Peter is a middle aged lecturer in English at a Midlands based university. Emily, his niece, is a 2nd year student in French at the same university. After their evening visit to the RSC, Tom, Emily’s boyfriend, joins them for a drink at The Dirty Duck.
TOM: Any good?
PETER: (SLIGHT PAUSE) Yes. Very good.
EMILY: It was.
PETER: Tell us, then.
EMILY: Peter’s the expert.
PETER: (SMILES) I want to hear what you’ve got to say.
EMILY: (LAUGHS) Well there were two new plays. One act each. The first one, The Earthworks – who was that by?
PETER: Tom Morton-Smith. He wrote Oppenheimer, if you’ve heard of that? It ended up in the West End.
EMILY: Yes – well, so there’s a journalist and a scientist, in a smart hotel, the night before the Large Hadron Collider is due to be turned on. She wants…she wants to…well…she says she want someone to help her with her…article, about the Collider…because she feels like an idiot journalist and doesn’t know anything about it.
PETER SMILES AND DRINKS
EMILY: But I think she’s lonely. She fancies him, so she speaks to him – that’s what it’s really about. If she wanted to write the article, she’d go and write the article. (PAUSE) But he’s married…or so he says. well he doesn’t say…he just points at his ring. And they start to talk. Mostly her. And the wine flows…and you know, they start…well, they start…the wine does its stuff.
EMILY: And before they know it, they’re in his room having…well…about to have animal sex. I loved the…animal dance they did, kind of symbolic…on the bed…with the music….because you can’t…well how can you depict actual sex on the stage? But they don’t have sex, because she’s…well it’s her time of the month.
PETER TRIES TO HIDE HIS SLIGHT EMBARRASSMENT BEHIND HIS PINT.
EMILY: And then we find out that he’s not married at all, but a widower. And she’s married too, but she doesn’t seem that… bothered, and before they know it, after more wine, they’re in the kitchen throwing custard at each other. But he starts punching it, in the bowl, to show us–
TOM: Oh they did that?
EMILY: That it’s like hard putty, but gooey when you put your hands in it.
TOM: It’s a non-Newtonian liquid, you see, so the molecules pull together under impact. If you had a swimming pool full of custard you could actually run across it.
EMILY: I’ll be sure to remember that! But the hotel manager, well she’s kind of pissed off about it all because it’s 4am and she’s, like, this stuck-up German, or something, and they get told off like they’re small children. Who was the actress? She was very good!
PETER: Rebecca Humphries. She plays the lead in Myth as well.
EMILY: Well they were all good.
PETER: (LOOKS AT PROGRAMME) Lena Kaur and Thomas Magnussen. There was some smart, funny writing. Every line was well honed, well crafted.
EMILY: But they’re told, by the manager, to empty their pockets and the scientist pulls out this small, rectangle piece of glass and the next thing is, we’re back in his room and he’s explaining what it is. The manager thinks it’s an iPad or something but it’s actually glass capable of slowing down light – I mean, light will pass through a window in fractions of a second, but what if it was slowed down so much that it takes ten years to pass through? So that you can actually watch it, almost frozen in time.
TOM: Can that be done?
EMILY: I think so. But he carries it everywhere with him because, well, his wife is still captured in it, he can still see her face in it. He’s carrying the past around with him.
PETER: Whereas the journalist…she’s a web journalist actually…well…she thinks that everything she writes is meaningless and ephemeral – here today, gone tomorrow.
EMILY: They were both…lost characters really, and they found each other, held on to each other, for those fleeting few hours.
PETER: Ships in the night. Or non-Newtonian molecules, hugging each other tight under impact.
EMILY: But it was sweet, and touching.
PAUSE. THEY SIP AT THEIR DRINKS.
TOM: And the second one?
PETER: Myth? I watched the first half and I thought…what mediocre bollocks are the RSC serving up now? It was a middle class comedy of manners, a 21st century Ayckbourn, if you know him? Or a sitcom without any good jokes. Basically, two youngish couples, with high earning city jobs – advertising, banking – bickering at each other over dinner in Sarah’s new flat.
EMILY: I liked the first half.
PETER: Most of the audience seemed to! They laughed all the way through and then, when they thought it had finished, clapped as if they’d have been happy to leave it at that. But then the play started again…
EMILY: It got weird.
PETER: It started to get interesting.
EMILY: I thought the actors were…fucking everything up.
PETER: Well, so did I at first – the props being misplaced–
EMILY: And the actress playing Sarah, the host, starts to laugh…
PETER: Forgets her lines, corpses…
EMILY: And then everything goes wrong
PETER: Oil starts to drip from the ceiling, the freezer leaks water, dead oil-soaked birds drop from the sky, the lights start flickering, the fish tank starts to fill with sewage– the house slowly becomes a scene of destruction.
EMILY: So amazing to watch. But everyone carries on, in their polite middle class way, as if nothing has happened – well, except Sarah…
PETER: Who does respond, and can’t work out why the others can’t see what she is seeing.
TOM: You mean the actor? Or the character?
PETER: Well this is it, you’re not quite sure which it is.
EMILY: But then I realised – it took me ages, but the conversation they had in the first half – and Sarah trying to make them realise the jobs they did had actual, real world consequences –
PETER: Some of the lines did become a little too obvious, though? A little didactic?
TOM: For example?
PETER: Well, “Not making a decision is a decision in itself”- you know, there were a lot of lines like that. I felt a bit…preached to.
EMILY: No, no. I think the playwright was just pushing home, couldn’t push home enough, the fact that we are already standing waist deep in destruction, that we have to do something now. Now! Or it will be too late, or maybe it already is!
PETER: You know Brecht? He was a German playwright who wanted you to be aware that what you are watching is artifice – he wanted audience members to be aware of themselves as agents of political change. Well, here was Brecht for the new millenium. We were being…directly appealed to. Especially that moment when Sarah stops and looks out at the audience and asks us for help. And we just sat there. Noone moves. I felt…I felt a bit pathetic. And of course how many of us will change our lives, in even the smallest of ways, having watched this play? Having driven home, in our large cars, to our centrally heated homes, and our large screen TVs, and so on. It was a smart piece of writing but I’m not sure if it…held together, if it was…self contained enough.
EMILY: Wasn’t that the point, though? The whole thing was…about…careering out of control?
EMILY: Sarah refuses to continue, and the actors around her are forced to… forced to say her lines for her, and even to perform some of her actions.
PETER: Exactly. She’s made a decision not to…partake. I can’t quite decide if the whole thing was gimmicky or a bold innovation.
Emily: Don’t they try to repeat the play a third time?
Peter: Yes, but it’s too late. They run out of time.
THE BELL FOR LAST ORDERS IS RUNG
Tom: Oh, but there’s always more time, surely. (Gestures at glasses) Same again?
The Earthworks and Myth are on at The Other Place until 17th June 2017. Click here for more details.