This is the second in the series of posts containing my play Bewick Gaudy, which was first performed ten years ago. (Here are links to Scene 1 and Scene 2, Part II) Reading back over the play, I remembered I actually appeared in it briefly: the actor playing the Barman couldn’t make one of the matinees and one of the evening shows, so I ended up experiencing the play from the inside. This made me a little more aware of using characters as “background”, since I had to do so much standing around polishing glasses and reading a paper between my bits of dialogue. After the first ten minutes I invented a story for the character – he was infatuated with Beth, and worried about his work – and tried to act out a little plotline at the back which only touched the main plot when he spoke to the other characters. I don’t know how much of that came across, but it was a useful lesson.
Seeing the play rehearsed also made me much more conscious of theatre space as more than the fictional locations where people could stand and deliver their speeches. It was a rather “written” play – as I mentioned before, it began as sketches for a novel, so the emphasis was on dialogue rather than movement – and this was compounded by the locations being so influenced by bits of colleges I knew. This meant I had written parts of it rather like a screenplay in which I could zoom from one conversation to another as if holding up a title card saying MEANWHILE, ELSEWHERE IN THE QUADRANGLE… Luckily I think the real places I had in mind whilst writing were fairly theatrical in themselves: I used to sit in Grove Quad working out what Shakespeare plays I could stage using the steps, the bay windows and the various entrances. (When I read J.I.M. Stewart’s Pattullo quintet, and lazed around in other quads with Sophie Duncan, I discovered it was a relatively common notion, and that others had done it to much greater effect!)
At the time I think I imagined that using space was a matter of thriftiness, keeping a work down to a couple of locations and arranging for everyone to get on and off so the action (or just dialogue!) took place within a manageable space. It’s an attitude encouraged, I suspect, by reading rather than seeing plays, since it rather implies that if you need too many characters and too locations your words aren’t good enough. There’s also a hint of stage Puritanism in it, borrowed from the theatre modernists of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and amplified by the kinds of praise the new Shakespeare’s Globe on the South Bank had been getting. The sparseness of Shakespeare’s staging and scenery was often lauded as proof that real playwrighting didn’t need elaborate theatrical machinery. It wasn’t until my next play but one, The Secret Sin of Septimus Brope, that I got excited about the potential for actors to create space around them, rather than just sitting economically within it – sparked in part by seeing Mark Rylance’s Cymbeline at Shakespeare’s Globe. Anyway, on with the first part of Scene Two:
Scene 2: THE BAR. AFTER DINNER.
MARK enters and heads for the bar. BARMAN looks up.
MARK: I’ll have a whisky. (Beat) If you would, mate.
BARMAN: Yeah, no problem. Ice?
MARK: Er, yeah.
BARMAN serves the drink
BARMAN: That’s one sixty.
and MARK pays for it.
MARK: I gotta say, I’m enjoying student bar prices again!
BARMAN: I’ll bet. Why do you think I stayed?
MARK: Oh, you were at Bewick?
BARMAN: Yeah, doing post-graduate work at the moment, over at Lazarus. But the old place needed at barman, so…
MARK: Must be funny, being a member of another college whilst you’re around Bewick every day. But I guess you’re still one of the boys, eh?
BARMAN: Yeah, you could say that.
MARK: The football team still throwing those parties down at Tarlgate at the end of the season?
BARMAN: Oh, yeah. Actually they just recently did up the changing rooms down there. Refitted the whole lot.
MARK: Oh, nice. Mind, I should think they needed doing up.
BARMAN: Mmm, those showers were seriously minging.
MARK: Heh, yeah. God, I remember those parties. Wicked fun. You ever go to one?
BARMAN: Been to the last couple.
MARK: Yeah, great times. Last match of the term, usually filthy weather that time of year, quick change, upstairs to the clubhouse. Didn’t really care if we’d won or lost, didn’t really matter by that point, you know? Got properly smashed on those cheap cocktails Keith used to mix. He was college barman in those days; used to knock together a bar out of a couple of tables, under that board with the football captains on, if I remember, and serve out of metal bowls from the kitchens. Actually used to use a ladle to get the stuff into cups. What did he used to call them? Blue Lagoon, I think, or Pink Lady, EmeraldOcean or something. Basically depended on the colour. God knows what the recipe was for those things, I’ll bet nothing a cocktail mixer up in London would recognise. Mostly cheap vodka, I should think. We hoovered it up. I’ve sat in a few bars up in town and wondered whether I was even in the same room as the ingredients for a bowl of Keith’s Blue Lagoon! But we drank it all right.
Nearly threw up over that board once, actually; I was leaning on the tables chatting to Keith or someone, and I must have slipped; would have been near the end of the night god knows the floor got slippery enough, anyway I fell right against the wall, threw out a hand to stop myself, ended up staring right at some bloke’s name who was captain of the team in nineteen fifty-whatever. Tried to pull myself up by hanging onto the board, no chance. All I could do was stay there, head down, thinking I had to somehow stop myself vomming all over these guys’ names. Wouldn’t have lived that down for a while, vomming on the past captains, eh? (Beat) And here I am drinking single malt on ice. (Beat) Yeah, we had some good laughs down at Tarlgate. Some good blokes.
BARMAN: Yeah, it’s a good place. Better than a lot of colleges have got.
MARK: That’s for sure. So long as we’ve got a team worth it, eh?
BARMAN: Yeah. But, mate, (having trouble saying this)
BARMAN: The board with all the football captains on isn’t at Tarlgate. (Beat, MARK doesn’t say anything.) It’s in the pool room, (indicating the direction of the room) on the next wall to the dartboard, yeah?
MARK: Yeah? Yeah, right.
DAVID: Enjoying yourself?
MARK: Yeah, yeah. We were (he can’t look the BARMAN in the face) just talking about Tarlgate.
DAVID: Oh, our sports ground? You know we’ve just finished a refurbishment programme down there?
MARK: Yeah, it…he (he gestures vaguely) mentioned that. We…, we used to have some pretty good parties at the clubhouse when I was here.
DAVID: Oh, really? A tradition, no doubt, which the current members of the team continue to uphold. (little chuckle) I understand that our teams down there have had quite a lot of success recently. The football, hockey and rugby teams, they’re all based in the Tarlgate facilities these days. (To BARMAN) Could I have a glass of the Chardonnay.
DAVID: Mmm, not that I know a great deal about it, but I’m told they’ve been winning cups and whatnot in style. This year I think we won the college football league.
MARK: Yeah? Wicked.
DAVID: Yes, it gives everyone such a boost when something like that happens, doesn’t it? I always feel the college as a whole really benefits from having good sports teams. And the facilities to support them, of course. I think the trophies are over here somewhere, if you’d like to….
MARK: Yeah, cool.
(DAVID steers him into another part of the bar.)
(ED and PATRICK enter. They pass DAVID and MARK in getting to their usual nook + PATRICK goes to get the pints in. In doing so, he arrives at the bar next to JEANIE. )
BARMAN: (Walking along the bar to serve JEANIE and seeing PATRICK as he passes him) Alright, Pat.
PATRICK: (Nods.) Mate.
BARMAN: (To JEANIE) What can I do for you?
JEANIE: (Looking from PATRICK to the BARMAN) Oh, I’m sorry, I thought you were…
PATRICK: No, go on….
JEANIE: Oh, I couldn’t push in…
PATRICK: No, it’s cool. (Beat) I’m ordering a couple of drinks, anyway.
JEANIE: Well, thanks. (Still slightly unsure, to BARMAN) I’ll have a Scotch, please. No ice.
BARMAN: Coming up.
JEANIE: You’re at Bewick?
PATRICK: Yeah. History. (Beat) Here at the moment to help out with the gaudy, you know.
JEANIE: Oh, right. I was just at the dinner. It was great. Chef obviously pulled out all the stops.
PATRICK: Oh, nice.
The Scotch arrives. JEANIE pays for it.
BARMAN: And for you?
PATRICK: Couple of pints of Castlemaine, please. (To JEANIE) You’re staying in college?
JEANIE: Yes, a much better room than I remember ever having whilst I was here. Panelling, uplighting, a view of the gardens. It’s lovely. (Laughs.)
PATRICK: I’ll bet. (Realizes that could perhaps sound rude.) Um, where exactly have they put you?
JEANIE: In Square Quad. The corner opposite where you come in?
PATRICK: Right. Square Quad.
JEANIE: Ground floor room?
PATRICK: Oh, yeah. Don’t think I’ve ever seen it. One of the scholars had it last year, I think.
JEANIE: It’s really nice. Worth a look sometime.
The pints arrive and PATRICK hands over exactly the right money. He makes a small movement towards ED, and goes to pick up the pints.
PATRICK: Well, I’d, er… Nice to have met you.
JEANIE: And you.
PATRICK brings the pints over to the nook and puts them down.
ED: Look at them. Cheers. (Takes a pull. Speaks with a slightly declamatory air; he’s maybe been thinking about this during the kebab and the pint-ordering) Sad bunch of bastards. Females as well. Men and women alike degrading themselves staggering around college trying to relive the glory days. Knocking back spritzers and single malt like there’ll be no tomorrow.
You know what all this is in aid of, don’t you? The reason they’ve been invited down to take over our rooms for this little nostalgia house-party?
PATRICK: Yep. Our David.
ED: Exactly. It is that sordid. (Another drink.) All about the cash, boy. I’ll bet you whilst this bunch are lurching round, trying to bonk people they missed out on a decade ago, college is busy fixing price tags on each of them, wheedling in their sodden ears about donations and running costs.
PATRICK: I can just hear it. The college could really do with some decent IT facilities. And the upkeep on sandstone gargoyles…
ED: Mmm. Shocking.
They laugh unmelodiously.
Bastards. Still, they’d better pay up, they owe something after milking their nice Bewick degree for ten years or so out in the famous World of Work.
PATRICK: Damn, yeah. A bit of tax-claimable donation wouldn’t hurt when they slap me with my accommodation bill, beginning of next term.
ED: You’d be lucky. “If there were a hundred pounds a year to be had, do you think it were the likes of us would get it?”
PATRICK: “Political economy must, and should be, the matter of every state and citizen.”
ED: Not at these prices, it isn’t. One pound fifty for a pint of beer? One sixty for spirits? And cocktails at a quid a cup on bop nights? Encouraging over-indulgence, ’s what it is. Binge drinking.
PATRICK: Bastards. Think if they stoke us up with enough cheap booze we’ll keep quiet? Fill us full of sodding vodka red bull and snakebite, with cap for ten p extra? (Getting truly demagogic) Stupefy us with the narcotics of the middle class, eh?
ED: No, that’s staircase three.
PATRICK: Staircase three?
ED: At the back of Deep Quad. Where Danny and Will live.
PATRICK: Ah, yes, where opium is the religion of the people.
We seem very clever tonight.
PATRICK: Yeah. Fucked up, huh?
ED: (Jagged and disillusioned rather than trying to be clever.) Ah, rest up. Take lots of fluids. It’ll pass.
PATRICK: So, what about what Beth said?
ED: (Wearily, trying to shut down this line.) Honestly, I don’t think she meant anything. No-one reckons you’re going to screw Chrissy over.
PATRICK: No, I meant, do you really fancy Michael?
ED: What’s the point? It’s hardly like he’s going to run to my arms, is it?
PATRICK: Aha, so you do, hmm?
ED: Look, he’s fine. It must be obvious even to your tunnel vision that the boy is all kinds of fit. But, let’s face it, I’m not going to get anywhere with him, am I? My hands are not getting anywhere near those elegantly tanned abs, let alone further any south, so drop it, eh? Fuck it.
PATRICK: Come on, you’ve been after one of our tutors for a whole term now –according to Beth –and I’m supposed to drop this as a topic of conversation?
ED: (Somewhat bitingly) I haven’t been after him in any sense, I am simply aware that he’s the only remotely attractive male around here who’s even on the same side of the fence as me. That, unfortunately, does not translate into any chance of sex, not where I come from, anyway.
PATRICK: Ever pictured him in a fireman’s outfit?
(Pause, then ED picks up his last sentence and switches gear)
ED: …Nor does it mean I’ve been puppying around him, laughing too loud and trying for a snog the first drunken chance I get. Obviously we have different standards, ok?
PATRICK: Yeah? Look, mate
ED: Don’t fucking “mate” me, do I look like one of your pals from the football club? If you want someone to pat you on the back whilst you rehash your pathetic sexual scores and tell you you’re a good bloke, you know where you can fucking find them.
PATRICK pauses, fails to find anything to say in answer to this.
PATRICK: Fine, fuck it. He gets up and leaves.
ED: (To no-one in particular.) Yeah, fuck it.