Theatre I'm sure I've posted this before but Matthew's post about fire drills reminded me of this short play I wrote in the late 90s about a false alarm in a student hall.
It uses some of the characters from a television series I failed to make sense of at the time because it attempted to make an hour's worth of drama without supporting players. Or something.
The idea was to create a piece which could be used by a drama group with loads of actors which gave them all something to do, as part of a variety night or some such.
Parts of it, like the Beckettian repetitions and the lack of scenery I'm pleased with. Other parts, like the gender politics, are a bit embarrassing, but here it is all unvarnished:
ABOUT HALF THREE.
STUART IAN BURNS
Bare stage. From stage left, a man appears in a dressing gown. He looks around the stage, then simply stands there nervously. This is Mitch Clarke. From stage right, a second man appears; slightly older, also wearing a dressing gown. This is Alex Richards.
ALEX: What time is it?
MITCH: (slightly uneasy) About half three.
ALEX: Fuck me.
Mitch smiles nervously.
A girl in purple jeans and a tie die blouse strays on from stage left. This is Clara Miller.
ALEX: You’re dressed?
CLARA: I stayed up. I saw it coming.
ALEX: Of course you did.
Mitch sneezes. He gets out a handkerchief, his eyes streaming.
CLARA: Are you all right, Mitch?
Alex, Mitch and Clara turn and look as three more people stray on, Michael Mitchell, Shelley Lawrence and David Gerard. All are fully clothed as well. Michael and David are carrying hands of cards. Alex hits the palm of his hand against his forehead. Mitch sneezes. Clara smiles. Michael and David are bickering with each other forcibly but Soto Voce; Shelley wears the expression of a tolerant mother.
ALEX: You’re dressed as well?
SHELLEY: Late night poker.
Above the general hum of an argument we hear . . .
MICHAEL: My two Kings beat your pair of Aces.
DAVID: This is poker not pontoon. Aces are essentially eleven. Higher than a king which are essentially ten. (he turns to Shelley) Whose idea was it to teach him poker?
DAVID: We should have stuck with chess. We were making progress with chess.
Clara smiles. Pause.
CLARA: I like chess.
DAVID: Clara? I mean, hello Clara.
CLARA: Hi David. You look tired.
DAVID: I feel tired.
All turn again, as Carol Henrik and Fiona Smith appear. Carol is in her dressing gown and Fiona seems to be wearing nothing but a long t-shirt. Alex is obviously impressed. Mitch sneezes. Clara smiles at them. Shelley is trying to help Michael work out his poker hand. He is moving the cards around his hand. David is smiling at Clara.
ALEX: Finally someone else in a dressing gown.
CAROL: (German accent) Of all people.
ALEX: I didn’t mean anything.
FIONA: Of course you didn’t.
Everyone turns and stops what they are doing as Pete Armstrong and Sarah Leopold arrive from stage left. Pete is dressed in a jumper and jeans and carrying a clipboard. Sarah is in a nightie.
FIONA: What is it that people say at a time like this? (holding herself) Brrr.
Sarah goes to reply, but Pete cuts in.
PETE: Stop complaining. It’s not that cold.
Both Sarah and Fiona glare at him.
PETE: Let’s do it then. (irritated) I think we all know what to do by now. (pause) I call your name you tell me what you’ve been up to. Anyone want to own up to anything?
Everyone stands silently. Pause.
PETE: I was afraid of that.
SARAH: Just hold on a sec. Where is everyone?
PETE: They’ve all gone home for the weekend.
PETE: ‘Cept the French group. Party.
ALEX: Party? And I wasn’t invited?
CLARA: You’re a Eurosceptic.
ALEX: But – party?
SARAH: Why aren’t you there, Carol?
ALEX: She’s not French . . .
CAROL: Long story. Tell you later.
Fiona smiles knowingly. Everyone turns to look at her. Intimidated she stops and forces seriousness.
PETE: (sighing) Let's start. Randomly for a change. Alex Richards.
ALEX: Sleeping. Missing a party.
PETE: Mitch Clarke.
PETE: That’s all right. What have you been doing?
MITCH: Insomnia. Listening to the radio.
PETE: Ok. Clara?
CLARA: I was trying a new meditation technique.
DAVID: What was that?
CLARA: Sleeping alone.
PETE: So it didn’t involve pushing things around like last time?
CLARA: No. No telekinesis. I got banned remember?
PETE: Just checking. Erm . . . Michael, David and Shelley?
MICHAEL: Being cheated in poker.
DAVID: Winning at poker.
SHELLEY: Beginning to hate the idea of poker.
CAROL: I’m taking the Fifth Amendment.
PETE: This is Britain. We don’t have a “Fifth Amendment”.
CAROL: Well you should have.
PETE: What were you doing?
CAROL: I whisper.
Pete steps forward.
Pete steps back. Carol approaches Sarah and whispers in her ear. Sarah gives the same knowing smile as Fiona did. Pete stares at her.
SARAH: She didn’t do it.
PETE: Who’s left? Fiona?
FIONA: Err . . . I was sleeping.
PETE: Oh god. Is there anyone we haven’t accounted for?
No one says anything. Mitch shrugs nervously.
PETE: Look. Someone has to own up to this. The fire engines will be here in (he looks at his watch) four minutes. If no one says ‘yes its me’ in the next three minutes fifty five seconds we all lose what’s left of our deposits. If someone owns up. They’ll get the warning and we all go back to bed. Three minutes 45.
ALEX: Can’t someone just own up even if they didn’t do it? Mitch?
CLARA: Stop picking on Mitch. Why don’t you do it?
ALEX: I’ve already got a warning. The glass door?
I get another one and I’m out.
CLARA: And that would be tragedy.
Pete cuts in.
PETE: No one is going to own up to something they didn’t do. This isn’t school. It doesn’t work that way.
SARAH: I know it’s tricky. But - one of you has to have done it.
FIONA: It could be a fault. You know in the system.
DAVID: That’s possible. It’s quite an old system. There might have been a pulse or something.
MICHAEL: Very scientific.
PETE: Nice idea, but no. They installed a new system last week with all kinds of safe guards. I just never got round to telling everyone.
ALEX: Hold on. How do we know it wasn’t you? You’re dressed.
PETE: I was doing course work when I heard the alarm.
ALEX: Course work? At half three in the morning?
SARAH: It’s his way.
ALEX: And what about you?
SARAH: I was dreaming thank you very much. Who appointed you Inspector Morse?
ALEX: Just making sure.
PETE: (urgently) Three minutes. Come on people. Explanations.
ALEX: Will you shush. You’re driving me up the wall.
CLARA: Will you leave him alone?
ALEX: And what are you going to do Miss ‘oh I can’t get a decent shag since everyone realised I was a wierdo.’ We didn’t exactly get a satisfactory explanation from you.
CLARA: I told you. I was meditating.
ALEX: Why couldn’t I get into Dickens Hall with me mates. Why did I end up here with the cast of ‘Friends’ crossed with fucking ‘Woodstock’. Shit.
MICHAEL: Calm down. What is wrong with you tonight?
ALEX: I’m nervous. We’ve got an exam tomorrow.
CAROL: It’s true. In Running.
ALEX: (shrugging) It’s the stride patterns.
MICHAEL: Stride patterns?
CAROL: I know. (she turns to Alex) What are you worried about? Tripping?
ALEX: Why did you tell them?
CAROL: You started it.
PETE: (sighing) Two minutes thirty.
ALEX: So what have you been doing?
CAROL: It’s none of your business.
ALEX: It is if it means we all get fined.
CAROL: It’s private!
ALEX: So private that we’re all standing here?
CAROL: It’s not my fault!
ALEX: THEN WHAT WERE YOU DOING?
CAROL: I WAS MASTURBATING!
Carol glances looks towards Clara.
ALEX: You’re? You’re a . . .hhhrr . . .
CAROL: Not that it’s any of your business.
CLARA: (to Alex) Where the hell have you been?
ALEX: YOU ALL KNOW?
There is dead silence. A pin drops. Everyone, especially Alex is faintly embarrassed. Everyone but Clara is smiling. Mitch sneezes.
MICHAEL: I didn’t.
Shelley hits him playfully.
MICHAEL: I never know.
CLARA: (to Carol) You fancy me?
Carol shrugs and throws her hands open.
CLARA: I mean it explains a lot. I have been off men lately . . .
David looks a bit hurt.
CLARA: . . . I suppose if . . .
She looks around and realises that there are about ten people listening. Plus the audience.
CLARA: (to Carol) . . . we’ll talk tomorrow.
ALEX: Look, Carol. I’m sorry. I . . .
FIONA: So you should be. And yes, before anyone asks I did knock at the wrong moment. When she was . . .
PETE: (resignedly) Two minutes to go. Bye-bye house deposit.
DAVID: Perhaps at this moment I should bring to everyone’s attention what Sherlock Holmes said.
MICHAEL: Oh no.
DAVID: I’m paraphrasing . . . erm . . . when all evidence has been rejected, anything which remains, however improbable, must be the truth. I think that’s it.
MICHAEL: Oh god.
SARAH: And that means?
DAVID: I know who did it.
DAVID: I’ve actually known since we got down here.
FIONA: Then why didn’t you tell us?
DAVID: I liked watching you all trying to work it out. I’m a student of human nature.
MICHAEL: I thought you were a student of Electrical Engineering.
PETE: Were straying from the point. One minute.
ALEX: Shouldn’t the hall have burnt down by now?
DAVID: Who’s missing?
PETE: No one.
DAVID: None of the students no.
PETE: So who else is there?
SARAH: (realising) Liam.
DAVID: (agreeing) Liam.
PETE: The Hall Master?
DAVID: Who else has access to fire alarms which can be set off accidentally. Who is probably too embarrassed to come out here?
ALEX: You mean he’d let us all lose our deposits so that he could save face.
DAVID: It’s not that simple. Is it (turning) FIONA?
All eyes and heads turn to Fiona.
DAVID: Tell them. We have thirty seconds.
FIONA: I can’t say anything.
FIONA: It was me! It was me.
DAVID: Thank you.
SARAH: How was it you?
DAVID: I flicked the button when I sat on it.
CLARA: Sat on it?
DAVID: I noticed Fiona slipping into Liam’s room earlier.
Everyone is looking at Fiona now.
ALEX: You. And Liam?!?
FIONA: He’s nice if you get to know him.
ALEX: Is there anyone else?
Carol raises her hand slightly.
ALEX: I’m tired. I’m going back to bed.
Alex goes to walk off stage.
SHELLEY: Since no one else has mentioned it. Where are the fire engines?
Everyone looks around.
PETE: There aren’t any.
Everyone looks at Pete.
PETE: (swallowing) That’s why we were late down. I thought it was a fault and rang the station to cancel. They aren’t coming.
SHELLEY: So the last five minutes didn’t mean anything?
PETE: I had to go through the motions. It’s my job.
Michael shakes his head.
ALEX: Well fuck you all and good night.
Alex leaves the stage. A nervous silence infests the group.
SHELLEY: So is Liam going to be putting in an appearance?
FIONA: He wouldn’t come out. He cut himself on a vase he knocked off the desk in shock when the alarm went off. I’d better go in and check on him. Sorry. Sorry Carol.
CAROL: I’m going back up too. I’ve still got to clean up after myself.
There are a few reactions to this, but everyone seems to accept it as an aspect of the evening, and Shelley and Fiona leave.
CLARA: Mitch. You’ve stopped sneezing.
MITCH: I’m calmer.
CLARA: You sneeze when you’re nervous.
MITCH: I hate confrontations.
CLARA: Oh that’s so sweet.
Clara gestures off the stage and she leaves with Mitch. David shoots a worried glance after them.
SHELLEY: I’m sure it doesn’t mean anything. She’s just being nice.
MICHAEL: I’m going up and collecting my pennies.
DAVID: Your pennies?
Shelley shakes her head in disbelief, as she David and Michael leave the stage. Pete yawns.
PETE: Thank god for that.
PETE: No one asked us what we were doing . . .
Sarah approaches him, spin him around and after kissing him full on the forehead, they embrace.