the shoulders of Featherstone-Hough; who then begins to depart].

(Featherstone-Hough) [On the threshold of the door] Oh, the bill…
(Innkeeper) Oh, don’t trouble yourself, my Lord. I’ll put it on your tab.
Such an esteemed guest.
Such worthy company, your decency: worth its own weight in gold.
Will attract untold custom, your having graced us with your presence.
In fact, it would surely only further our prosperity all the more
If you were to visit us again in good time, regardless of cost.
(Featherstone-Hough) Yes, yes.
(Innkeeper) Bring your friends, your acquaintances.
I’ll have my wife set up a special waiting room for you.
We’ll set up tabs for all.

[Featherstone-Hough walks out of the room, and out of sight down the corridor].

(Innkeeper) [Calls] We’ll name it after you! [Quietly] ‘The Featherstone-Hough suite’.
(Fanshaw) [Calls back] Fan-shaw. Fan-shaw.
(Innkeeper) Yes, my Lord.

[Scene ends]

Jesus Performs Karaoke In Red Light District

Foreword

 

God spoke to me. He really did.

He said to me ‘Rich – stop pissing about and get something done’.
‘Like what?’ I replied.
‘Well…’ he demurred.
‘Yes?’
‘Well, I don’t know. Something useful, at any rate –
Instead of loafing about all the damn time. Waster’.
‘Great. But what?’ I asked.

No answer came forth.

I began to question my faith in God’s wisdom.
I wandered the deserts of Hull[1] for forty days and forty nights[2].
I ate a diet of locusts and wild honey[3].
I nearly succumbed to despair[4].
And then finally – during the dark lunchtime of my soul –
I overheard a verse of Helen Reddy’s song ‘I Am Woman, Hear Me Roar’[5]:

“I am strong, I am invincible, I am woman”

So God had granted me an epiphany.
I had been chosen to impart a divine message.

Here then is the fall-out.

 

CHARACTERS:

God
God’s Wife
Jesus (their son – not a lodger)

ACT 1: SCENE 1

[God’s Wife has arrived home. It is late in the evening. She is wearing a nurse’s uniform – a costume from the play she is rehearsing in an afterlife amateur dramatics group. Her husband – God – is seated on an armchair. Their son – Jesus – is upon a sofa with a table before him. The two are watching television together. The sound of sports crowds cheering can be heard.   

The setting exists outside of earthly time].

(God) Special Olympics? Fake legs?
Anyone can run with fake legs!
Running without legs – that’s the trick, lad.
If you can’t compete on a level playing field
Then you don’t deserve to be there.
Prosthetics – that’s not free competition;
That’s not evolution; that’s not the triumph of the fittest.
How are you supposed to determine the form and strength of amputees
Without them dragging themselves around in a circle?
Nobody’s saying it’s dignified – but it’s honest.
That’s what counts. A bit of honesty in paralysis.

[Enter God’s Wife, weary. Her shoulders are dusted with snow]

(God’s Wife) [To Jesus] Why are you eating soup with a medicine spoon?
And why are you using a teapot instead of a bowl?

[The kitchen sink is overflowing with dishes – some having been balanced precariously on others. The crockery cupboard and cutlery drawers are completely bare. On the table before him, it is clear that Jesus has also been using a three-tiered cake stand instead of a plate; and employing scissors as a knife to begin with, then as a fork. Different remnants of food are on each tier of the stand]

(God’s Wife) Why haven’t either of you washed the dishes?
(God) I’m not washing the dishes.
(God’s Wife) Why not?
(God) I wash virtually all of my own pots for you as it is.
(God’s Wife) What? What’s that supposed to mean?
(God) Nothing’s ever good enough is it?
I do my own laundry as well, mostly.
I nearly always – nearly always –
Tidy the bathroom, now and then.
And do I get a word of thanks? No.
And look at the boy! Look how he suffers!
[Jesus grunts with his mouth full]
(God) Or not. But the point is…
(God’s Wife) What, precisely?
(God) [To Jesus] Lad – out.
[Jesus exits, cross]
(God) Do you want to know
What they’re teaching him at school?
Eh? Do you?
(God’s Wife) I know what they’re teaching him at school.
(God) How to bake bread! Bread!
For crap’s sake, bread!
(God’s Wife) I know; I bought the ingredients.
And what precisely is the problem?
(God) The problem? The problem?
It’s bloody cookery!
They’ll be teaching him how to wash dishes next.
(God’s Wife) How was it?
(God) What?
(God’s Wife) How was the bread?
(God) That’s not the point. Not remotely.
Mixing concrete; wiring circuitry –
Those a boy needs to learn.
Sodding cookery. Devilled eggs, French toast –
French!
(God’s Wife) So?
(God) Oh, it gets worse. Believe me, worse.
Do you remember when he was an infant?
Before he could walk?
When we used to put a claw hammer
And a handbag on the floor,
And see which one he picked up?
(God’s Wife) That was not ‘we’.
(God) Yes, well – you remember which one he picked up?
(God’s Wife) Well I took the hammer away for safety’s sake.
What does it have to do with anything?
(God) Oh, I got a phone call this morning
While you were out swanning about…
(God’s Wife) At rehearsal – where I’ve been all day.
(God)…his form teacher. What’s her name…
(God’s Wife) Michael.
(God) Yes. Her. She took me quietly aside –
Away From the other parents…
(God’s Wife) And?
(God) He kissed a boy!
(God’s Wife) What?
(God) He kissed a boy!
(God’s Wife) So?
(God) He kissed a boy!
(God’s Wife) And?
(God) There’s nothing wrong with it at all!
I’m as open-minded as the next person!
(God’s Wife) Then what’s the problem?
(God) What are the neighbours going to think!
(God’s Wife) You mean the Sublimes?
The ones who beat their daughter
When she tripped over and tore her new dress?
Or the Divine family?
You can’t seriously be concerned for their views.
They burned their son’s diary because he mentioned his…
(God) What other people think is neither here nor there.
Admittedly. And I don’t encourage burning diaries.
But that’s not the point.
(God’s Wife) What is?
(God) Oh, you haven’t heard the half of it. Not the half.
I caught him – earlier – in his room, on his own.
(God’s Wife) So?
(God) On his own.
(God’s Wife) [Pause] I see. Well, it’s only natural at his age.
(God) It is not only natural! It’s not normal!
(God’s Wife) Well…
(God) At thirteen, dancing around in his underwear, to this!
(God’s Wife) What is it?
(God) What is it? Take a look! [Hands wife a record]
(God’s Wife) I see. Isn’t that your record?
(God) That has nothing to do with it!
You don’t catch me jigging around on my bloody bed
In my sodding shorts and socks!
(God’s Wife) Not these days, at least.
(God) What if the neighbours saw?
(God’s Wife) Well, they’re really not fit to judge you for…
(God) The boy – the boy! Honestly.
It was bad enough when he bought me flowers for Father’s day.
Give me a hammer. Give me wood or nails.
Maybe a nice ratchet set. Or a camera.
But pansies. Pansies!
(God’s Wife) I thought they were very nice.
(God) They were not ‘very nice’ – they were a sign.
And that’s what they’ll think of us – the neighbours;
Sitting there in a vase on the front window-sill,
On show, in full view of the heavens.
(God’s Wife) The flowers, you mean.
(God) [Rubbing eyes and sinus hard with his hand]
To think of what my father would’ve done to me.
(God’s Wife) You barely even spoke to your father
For the last twenty years of his life.
(God) [Narrows eyes]
He was hard of hearing half his life; deaf the remainder.
(God’s Wife) Your mother worded it differently.
(God) She was sodding right.
Don’t get me wrong – he’s how he is,
And I’m not going to love him any the less for it;
But please – please – does it have to be so bloody blatant?
Just look at him! Pink-cheeked! Look at the knees!
The knees! Crossed! And sandals!
And why are you eating from a cake stand! Why!
(God’s Wife) Because you didn’t wash the dishes.
(God) No! I’m not taking blame for that.
It’s not my fault he is the way he is.
It’s you.
(God’s Wife) Me?
(God) Yes. You.
Do you have to be so womanish around the boy?
There’s no wonder he’s soft as silk.
I tell you – I prophecy, here and now –
You’ll walk in one day and find him with a husband.
(God’s Wife) Well, you said the other day
That – when he’s older –
You’d like to be able to take him out for a drink.
(God) I know what I said – and what I meant.
(God’s Wife) It’d be just like going out with the guys.
You could have a drink together; sing karaoke.
[Looks at record] All three of you could cover…
(God) Don’t. It’s bad enough as it is.
How can I ever listen to them again
Without getting a vision of
My son starkers and capering?
[Shudders].
No; it’s not on. He’s my son.
He’s supposed to take after me.
(God’s Wife) It shouldn’t be disputed.
(God) Too right.
(God’s Wife) He shares the same taste in show-tunes.
(God) He’ll share the same taste in the backhand of angry –
That’s what he’ll share if I catch him at it again.
(God’s Wife) I think you’re over-reacting a bit.
So he’s made some bread – which you’ve eaten;
And shares your taste in music.
That’s nothing to get upset about.
(God) There is plenty to be upset about.
What have I done to deserve this?
(God’s Wife) Is this because of your redundancy?
(God) I am not redundant.
(God’s Wife) Well, the demotion then.
(God) Look – I’ve explained this.
I was not demoted; I was not made redundant.
I had to re-apply, and I was only offered part-time work.
(God’s Wife) Which you refused.
(God) I’m considering my options.
(God’s wife) You’re doing it very lethargically.
(God) I’m merely taking a break.
What do most people do when they’re on holiday?
Go out and drink. What have I done?
(God’s Wife) Stay in and drink.
(God) Exactly. I’m only thinking of you.
What do I get in return?
(God’s Wife) [Pause] I see. This is about the rehearsal isn’t it?
(God) I didn’t say that.
(God’s Wife) You didn’t have to.
(God) Yes – but I didn’t say it, though, did I?
And do I get credit? No.
(God’s Wife) You know, I don’t think this is about the rehearsal.
It’s about the theatre company full stop – isn’t it?
(God) I don’t really think you can call
Amateur dramatics a theatre company.
(God’s Wife) Look, it’s just a bit of fun;
And I said you were welcome to come along.
(God) No you didn’t. You did not say that; not at all.
You said – and I remember it quite distinctly –
You said that we could come along if we wanted to.
(God’s Wife) If you can’t manage the household chores…
(God) I created the entire universe, once.
I can make the home.
(God’s Wife) Then why haven’t you done the dishes?
(God) I cooked.
(God’s Wife) You reheated what I prepared yesterday.
(God) Exactly. I finished what you started.
(God’s Wife) Look, if you really can’t cope
Then we’ll make a compromise.
(God) Fine. We’ll make sure that
The dishes are ready in the sink for you
When you come home.
And if you cook in the morning –
Before you go out –
Then it won’t need making in the evening.
You can just warm it in the oven.
(God’s Wife) Really? How lovely.
(God) Well, it’ll just be during the week of course;
You can work to the regular regimen on the weekend.
You can fit your hobbies around quite easily.
(God’s Wife) So, rehearsals and practice?
(God) Weekdays – after work.
(God’s Wife) And actual performances?
(God) Weekends – after chores.
(God’s Wife) Or maybe I could teach you
How to cook a few basic dishes,
And you can both take care of some of the chores yourselves?
(God) No, it doesn’t work.
I’m not cooking and I’m not cleaning.
And giving a boy womanly chores
Encourages bad habits in a young man.
A certain womanliness of spirit.
Dusting, cleaning: mincing, queening.
He’s my son. It’s not on.
(God’s Wife) I think that’s a bit far-fetched.
(God) You’d think so. I’d like to believe it myself.
You don’t want to know what I caught him doing this evening.
It’s beyond words – and I won’t be held responsible.
A scouring pad has only one intended use,
And that – quite frankly – is not it.
In the wrong hands, it only has one outcome.
(God’s Wife) Well, perhaps he just needs you to talk to him.
(God) I spoke to him about it, don’t worry.
Clearly, frankly. I sat him down, and I told him:
‘You are not to touch my pewter’.
You can’t get clearer than that.
The scratches are irremediable;
But it’s not the cost that bothers me – it’s the polishing.
What would posses a boy to polish?
It beggars credulity. Wanting to see things sparkle.

[God’s wife says nothing in response. She turns and stands looking out of the window – her back to God. The crowd on the television roars. God murmurs his approval. Snow is falling outside; it begins to hit the window].

(God’s Wife) It’s snowing.
(God) Uh huh. Snow. Great.
(God’s Wife) I hope it settles.
(God) Yes, well. There we go – more slip-ups.
(God’s Wife) Everything turns pretty when it snows.
Even heaven can be lovely.
(God) Aye. At least the undertakers will be happy.
[God’s Wife turns and exits. The television sounds]
(God) Useless wasters.

[Scene ends]

ACT 2: SCENE 1

[It is late in the evening. God is seated on his armchair; Jesus upon the sofa.

The television is lighting the dark room. A stentorian voice is audible and staccato, but the words remain unintelligible, despite varying sharply in pitch].

(Jesus) I don’t understand it, father.
(God) Well look, it’s quite simple.
They believe in the absolute authority of my words:
That I’m omniscient, omnipotent, and omnipresent –
Which I am, lad;
That I created the entire universe –
And everything within it in six days –
Which I did;
But that I didn’t introduce homosexuals to the world.
(Jesus) Who did then?
(God) You.
(Jesus) Me?
(God) Yes – wandering around the backwaters of various sinful cities,
A harem of twelve strapping young
[Waving hands and thumbs] ‘disciples’ in tow.
Corrupting the youth of Bethlehem more like.
How Mary and Martha fit in I dread to think.
[Leans back in armchair]
Raises intriguing possibilities though.
They say you had a scandalous way with your hips.
(Jesus) I don’t believe it.
(God) You know, one of the best nights of my life
Was spent in a jessies’ haunt.
[Pause] Don’t get ideas, lad; I’m just saying is all.
(Jesus) But how could I have done that?
I’ve never even been to Bethlehem!
(God) Not yet, lad. Not yet. One day.
(Jesus) How can you be sure?
(God) A father knows.
(Jesus) I don’t believe it.
(God) You don’t have to.
It’s going to happen.
Doesn’t matter how you feel about it.
Don’t you learn anything at school?
(Jesus) One of the boy’s in class was talking about thunder today.
(God) Great. I’m always interested in boy’s insights.
(Jesus) He said you create it.
(God) He did? How?
(Jesus) He said thunder happens
From you shifting around on your chair
Because your piles are killing you.
(God) Yes; well. Don’t believe everything you hear.
(Jesus) Is it true?
(God) [Pause] Look – you just tell your friend:
Never sit on a throne for millennia.
All the angels in the heavens can’t alter hard facts.
[Shifts on chair. Moment’s silence]
Have you finished?
(Jesus) No.
Have you done as I asked?
(Jesus) No.
Well, nevermind. You’re mother can manage fine.
That’s what she says; I respect that.
[Jesus belches]
(God) Are you tired?
(Jesus) No. [Jesus yawns]
(God) Tough. Bed. Now.

[Jesus exits, his body turning white as he passes the television’s glare. The voice thereon resounds. God tuts. Scene ends]

ACT 3: SCENE 1

It is very late at night. God’s Wife enters, exhausted. The building is silent. The snowflakes can be heard falling against the window. God’s wife sighs and casts her gaze around at the scene before her.  

The house is perfectly clean. The sink is pristine.
The wooden floor sparkles.
Upon the empty armchair is a red balloon. God’s wife sits down, and holds it.

Scene ends.


[1] Preston Road area, mainly.

[2] Figuratively speaking.

[3] Metaphorically speaking.

[4] Exaggeratedly speaking.

[5] Dourly sung.

Strange Free World: Act 1; Scenes 1-11

Act 1: Scene 1

[Opening: it is the intermission of a play – Sutherland and R. are sitting in the front-row seats of a small, half-empty theatre, situated on-campus – the lights are on but not so bright; the background is noisy with chatter and bustling].

(Sutherland) That’s not true!
(R.) It is true.
(Sutherland) Well, maybe you’re right – but I disagree.
(R.) How can you disagree? If you think I’m right?
(Sutherland) It just doesn’t add up.
(R.) Well it does if you tally properly.
(Sutherland) Why? Why would anybody need a left-handed cheque-book? Why?
(R.) Well, I don’t know; but that’s what they gave me.
(Sutherland) Did you send it back?
(R.) Of course not.
(Sutherland) You should’ve complained.
(R.) Why? It wasn’t exactly a problem.
(Sutherland) That’s where I disagree with you.
(R.) No it wasn’t – you said they didn’t exist. That’s quite a leap.
[The lights go out]
(Sutherland) Well, we’ll just have to agree to differ.

[Actors enter stage from left and right; play begins.
Setting: two dining quarters in a small inn, separated by a heavy grey curtain which is drawn between the two rooms. There is a short corridor to the left of the Masters’ quarter; from which the doorway of the quarter can be seen.
The masters’ quarter is very fine, lit by a large fire and a three-branched silver candelabrum on the table: yet despite these the room is still gloomy, and the areas not close to the fire are in heavy shadow . The masters’ room is quiet. The sound of the fire crackling and chairs when they scrape on the stone floor are clearly audible. Heavy over-coats are noisy; placing cutlery down likewise. There is a coat-stand towards the back, with an expensively tailored coat hanging on it.
The servants’ area is very pauce, slightly smaller than the masters’ room, unheated and it has only a candle for light– but it’s bright enough to see the faces of the people in the room by. When speaking, people’s voices sound full and hearty. It’s a working room, with cupboards on the wall and tankards, pots and pans hanging up. There is a door in the right hand side wall. The inn’s servant is sitting at the table eating quietly. The table is a large wooden one with the candle in its middle, but otherwise bare except for the servant’s plate and cup. It has two benches for seats, and the servant is facing the audience.
The Innkeeper and his wife are in the masters’ dining room. The Innkeeper’s wife is seated on a wooden chair in the left-hand corner nearest the stage – her back to the audience – embroidering; Lord Featherstone-Hough of Wensleydale and his wife are seated at the highly polished wooden table in the middle of the masters’ dining quarter eating – silence between them. The Innkeeper is hovering about them noticeably. Both the Lord and the Innkeeper wear periwigs. Featherstone-Hough’s is voluminous and white; the Innkeeper’s is less ample and dark grey.
It is late at night. The Featherstone-Houghs are eating at the inn while on the journey to their home estate. They have been at the inn for approximately half-an-hour. Their coach has not off-loaded, and is ready and waiting for them to finish].

(Innkeeper) Lord Featherstone-Hough…
(Featherstone-Hough) [Glowers] Fan-shaw. Fan-shaw.
(Innkeeper) I see, I see. I do apologise, Lord Fanshaw.
(Fanshaw) Yes; well.
(Innkeeper) Indeed I do, sir.
My wife must have written your name down quite incorrectly.
Will it be the full three-courses tonight, sir?
[Fanshaw nods]
(Innkeeper) And coffee, and dessert? We have the most splendid…
(Fanshaw) Yes, yes. I expect you’ll put it on my tab.
(Innkeeper) Yes, of course, but…
(Fanshaw) Good man. You can add a tip to it.
(Innkeeper) Well, thank you, my lord.
(Fanshaw) A respectable one.
(Innkeeper) A…pound?
(Fanshaw) Two percent of the overall bill is tolerable.
(Innkeeper) [Under breath] A pound it is then.
(Fanshaw) What?
(Innkeeper) Nothing. Nothing – I will take no tip.
An honest ‘keeper’s wage is enough of a reward for me.
A privilege, even. A godsend.
(Fanshaw) It is at your discretion.
(Innkeeper) Well…
(Fanshaw) Well what?
(Innkeeper) Truly sir, I am a poor fellow that would make ends meet.
(Wife) And a tidy profit.
(Innkeeper) Be quiet.
(Fanshaw) [Chewing, swallows] A scold was once made to wear a bridle.
(Innkeeper) I assure you, my lord, my wife has never once attempted to fasten one on me. She has certainly never succeeded. She knows her place.
We keep one purely for the mice. It makes an excellent mousetrap.
(Fanshaw) Mice?
(Innkeeper) We have no mice here, my lord.
An ornament, an antique, a family heirloom.
[The Innkeeper gathers and prepares further dishes. Sutherland leans towards R. with a very sapient look]
(Sutherland) So, the innkeeper, right –
(R.) He owns the inn.
(Sutherland) I know that. Honestly. I was just thinking, his wife’s having an affair, right?
(R.) No, that’s the problem.
(Sutherland) [Loud enough for actors to hear] Ah, I see.
(R) What?
(Sutherland) It’s all clear now. That’s the key, isn’t it?
(R.) Sex?
(Sutherland) What?
(R.) Their unhappy marriage?
(Sutherland) [Pause; leans back in chair] I hadn’t thought about that. [Pause] You know, it’s just like…
(R.) Look, if you’re going to bring up that stupid theory again…
(Sutherland) No, no, no, no, no. Well, yes. Wait, what did she just say?
(R.) Who?
(Sutherland) The Innkeeper’s wife.
(R.) How should I know? I was listening to you.
(Sutherland) Was it something important? Only, I have to write a paper on this.
(Fanshaw) It’s just a simple question of respect. [Sutherland sinks into his chair – but the actor’s words are part of the play’s dialogue].
(Innkeeper) My Lord Fanshaw, I do apologise.
(Fanshaw) Yes; well.
(Innkeeper) Indeed I do, sir. I do indeed, sir. You must forgive my wife. She’s not used to such distinguished, gracious company. She doesn’t know how to behave herself accordingly.
(R.) They don’t love each other anymore, but they’re husband and wife.
(Sutherland) So?
(R.) I told you earlier – they can’t legally divorce.
(Sutherland) Oh, yeah.
(R.) Her looks are going, she has no children, she has nowhere to go, she can’t work, and they live between two cities in the middle of nowhere.
(Sutherland) Uh-huh, uh-huh. Sure.
(R.) Have you listened to any of it?
(Sutherland) Some. But…
(R.) So, what happens when there are no customers at the inn? When no-one else is around?
(Sutherland) [Thinks]. I see. Wait…
(R.) He has the inn, for better or worse…
(Sutherland) No, no, no. Are you going to finish your ice cream?
(R.) It’s not mine. Neither was the one you took when I went to the bathroom, incidentally.
[Sutherland sinks into his chair again].
(Innkeeper’s wife) [Puts embroidery down, gets up and motions her husband into the corridor. The Fanshaws continue to eat in silence].
(Wife) He still hasn’t paid the bill his party racked up last year.
(Innkeeper) I know that!
(Wife) Well, are you going to ask him about it?
(Innkeeper) Of course, of course.
But there are means and ways – means and ways.
See, we need to attract a better class of visitor.
You need money in order to make money…
(Wife) Well, that’s my point.
(Innkeeper) …horse dealers and bank clerks are all well and good,
But it’s the nobility who really pay by the pound –
And you need connections – a reputation and a standing – not riff-raff and refuse…
(Wife) Paying customers.
(Innkeeper) … muddying up the place embarrassing them to high heavens.
It’s a mutually beneficial arrangement. It’s quite simple really.
This will be the finest inn on the finest road in the finest country in the world.
The service will be magnificent: the porcelain exquisite;
The tea-pots of silver, the canteens likewise; bread-baskets gilt with lace;
Beer-tankards and flagons of pewter; a tea-urn of gold.
People will be able to purchase an experience of gentility.
Who knows? With enough of a turnover I could buy a title;
One may even be forthcoming.
The gentry will surely wish to be guests in an established house –
The acquaintances of an equal, perhaps even…
Well, at any rate, not visitors to a mere tradesman’s lowly hub.
It will mean having to turn some custom away, of course, but there we go .

[The Inn’s bell rings noisily: the Innkeeper gives his wife a signal with a nod of the head, who then goes to answer the door – off stage – while the Innkeeper returns to the masters’ dining room. A few moments pass while the Innkeeper waits on Fanshaw, rubbing has hands, partly with cold from standing in the corridor. His wife calls his name indistinguishably: the Innkeeper leans his head out of the dining room door into the corridor].

(Innkeeper) What? No, no, no. No, there’s no room.
No – I’m sorry, but we can’t house everybody.
No. No. No. How much? Well, there’s the shed for the firewood.
Fine. There’s space in the stable. Look, it’s the best that I can do.
There’s a bucket. There’s a trough. There’s a floor.
Fine. I’ll fetch a blanket – just let me finish up here first.
And I want a deposit on it – up front.
[To Fanshaw – shaking head]
A gypsy stable hand and his wife.
[Tuts] I do apologise for the interruption, my goodly lord.
Is there anything you require, your graciousness?
(Fanshaw) [Talking with mouth full, without looking at the Innkeeper, mumbles vaguely].
(Innkeeper) Brandy? Brandy – the very best [scurries and fetches it from a cupboard]. Fully French. Well, part Swiss. Or Belgian.
[Fanshaw – shakes head]
(Innkeeper) No? What then, your superbness?
Whisky? Rum? Surely not beer? Perhaps ale?
[Fanshaw nonchalantly indicates the Innkeeper’s breast-pocket]
(Innkeeper) My handkerchief? [Hands it over to Fanshaw, who empties his mouth into it, then hands it back without a word]. Thank you. [His wife re-enters the room – the Innkeeper hands it to her, who puts it resignedly into a bin before taking her seat and stitching again].
(Wife) They’re just putting their things in the stable. They’ll be through in a minute.

[Another guest staying at the inn passes through the room – his overcoat wet and sounding heavy – en route to the servants’ quarter. The man cheerily addresses Fanshaw and his wife]
(Guest) How do you do, fella; misses?
(Fanshaw) [Puts down his cutlery in disgust] Impudence!
[The guest leaves the curtain open and sits down noisily opposite the Inn servant: his voice carries from room to room].
(Guest) It’s bloody freezing out! It’s bloody freezing in! What’s the eats? Bread? Ale? Ooh, not bad that [laughs. The Innkeeper closes the curtain and grimaces].
(Innkeeper) The common herd [tuts] – no manners my good lord. Little respect for us – for you – for etiquette.
(Innkeeper) [To his wife]
I told you to send the meagre guests to the tradesman’s entrance.
Go and make sure the newcomers go that way.
[His wife puts her embroidery down, gets up and goes through the servants’ quarter off stage].
(Fanshaw) A failure to defer to masters always has fatal consequences.
(Innkeeper) How so, my good lord?
(Fanshaw) [Speaking with mouth half-full]
Free and easy intercourse propagates the most dangerous and immoral opinions.
The designs the lower orders have…sedition inevitably follows.
I see it in your wife.
(Innkeeper) My wife? Yes, well, she persists, but she’s …
(Fanshaw) The wife…[still chewing].
(Innkeeper) Yes, my decency; yes your gracious lord. I cannot apologise enough.
(Fanshaw) [Indicates his own wife with his knife-blade]
A marriage of forty-five years, and evermore.
(Innkeeper) An example – a sterling example.
Even for a lowly, trustworthy, commendable tradesman,
Whose own spouse is quite the pity.
(Fanshaw) Pithy; quite.
(Innkeeper) Oh, don’t get me started.
You know [Fanshaw empties mouth into a napkin]…oh.

[The Innkeeper’s wife re-enters the servants’ quarter through the door on the right-hand side with a young couple – both dressed poorly; the woman is mid-term. The servant is talking quietly to the guest who has his back to the audience. The young couple take a seat near them, the young man sits next to the guest, the woman – evidently very tired and discomforted – is helped to sit down next to the servant by the Innkeeper’s wife, who then fetches them food and drink before returning to her own chair in the Masters’ room].

(Innkeeper) [To wife] No, no – go back around – the curtain must remain closed.
[Innkeeper’s wife ignores him and retakes seat].
(Fanshaw) It reminds me of France.
(Innkeeper) France? Oh no, no – none of that goes on here.
I keep a clean, respectable, upright…
(Fanshaw) The indecorousness of the French woman is a sign of the times.
Uncouth and loutish. Fit for no gentleman on earth.
The restaurants are no different.
(Innkeeper) The license? The tawdriness? The ease?
(Fanshaw) The seating arrangements.
Nobody chooses their neighbours; social precedence is irrelevant;
One is forced to take a seat next to the natives.
Those of a more genteel sensibility
Naturally prefer to dine in their own quarters, however confined.
(Innkeeper) Oh, yes. Of course. The only way to ensure a quiet meal.
(Fanshaw) Conversation spoils good company .
Familiarity is the ruin of polite society.
The French converse freely with associates in the presence of strangers,
Without displaying any unease.
(Innkeeper) Disgraceful; truly atrocious.
(Fanshaw) French shop-keepers would stare at you until their eyes were fit to rupture.
(Innkeeper) Oh, how horrid.
(Fanshaw) It has arrived here.
The behaviour of the English plebeians has taken a turn for the worse.
It was mortifying when we arrived back in England.
Being looked upon in our carriage by all the idlers and common debris of society – Staring and gaping up at you like fish on a riverbank.
It’s what I said to the parliamentarian we met in Dover – may he perish –
‘The obliging civility of the common people
Has been replaced with presumptions and insolence’.
I saw him writing it down.
(Innkeeper) Of course, of course. They’re all the same.
They visit us here all the time.
Government officials, health inspectors – all alike.
Always with the same attitude.

[Back in the servants’ quarter: all four people are sitting consciously close to each other for warmth].
(Servant) ‘S alright – draw near. Warmer that way.
[To the original guest] Your itching – do you have fleas, man?
(Guest) Probably – if the horses have them.
(Young man) [Polite but weary] You sell horses?
(Guest) No, no: I sell the manure.
Costs nothing to produce, does it? But farmers pay for it by the barrel!
Terrific stuff – and a painless living.
(Young Man) It beats scratches and blisters, that’s for sure.
(Guest) Absolutely. As good as gold. And everyone needs to eat.
And you don’t smell any better than I do, friend.

[The Innkeeper leans his head into the room and motions the servant, who puts his own cutlery down, comes through and clears Fanshaw’s table – taking the crockery to a small stand at the side of the room, and setting the dessert bowls – but remains in the room standing next to the fire. Fanshaw has a spoon poised near his mouth but refuses to eat until the servant leaves. Eventually he puts his cutlery down forcefully].

(Fanshaw) The servant.
(Innkeeper) Yes my lord. An excellent vassal.
(Fanshaw) [Aggressively] It is degrading to be expected to eat in the presence of the lower orders.
(Innkeeper) [To the servant] Why are you standing there?
(Servant) It’s cold out there – my hands…
(Fanshaw) Can’t afford to heat the servants’ quarters?
(Innkeeper) Nonsense – it’s perfectly well heated.
A veritable mountain of logs; a roaring fire.
(Servant) Not in the least…
(Innkeeper) Be quiet!
[The Servant goes to draw the curtain – the Innkeeper intervenes, and shoves the servant through, who knocks into the table spilling the guest’s ale on the floor. The Innkeeper’s wife is jarred in the process and gives her husband a look].
(Innkeeper) What? I pay the man enough.
(Wife) In food and lodging.
(Innkeeper) Precisely.
(Wife) It’s mid-winter and you make him sleep in the stable, and the dysentery…
(Innkeeper) [Coughs very loudly and ushers wife to her chair].
(Fanshaw) Every inn should invest in a dumb-waiter.
(Innkeeper) Don’t be so sure.
(Fanshaw) Yes; a dumb-waiter –
A small lift that hauls comestibles up and down from the basement.
Purchase one. The quietness is delightful – one forgets its existence;
As opposed to a mute servant and their silent insistence.
(Innkeeper) We have no basement here, my good lord.
We are but a small tavern – the ceilings are low, the walls are thin,
The plastering – if you’ll notice….
(Fanshaw) Very well. Give me wine. The red.
(Innkeeper) Of course.

[Innkeeper calls servant back in who leaves the curtain open. The guest’s voice is heard through the aperture: ‘the arse on it’ – Innkeeper coughs again and closes the curtain. After service, the servant retakes his position standing next to the fire].

(Fanshaw) The servant.
(Innkeeper) What? Oh, yes, of course. [Points to servant] You – out.
[Motions to wife] You – clear the table.
(Wife) Get bent.
(Innkeeper) What?
(Wife) Get…
[Innkeeper – splutters and ushers his wife and the servant from the room into the servants’ quarter – but realises he will have to clear the table himself and draws his wife back in].
(Innkeeper) Go and sit down and be quiet until I tell you. Get the coffee.
(Wife) And supposing…
(Innkeeper) [Marches her forcefully over to her chair by the arm] Silence. Not a word.
[His wife sits down and takes up her embroidery again. The servant has re-taken his seat at the table. The Innkeeper goes back through to the servants’ quarter].
(Innkeeper) Coffee, now.
[The servant gets back up and serves the Fanshaws; when he’s finished the Innkeeper bustles him back out again].
(Fanshaw) [Speech slightly slurred] Worse, even worse on the continent.
Throughout our stay in France,
We’d been obliged to drink our wine and break our bread
In the same room as postillons, labourers and tradesmen.
They almost strove to drink out of the same glass,
Not content with drinking from the same bottle .
(Innkeeper) Oh my word, how horrid. My lord, I mean. Appalling.
(Fanshaw) Time was, a person knew their place;
Time was, those who did not would merit the sword.
(Innkeeper) Lamentably no more. What has happened to manners?
You know, just the other day…
(Fanshaw) At one inn, there was a Dutch footman –
(Innkeeper) Oh the Dutch! Don’t even get me started…
(Fanshaw) … he refused to sit with his fellow servants,
Or remove his hat in our presence.
He would go into the servants’ quarter, cut himself a slice of bread,
And return to the parlour to eat it, speaking to his master and the ladies as equals.
Of course, the other servants were laughing all the while
At the thought of their masters dining with a servant .
(Innkeeper) Rightly so. Rightly so.
The thought of a gentleman dining with an subordinate present. Outlandish.
(Fanshaw) The French kindness to inferiors is spreading. It has arrived here.
It is a threat to society, no less – to good Christian society.
The French ease and familiarity;
Their easy going attitude towards mixing with lesser breeds.
Revolution is in the air.
(Innkeeper) Never fear, never fear.
(Fanshaw) [Inebriation showing] The lowest and dullest of mankind outnumber us.
The French common have begun to get ideas above their station.
Half-bred, half-educated. A herd, pushing at the gate.
So many persons there have raised themselves by their own exertions…
(Innkeeper) Contemptible.
(Fanshaw) …indeed, so much so that everyone thinks himself entitled to rise.
Very few are contented to remain in the rank to which they were born .
(Innkeeper) Oh, I know, it’s like…
(Fanshaw) It’s like breeding a horse –
If you maintain good stock, you produce a superior animal.
If you mix the mediocre elements with higher ones, however,
You get an inferior creature with pauce haunches and gimbly legs.
Unfit to win any race; unfit to pull a coach.
Unfit for any purpose, in fact. Useless.
(Innkeeper) Oh, yes. True breeding is…
(Fanshaw) A matter of birth.
[The clatter of tankards being slammed onto the table and raucous laughter from the servants’ quarter peals forth].
(Innkeeper) Oh for God’s sake; what now? Excuse me.
[The Innkeeper goes into the servants’ quarter drawing the curtain behind him. Sees the ale spilled on the floor].
(Innkeeper) [Barking] Look at this mess!
[To the servant] You’re paying for this!
This is coming out of your wages! No, stay in your seat!
[To the three guests] You, you, and you: you sit in your places;
Don’t move an inch until I say so!
[To the servant] Clear this mess up!
It’s what you’re paid for, isn’t it?
In fact, no. Go to the stable – I’ll sort it out myself –
Where’s my wife?
[To the Guest] You as well – beat it. This is the second night in a row.
[To the young couple, morosely] You stay where you are: finish your food,
Then I’ll my wife will take you to your beds.

[The servant and the Guest get up and exit via the door to the right; the young couple remain seated while the Innkeeper wipes the table down and dabs the floor. Meanwhile, Fanshaw and his wife put down their cutlery quietly and leave without paying their bill; slinking calmly out through the corridor to the left – Fanshaw’s wife unhappily, but impassively following him. The Innkeeper’s wife remains sitting silently on the Innkeeper’s instruction, embroidering perversely while they slope past. The Innkeeper returns].

(Wife) Your lord and his lady have left.
(Innkeeper) What? Why didn’t you say something?
(Wife) He hasn’t paid his bill.
(Innkeeper) What? Be quiet.
(Wife) He hasn’t.
(Innkeeper) Of course he has! He’s the fifth Lord of Wensleydale!
They don’t just bloody… wait.
You mean he didn’t pay you while I…?
No – it must just have been his distaste for …
He must have left it for me, somewhere.
No [checks table for bill] – no member of the nobility could be so…
You’re right; he hasn’t paid.
Not even for today’s fare. He hasn’t paid!
(Wife) He hasn’t paid his bill.
(Innkeeper) He hasn’t paid his bill!
(Wife) Apparently not; no.
(Innkeeper) A thief! A thief!
Nothing but a swindling, low-down dirty rotten common crooked thief!
Nobility! Nobility! High and mighty!
Nothing but a common crook!
Sitting there, picking his teeth like a common ragabond!
(Wife) Vagabond.
(Innkeeper) Spitting his offal into my handkerchief, my napkins.
(Wife) My embroidering.
(Innkeeper) Who’s the real beggar? The real low-life? That’s what I say.
That’s what I want to know! And the worst thing – the worst thing! –
They’ll be half-way to Yorkshire by now!
If he wasn’t – if he wasn’t…if he comes back…
Well, I’ll not accept his custom again.
He’ll be turned away at the door like the first-rate fiddling felon he is.
Him and all his friends!
(Wife) Indeed.
(Innkeeper) Oh, don’t you see if I won’t! Drifting moochers.
I’d rather have the stable-hands pay visit –
It may not be up to much, but at least they pay.
In fact, yes, bring them in – go and invite them in.
(Wife) Sure, I will in a few minutes. I’ll let them finish their…
(Innkeeper) No, no, do it now. Go on. I’ll set the table myself.
They may be poor, but they’re the true nobility, oh yes.
Honest labourers – the salt of the earth.
I’ll set the table for them myself. I will. Yes, I’m not too proud to.
Paying customers. On the house.

[The Innkeeper’s wife goes into the servants’ quarter to fetch the young couple. The Innkeeper begins to set the table; he thinks briefly about setting the remaining wine but decides against it, corking the bottle instead and putting it back into the cupboard. His wife returns with the couple – both sit down slightly awkwardly on the plush chairs. The Innkeeper’s wife re-takes her own seat and begins embroidering with her eyes averted].

(Innkeeper) Come, come. Sit down, sit down.
Here, have a glass of water; have something to eat.
This is the finest mutton we have.
Beats bread and ale, doesn’t it?
[To self] The Lord of Wensleydale.
Nothing but a common tapster – silk stockings, lace garters, velvet cloak!
A heart like a halibut – a face like a cod!
You know, there’s no wonder they secretly use prostitutes to…
[Fanshaw re-appears from the corridor].
(Innkeeper) My lord – you’ve returned.
[The Innkeeper hustles the couple out immediately, tipping the woman off her chair]. (Innkeeper) Get out, go on, get out! How dare you?
Sloping in here without my knowledge!
[Both return to the servants’ quarter].
(Fanshaw) [Off-handed] I left my coat; be a good man and fetch it will you?
(Innkeeper) [Bows politely] Yes of course; at once my lord.

[Nods to wife, who sighs imperceptibly, puts down embroidery, then goes to the coat-stand resignedly and returns with Fanshaw’s coat. She walks past Fanshaw and hands it to the Innkeeper, who hands it to Fanshaw, who takes his coat without expressing gratitude].

(Fanshaw) [On the threshold of the door] Oh, er, the er, the bill…
(Innkeeper) Oh don’t trouble yourself, my Lord. I’ll put it on your tab.
Such an esteemed guest.
Such worthy company, your decency: worth its own weight in gold.
Will attract untold custom, your having graced us with your presence.
In fact, it would surely only further our prosperity all the more
If you were to visit us again in good time, regardless of cost.
(Fanshaw) Yes, yes.
(Innkeeper) Bring your friends, your acquaintances.
I’ll have my wife set up a special waiting room for you.
We’ll set up tabs for all.
[Fanshaw walks out of the room and out of sight down the corridor].
(Innkeeper) [Calls] We’ll name it after you!
[Quietly] ‘The Featherstone-Hough suite’.
(Fanshaw) [Calls back] Fan-shaw. Fan-shaw.
(Innkeeper) Yes, my Lord.
[Scene ends]

Act 1: Scene 2

[Sutherland and R. step outside the theatre hall. It is dusk; the evening is chill with the onset of autumn – breath has begun to mist; the sky is overcast. Both Sutherland and R. draw their coats more tightly. There are students passing by; a number of them gaudily dressed].

(R.) If there’s one thing I value most about university it’s the all-surrounding – yet subtle – intimations towards enlightenment; and the bonds of kinship that tie, occasionally bind, but ultimately and universally unite us all as brethren within a culture of studied progress and carefully measured illumination.
(Sutherland) Eh?

[A tall, slim young man walks by in shorts and sandals with sunglasses – despite being overcast and grey September day; cell-phone; fatigued Southern accent: “Yeah, yeah. It was completely boring. The whole lecture. And the book; the teacher as well. In fact the whole course itself is mind-numbing. But I went out afterwards and I got just twatted off my tits”]

(R.) For example.
(Sutherland) [In sympathy, but unwilling to say so] Are you still thinking of leaving?
(R.) No; I don’t see the point. I’ve already finished two years; one more’s not going to kill me. Plus, I’m only working on theses now, so I don’t have to attend seminars anymore.
(Sutherland) God, I wish I didn’t have to. I’ve lost count of which ones I’ve cut. I did have a system working for long enough, but I lost my diary. Left it in a lecture.
(R.) One of the ones you attended?
(Sutherland) Exactly.
(R.) Do you think the supermarket will still be open?
(Sutherland) What day is it?
(R.) Sunday.
(Sutherland) Well then, perhaps. Let’s take a chance. Why, anyway?
(R.) We have no food.
(Sutherland) Again? That’s ridiculous!
(R.) Do you have any money?
(Sutherland) On me?
(R.) Yes.
(Sutherland) No.
(R.) Nevermind.
(Sutherland) Do you think I swing my arms enough while I’m walking?
(R.) What do you mean?
(Sutherland) Well, I’ve been thinking about it recently; and I don’t think that I swing my arms enough.
(R.) For what?
(Sutherland) General purposes.
(R.) For instance?
(Sutherland) Well, I mean, suppose you walk into a job interview.
(R.) Aye; a thing like that could make all the difference.
(Sutherland) Okay, then tell me this: why do shopkeepers put nipples on the mannequins?
(R.) What? I don’t know. Would you like me to ask? Why?
(Sutherland) It seems like a superfluous detail to me.
In fact, why does the male body have nipples at all?
(R.) I’ve no idea.
(Sutherland) See, that proves that even if there is a God, he – or she – is flawed. And don’t even get me started on male genitals: they were not ergonomically designed and that’s final.
(R.) And if man was created in God’s image?
(Sutherland) Precisely. For all we know, he could be sitting around somewhere adjusting himself as we speak. Especially if he cycles. Particularly if he wears spandex.
(R.) Perhaps you could write one of your plays on the theme?
(Sutherland) Stop it; before you start.
(R.) Stop what? Didn’t you say you were planning a sequel to your comedy of terrors: ‘The Dawning of the Veronese Dead: Romeo and Juliet – the Revenge’?
(Sutherland) No. Not after last time.
(R.) The whole plagiarism issue?
(Sutherland) Create/steal – what’s the difference. I still have to take the module over again. Besides, I’m aiming for something .ore life-like, but less realistic.
(R.) Like the pornographic one? ‘Belinda, the Saracen’s adopted daughter’?
(Sutherland) Look, it was not pornographic. I explained this, repeatedly, several times. It was burlesque. And besides, who were you to call it smutty and childish?
(R.) I said prurient and puerile.
(Sutherland) Same thing. Besides, the sexual element was meaningful.
(R.) It was nothing but cheap titillation.
(Sutherland) And you have the nerve to call me smutty…
(R.) Prurient.
(Sutherland) Whatever.
[Sutherland and R. approach the entrance of a small grocery store. Walking towards them along the pavement are a black couple: a young woman carrying her child – hands her over to the husband. The woman shakes arms as they’ve gone to sleep. Two old men are standing next to the doorway talking as Sutherland/R. pass through]
(First Gentleman) I’ve always got plenty that needs doing, but I never get anything done.
(Second Gentleman) Nah, me neither.
[Scene ends]

Act 1: Scene 3

[A woman is standing on stage, delivering a speech to business leaders and visiting party dignitaries. She is in her mid-thirties; of mixed race (light brown) and very professionally-spoken]

(Lab) Welcome to beautiful Kingston upon Hull: a great Yorkshire city.
Welcome to our town – a city of progress, peace and prosperity;
Of rest, relaxation and refuge. Elegance is endemic.
A northern city, with a proud and varied past.
A history of industry and labour; a maritime town –
A place of shipping and fishing –
Where modernity and antiquity meet, but do not collide.
Where the elderly and the young co-exist peacefully,
Having long ago learned to put their differences aside.
In fact, we are proud to say that our juvenile citizens
Are as peaceable as any to be found anywhere in the world.
Even in the most derelict neighbourhoods –
During the darkest nights of the year –
You are more likely to find a youthful, helping hand
Than a piece of litter.
Old residents – the salts of the earth –
Welcome newcomers, adding a dash of pageantry and spectacle
To create a modern, vibrant city.
It is a pleasure to see colourful peoples –
With their entertaining dresses and amusing customs –
Mingle gladly with down-to-earth, honest, no-nonsense folk.
[Scene ends]

Act 1: Scene 4

[Sutherland/R. standing at counter, making payment]
(Sutherland) [Loudly enough for shop clerk to hear] Why do people make such a fuss over virginity? I mean, why do people make such a play of sex?
(R.) It’s over-rated. One of the blessings of evolution was for God to grant us opposable digits. Ask for no more.
(Sutherland) Exactly.
[Sutherland/R. exit the store; passing a canned goods charity collection stall on their way. The stall is staffed by one of the old men seated on a deck-chair next to the table, reading a newspaper. The table displays a paucity of meagre goods. Sutherland notices something]
(Sutherland) Green olives? Who donated those? Bloody sadists.
[The old man smiles cheerily and nods to Sutherland. Scene ends]

Act 1: Scene 5

[Lab speech continued]
(Lab) This is a special place.
To the city’s residents I say this:
Aspire to be what you can aim to be.
And to the town’s many fine children:
Trust in yourself, and you can believe anything.
This is Kingston upon Hull:
Where democracy is its own reward;
Freedom its own virtue.
We believe in hope in this city;
And these are the people I propose to represent as a member of parliament.
Today, I am announcing my intention to permanently replace the sadly deceased party member, Mr Icke –
[Unveils a photo of the departed from behind a velvet curtain via draw-string: ‘The Rt. Hon. R. K. Icke’ is engraved in a brass plate beneath the portrait of an elderly white man]
– Who represented our city so well, for so long.
[Mild applause from audience]
Refreshments are available on the tables to the rear
By courtesy of Fare Solutions.
The investment forums are in the suite adjacent. Thank you.
[Exits stage. Scene ends]

Act 1: Scene 6

[Sutherland and R. turn the corner onto Albion Street. A building at the end of the road is smouldering. As will transpire, a fire has gutted the building completely. Fire brigade personnel are leaving the scene].

(Sutherland) You know, there’s an awful lot of black smoke fuming out of our building.
(R.) Maybe it’s the one behind. They had a barbecue indoors last weekend.
(Sutherland) No – it’s definitely ours: the Czech woman and her kids are on the corner there. Look, her daughter just kicked that fireman.
(R.) Did you leave anything on?
(Sutherland) Me? No, no. I bet it was that bloody toaster. It caught alight last week.
(R.) And you didn’t think to throw it out?
(Sutherland) I gave it a wipe-down. What more do you want?
(R.) Somewhere to live. [Pause] It was probably the kettle anyway. The plug was sparking this morning.
(Sutherland) And you didn’t think to change it?
(R.) You dragged me off to that stupid play before I had chance.
(Sutherland) Shouldn’t the kettle put a fire out?
(R.) Not if the water’s hot.
(Sutherland) Oh, yeah. No, wait…do you think anybody was hurt?
(R.) No – the Czechs were the only other residents here over the summer break. Most of the students won’t be back until October.
(Sutherland) Do you think they’ll hold us responsible?
(R.) No; the landlord’s probably glad. It saves him a swindle.
(Sutherland) Eh?
(R.) He was pretty damn diffident the other month when I asked him to fix our radiator. I’m sure he was hoping for it to flood. Maybe that’s why he let us skimp the rent so often. He was being patient; canny bastard.
(Sutherland) Do you think they saved my scripts?
(R.) I don’t think they’d’ve gone out of their way to rescue them.
(Sutherland) God. The loss to literature – to humanity.
(R.) Didn’t you have them saved on your laptop?
(Sutherland) Ah, yes. Yes.
(R.) Where is it?
(Sutherland) I left it in the kitchen; on the sideboard. Between the kettle and the toaster. The safest place.
(R.) Well, can’t you write them over again?
(Sutherland) No, no; the pain is too fresh.
(R.) And the indolence?
(Sutherland) Ever-present.
(R.) Do you know anybody who can put us up for the night?
[Scene ends]

Act 1: Scene 7

[The following day: it is early September: a bright autumnal morning. The setting is a small sunlit hall with large windows. The scene is vivid and rich. Announcing his candidacy in the upcoming European elections is Paul Cobblestone, the regional folk-leader of the British Notional Party. Cobblestone has taken to the stage; standing behind a podium bedecked with Union Jacks and the ‘BNP’ acronym. Cobblestone is middle-aged and overweight, but has a powerful frame. He is wearing a smart, dark suit and a scarlet tie. His appearance is therefore both sensible and striking. He motions to his audience – a hushed anticipation ensues. Cobblestone begins speaking: quietly and calmly; but staccato and raising his voice when making emphatic points].

(Cobblestone) Gentlemen; Britons; my fellow countrymen –
Today I ask you this:
What if free-range eggs transformed into free-range legs
Just as you were about to eat them?
And instead of warm, nutritious eggs –
Suitable as an accompaniment to toast,
Or as a light, savoury dish in their own right –
All that you had before you were liberated legs:
Hot, lithe, devoid of trousers, and therefore infinitely naked.
That, gentlemen, is what has happened to our country.
[Ceremonious applause. Scene ends].

Act 1: Scene 8

[Sutherland/R. are searching for a place to live; encountering various points of rebuff: ‘No students’; ‘No DSS’; ‘No children’; ‘No dogs’. Sutherland is standing at an open door].

(Landlord) [Irish accent] Look the sign clearly says ‘No DSS’.
(Sutherland) We’re students
(Landlord) Yeah; that’s what they all feckin’ say. Look at that bloody hair!
(Sutherland) What’s wrong with my hair?
[Door slams shut and locks. Scene ends]

Act 1: Scene 9

[Cobblestone continues as before]
(Cobblestone) Do you remember Britain the way it used to be?
Sweet blue skies; green and pleasing meadows.
A clean and pleasant land.
[Murmurs of consensus from audience]
Time was this country was safe. It was secure. It had sensible weather.
Once, we Britons flaunted our Britishness;
We would saunter the city streets with spirit, with verve.
Now we are too ashamed – simply too embarrassed –
To even take pride in the days we dominated the very earth.
We are no longer even allowed to mention the name of our country – Britain.
My Britain. The most unassuming and greatly gentle of all lands.
Noble and resonant – a realm of kings and literary princes.
Ours is the country of Shakespeare and …well, many others besides.
Once Britons would read Shakespeare with pride.
Ask a former British child – they’ll tell you:
‘Shakespeare is who I am’.
That is the way it once was,
Truth be told.
But what was this Britain of old?
Cobbled stone streets; golden bright fields of fair budding wheat.
Hay bales cooling, while twilight champs on the bit.
Post offices robustly plying their wares on British street corners.
Children literally strolling down country lanes;
Their playful hands irresistibly drawn towards the long scented purples of mint.
The union Jack fluttering slowly in the sky.
England – my England.
A clock ticking as a dog barks:
‘Come in lad’ it’s owner would command with mastery.
Families swinging merrily; and frosted apple carts
Rattling along barely lit side-streets;
Gas lamps a-glimmer in the evening dusk,
As the gentle British wind blew upon
Each and every inhabitant of the city.
Yes, all of this was England.
And what else? What more besides?
Long shadows on cricketers;
Invincible suburban outlooks;
Tepid, small beer.
This was no ordinary country. This was a British country –
This was Britain, to be precise.
We would stand and hark at elderly maidens
Cycling through the Holy Communion,
As the parson had at them with his sermons.
‘Which creaks more?’ passers by would ask;
‘Their rusting wheels or their proud British hips?’.
Oh yes – there was reverence, in those days.
We were a nation of old maids and preachers.
St. Paul’s cathedral; Mrs Beeton:
There was simply no way of discerning between the two.
Both were equally British.
Time was, being British required a life-long experience of Britishness.
Time was ‘savour the flavour of Yorkshire’ actually meant something.
Well, not no more, my fellow countrymen.
Now it has gone the way of the honest British brogue.
Where once our native tongue was squarely wedded to our mother country
It has now simply, literally vanished.
Our firm regional accents lost to a meringue of non-European subversion.
Nobody is even allowed to mention the British twang anymore;
Less still employ one.
It is considered improper.
But we still remember –
We remember those glorious days:
Saturday nights by the fireside,
Wishing the time away until Monday morning
To begin a week of work anew.
We Britons loved our labour; our jobs more than our wives.
Every single Briton would gladly sacrifice their beings, their loves, their lives
For their work.
The honest British milk man:
‘Two pints of milk, madam’ he would say to every customer,
Without a trace of lewdness.
Pints – not demi-litres.
In his expert hands, the seditious French influence was kept adroitly at bay.
The great British post, and its magnificent mail:
It is now the laughing stock of the world;
But once our mailmen bestrode the earth
As did the very Gods themselves.
A rich culinary history: our proud food heritage – tastes formed for life.
Oh, British cookery may lack flair and panache –
But it has honesty and decency;
A certain inborn propriety lacking in other cuisines.
We British – we know what we like, and we like what we know.
Or at least we thought so.
Today, however, our shepherd and apple pies –
Our honest puff-pastry crust –
Are now gone, ruined, ruthlessly replaced and ravaged
By the brute creations of the Frenchman’s lust,
And his only too-tempting crostini.
Enough is enough.
Britishness is an art, you see; not a science.
You don’t perform it with precision.
It is not fitfully engineered:
It requires years of carefully honed Britishness to be fully British.
And what then are we Britons?
Unsurpassingly modest – we are rightly proud of our humility.
None are so humble as we. None in all the world behave so Britishly.
We built Britain with our bare hands.
Who but the Briton would ever have had
The simple sense of decency, of good order,
To create a proud Yorkshire city like Hull?
What wondrous hand, or eye
Dare not enjoy its lovely propriety?
Tourists will find no nude statues of women in this most satisfying city.
No aching cleavage of temptation awaits
The innocent eyes of unsuspecting men and boys –
Their gaze literally drawn.
Until recently, that is. How things have changed.
When we look upon our fair city, what greets our eyes today?
Unprovoked littering.
Unpatriotic unBritish facades.
Unjustified nudity.
Dogs crapping on street corners; children crapping on the elderly –
Or literally breaking the law with crimes.
Oh, I have seen them: hardened youths, souring street corners,
Literally – and I will repeat this –
Literally thinking about committing offences.
It is marked upon their very faces.
Honest Britons are now victims of their own demise:
Poor frail folk, tormented bitterly by the prospect of un-Britishness.
They soldier on – let there be no doubt –
But how can they hope to succeed
When our language, our very culture,
Has been perverted by despicable foreign mores.
What does ‘Tea bagging’ mean today, I ask?
Time was it meant innocent, wholesome delight.
And now? Now?
Now every single cup of tea ever made
Will fill the maker’s mind with bitter obscenity;
Especially if prepared in a teapot.
One cannot sit in an honest café without thinking of the French these days.
Our cultural tapestry, the very fabric of our nation,
Is now besmirched and blemished beyond compare.
Is it any wonder that all manner of mentalness transpires?
The promotion of French taste and manners is remorseless.
It is only the Frenchman who speaks with every part of his body .
Seeking to bring Britons to their level – to leave us no better than equals:
From Frenchness to Feminism to all manner of buggeration.
Gentlemen, ask yourself this: in the eyes of a Frenchman,
What – precisely – does the Channel tunnel symbolise?
And what the trains?
It is simply not normal. It is not British.
Gentlemen, I say unto you: when the baguette has supplanted the Parkin,
A tragic horror has befallen our land.

[Pauses and recollects self, re-straightening his tie]
It is worse, far worse than even this.
A veritable flange of outlanders has befallen us.
On this island, on our shores,
Every rogue in search of a fortune washes up.
Continually emptying and discharging themselves into this grand reservoir:
Britain is little more than a common culvert for the world.
Our country is literally bulging at the seams:
We are full of foreigners inserting themselves
Into every crevice of our country.
Medical facilities, educational establishments,
Restaurants and takeaways:
All – all – could have migrants in them.
The possibility for terrorism is simply impossible.
The threat has multiplied beyond all calculation.
It is at least twice what it once was; if not double.
The unbridled entry of foreigners into our country
Has literally left our motherland ravished – a stricken creature.
Today, the pay the drudging Briton receives is so meagre,
So paltry, that he cannot even live within it.
Houses are falling into ruin:
Their owners put to work as virtual slaves;
And all of this transpires while the foreigner looks on laughingly,
Larding its contemptible crust.
Gentlemen, enough is quite simply enough.
This appalling state of affairs must begin to end;
It must start to stop.
But who, or what, is the terrible enemy within the heart of our own country?
What is it that poses the great threat to civilisation?
Gentlemen, from France there comes a new power into our kingdom –
Most savage and unnatural;
Foreign to our nation, to our character, and to the genius of our people.
When we look across Yorkshire today,
What do we see?
Upstandingly British front-gardens
Forced to make way for many, many Mosques.
British flowerbeds have become veritable battlegrounds.
Each English rose in bloom is a step towards final victory.
When we scan the horizon of Hull,
What becomes patent?
Inner-city areas where ordinary citizens dare not venture after dark.
A depopulated wasteland brimming with foreigners.
Young Muslim men literally hanging around –
Literally conspiring against the downfall of Britain.
We know for a fact that they have connections to the outside world,
Where they have almost certainly received training in Islam.
In fact it is safe to say that Yorkshire has become a veritable Mecca
For Muslims and other criminal types.
Gentlemen: they hate us for our Britishness.
They literally despise us because we are better than they are.
Theirs is the awed contempt; ours the humble pride.
It is in their very blood.
The Koran teaches people to hate Albion –
It literally implores them to despise the honest British pleasure beach;
To loathe us because of our candour, and the liberties we take.
Muslims despise us because of our modesty.
By a striking contrast, Jesus understood well enough the importance of Britishness.
It is no coincidence that the Bible is written in English, you know.
[Applause; Cobblestone motions for hush]
Let us be clear here; let us state facts plainly:
A swan’s wing is powerful enough to break a man’s arm –
How many Muslims know this?
Sarcasm is the lowest form of wit –
How many Islamic lands have that in their constitution?
No Gentlemen, no:
The differences between the civilised and the savage are simply too great –
There can be no peace between us.
If we surrender – if we fail –
Then shall the realm of Albion come to great confusion.
Oh, you may disbelieve me;
But I have seen it.
I have literally seen it.
I saw one with my own eyes – undeniably looking suspicious –
Literally standing on a street corner.
Too many liberals have turned a blind eye to terrorism in the past and –
For the sake of England – I refused to follow suit.
I approached the Muslim.
‘What the hell do you think you are doing?’ I asked politely.
‘I’m sorry?’ came the vicious reply.
‘Well, I see you standing here
On the very corner of a street in the early evening –
What is one to presume?’ I retorted candidly.
‘I’m not sure I follow’ he snarled.
‘How dare you accost me in such a manner’, I broached tactfully.
‘The impudence of you creatures is legendary,
But even I had not expected this tirade of invective’.
‘Look mate, I’m not looking for any trouble, I’m just waiting for the…’.
But I was not about to be led astray by such vulgar calumny;
By such grovelling liberal propaganda.
‘Shut up’, I explained.
‘Did you seriously think you could get away with it?’ I continued peaceably.
No reply came. Not a single word.
And I will tell you why:
A bus had arrived, and – in the true coward’s fashion,
Customary to such foreign types – he boarded it.
[Audience murmurs with satisfaction; Cobblestone glowers]
But he dropped litter. By God I tell you –
I couldn’t believe it with my own eyes –
Before he climbed aboard –
He literally littered!
He befouled an innocent British pavement with his foul unBritish wares!
Final proof of what we all knew to be true,
But were simply unable to prove
Due to a dearth of so-called evidence.
‘That is a British pavement and that was literally assault!’ I cried.
All I could do was watch, however,
As that Halal biscuit wrapper fell cruelly towards the footpath.
A British footpath.
A cheese biscuit.
An Islamic cracker.
It was but inches from the bin –
Or, to the Muslim, mere centimetres.
Oh, the distance was quite deliberate. Quite intentional.
It was an assault upon our culture, our religion, our very way of life –
Yes, even our beliefs.
These Muslims: they hate us for our civilised walkways.
It was mockery! It was insolence!
That is sarcasm! That is literally terrorism!
[Applause and cheers from audience; Cobblestone cries over the clamour]
Oh yes – their hatred of the Britain is matched only by their desire to live here.
They deserve nothing but the basest form of contempt,
For that is all that a savage is capable of. Hatred and detestation.
Let it be said: we are standing today at the very gates of Hull.
For the first time in history – in our fair city –
Violent conflict may ensue.
Therein savagery does press and throng;
Gentlemen – welcome to Kingston upon Hullistan.
[Scene ends]

Act 1: Scene 10

[Sutherland/R. being shown into a dilapidated flat by an Estate Agent. The latter is a young, slight, and well-spoken woman; wearing a smart suit and skirt.
The Agent pushes the door open with her shoulder – behind which is a collection of beer cans, as well as a pile of mottled and ripened rubbish].

(Agent) You’re going to love the flat – it’s just lovely. Its entire temperament is perfect for students. Absolutely perfect.
(Sutherland) How? How is it perfect?
(Agent) The window opens in summer and closes in winter. It has curtains and everything – though we do make no guarantee about those. It’s been a student residence for several months now – [to Sutherland] watch the floor there – but it played a keen role in contemporary local history beforehand, which I’m sure will only enhance your esteem.
(R.) Was it a drug pad?
(Agent) [Pause] It was a centre for subversive commerce and illicit exchange. A jive warren, in fact. You know, these are very exciting times we live in. The front door still works perfectly. There was no lock, so no forced entry was required whenever it was raided.
(R.) Is there a telephone?
(Agent) We feel that the lack of intrusive telecommunications affords privacy and peace – a sense of seclusion in today’s frantic world. Ideal for quiet study. Just the thing for exam preparation. [Stumbles on bottle] The previous occupants were students at the university; they were very comfortable here.
(R.) Why did they leave?
(Agent) Expulsion.
(Sutherland) Did they not pay their rent?
(Agent) Oh, it was nothing like that. They were squatting here. The building was condemned – we bought it shortly afterwards. The students were disqualified from their University courses. [Looks around the flat charily] They vanished afterwards.
(Sutherland) I’ll be honest – I have my doubts.
(R.) What else is there?
(Sutherland) True. My loan’s pretty sparse until next spring.
(R.) We’ll need to buy a phone.
(Sutherland) I’ll just leave my mobile here during the day. That way if anyone calls when I’m out, they’ll still be able to reach me.
(R.) What are they? [Motioning towards a row of glass bottles on the windowsill].
(Agent) Um? Oh – that’s a display of antique liquor bottles.
(Sutherland) Really? Are they worth anything?
(Agent) There’s a recycling box outside.
(R.) We’ll take the flat.
(Agent) Great. Excellent.
(R.) It’s all we can afford.
(Sutherland) And at least it doesn’t smell like a barbecue.
(R.) No; it just reeks of the aftermath. If you would be so kind as to clear the junk away, I’ll wash the vomit from the walls.
(Agent) [Automatically] Yes, the varied hues really add a touch of spectacle – and a real note of authenticity – to the whole character of the apartment. Quite how they managed to get it above the door adds a motif of mystery. [Pause] Here are the keys, anyway. You’ll need new ones of course if you have a lock installed. I’ll leave you to it.
(R.) Well, at least it has a door if not a lock. And half a handle .
(Sutherland) It has a door bell, only without the bell. And a milk bottle out front with a piece of bread in it. Maybe it’s a trap?
(R.) Could be. We have mice boarding with us.
(Sutherland) They’re probably not going to chip in.
[Scene ends]

Act 1: Scene 11

[Cobblestone has quieted; and has tidied his fringe. His face is no longer flushed. The audience is awaiting his next utterance. He speaks gently at first].

(Cobblestone) ‘But what are we to do in the face of such horrors?’ you ask.
Gentlemen, I tell you from bitter personal experience:
Our potency as a nation diminishes with each passing day.
We need a new, tactical Britishness.
Our mother country is in need of firm, British, masculine guidance.
It is thus today that I – for the very first time –
I unveil before your eyes
The new ideal of rugged Britishness.
Step forward the New Model Youth!

[Five men in single file troop into view; entering the stage from behind the scenes. Four are in their twenties – their hair is blond and close-cropped; one is an older gentleman with his hair bleached blonde and cut in the same style. The men are wearing tight white t-shirts, tan coloured shorts, and weighty paramilitary boots. All stand at ease in the military fashion, on the stage to Cobblestone’s left]

(Cobblestone) Behold: paragons of the manly British virtues.
The bejewelled crown of young British manhood.
Icons for our time.
Solid, upstanding members of our nation –
Their Britishness fully-fledged;
Brought to fruition by their hard-earned hands.
The kind of daring, bold, devil-may-care young men
That our movement sorely needs; that our ranks greatly desire.
Burning with pride; glistening with honest, trustworthy eyebrows.
Gentlemen, I like my men to be real men; my Britons – true Britons.
I am the one to make men of these British boys.
I will take them in hand. I will teach them the ways of Britishness:
The thrill of steely comradeship in the face of a common enemy.

[The New Model Youth take their queue and begin to march back and forth across the stage behind Cobblestone; their boots clunking on the wooden lattes]

(Cobblestone) Let their pure Anglo-Saxon instinct be a blistering example:
Birth alone can entitle men and women to the society of Britons.
Just because a dog is born in a stable
That does not make it a horse.
It has not the qualities we would associate most with a horse –
Loyalty, intelligence, courage:
Only Britons may truly be compared to stallions thus.
There is a pecking order in this country.
The top peckers must have their hard-won end!

[The New Model Youth cease to march, and retake their former standing positions]

(Cobblestone) You will find the spirit of Caesar in this youth –
A magnificent virile force – true Britons all.
The great military deeds of warriors and fighters shall they know;
The freedom of the city shall be theirs.

[The New Model Youth again take their queue and begin to stride about the stage once more]

(Cobblestone) These then are they
Who have the ability – and the will –
To fight for the honour of their mother country.
They can maintain a marching pace of five miles per hour
Over a distance of twenty five;
And when they stop,
They can strike one fire with two sticks in three minutes.

[The New Model youth fall into rank once more, slightly short of breath. Cobblestone walks along the line, inspecting his troops, occasionally testing their uniforms, and addressing his audience]

(Cobblestone) Gentlemen, behold the most perfect specimens of Britishness.
Legs: sinewed as though with steel cords;
So fine are the muscles and devoid of fat.
Chests: broad, deep and full –
Their heritage from generations of mountain-dwelling ancestors.
Probably Welsh.
They sweep along the walkway with a smooth, effortless stride,
As tireless as a machine and equally rhythmical.
The thought of attempting to catch one of them in the chase
Gives one a strange feeling of delight and vulnerability.
But we may well enjoy a sensation of the beautiful in watching them .
As tough as British steel; as swift as British trains;
And as uncompromising as British post-offices.
Note the English face: naturally calm, audacious and bold –
Like the ancient Viking heroes of old.
Note the attire, the arrangement:
The true Britishman’s leg was not designed by God almighty himself
With half-masters in mind.
These truly British shorts will reflect our imperial days of glory:
As the flag soared, so too the khaki hem.
Now is the period of our discontent made glorious somehow
By these flamboyant sons of Yorkshire!

[Cobblestone retakes his podium; the New Model Youth remain in position, one or two occasionally shaking their legs due to pins and needles]

(Cobblestone) Gentlemen I tell you this:
We will win the battle on the council estate,
In the schools, and wherever else it is found to be fought.
The appalling, wilful negligence of the political classes
Will not continue unabated!
[Applause]
The silent majority cry out in desperation.
They say to me ‘Cobblestone: you are our only hope.
Only you will ensure that British restaurants take pride of place
On British high streets for evermore’.
Yes, that is what they say. This is what they say to me.
And they are right. I am their only hope.
But Gentlemen I ask you this – history is at the back-door:
Will she find it locked or swaying?
We have achieved a string of magnificent minor successes –
Many upon many people have indicated that they could support us.
Unspoken desires should not be overlooked.
Now we need a final push to gain our first seat in the halls of power.
Gentlemen, our time has finally come – our time is at long last now.
As far as nationalism is concerned, there is only one circus in town.
The power and the glory must be ours.
We British nationals ruled the world once;
The day shall come when we will stand supreme in Hull.
It is time for an expression of our movement’s resolve and will;
The energy of our members must be harnessed and directed,
And brought to a spectacular climax.
Let us truly come to power:
It is time for a great expression of the peoples’ will!

[The New Model Youth take their queue to begin marching in the background; their clunky traipse audible as a backdrop to Cobblestone’s words]

We will mount a defence of the normal way of life in this country!
Oh, there will be no half measures:
When we mount something we go at it properly!
Thus the entire rabble shall know
There is one who will deliver and save England:
Cobblestone! He alone has the courage! He alone am I!
I am Britain! So can you!
Gentlemen, the future is a thing of the past;
Today we welcome the present.
Britannia is dead.
Now, we witness the birth of Albion
In this bastion of freedom,
This land of hope and glory, this…England.
[Standing ovation from the audience members. Scene ends]