Here’s the third section of Bewick Gaudy, a play I wrote about coming back to Oxford whilst I was still at Oxford (my plays are nothing if not prematurely middle-aged.) The other sections are here: Intro and Scene One – Scene Two Part I.
Casting was the point at which I realized I would have to give the director actual control over the play. I’d done the pious lip-service about theatre being a collaborative medium, and my script being only the first part, but this didn’t become real until I started seeing people in my roles. It was terrific fun, and utterly exhilarating, to hear people actually saying the lines I’d be working on over the previous summer, and in the first read-through I had to hold my script thoughtfully over my mouth to hide the fact I was grinning wildly all the way through. But it also forced me to accept that it wasn’t just my play any more. For a start, Jeannie, whom I’d vaguely thought of as Scottish, had an American accent, and when I met the actors playing Geoff and Mark at a drinks party for the cast, I assumed each was playing the other role. Suddenly I had to live up to the platitudes about drama being collaborative, and it was a useful experience. It also affected the way the lines now sound to me, and I can’t really remember how I’d imagined the characters before those actors created them – though I know I’d had quite specific images in mind.
I’d either found in a book (or made up) a rule that writers shouldn’t discuss interpretation in front of actors, as it interrupts their part of the work: David and I chatted privately about the shape of the show, and he’d occasionally ask me for clarification on a line in the rehearsal room, but whilst sitting in I didn’t jump in with suggestions or explanations of what I had meant. Lots of sitting on my hands was involved, but it was worth it, and eventually became exciting to see what they were doing with the characters. Of course, I should have realized that the actors would have quite specific images of their own to work with, since we were all still at university, surrounded by students they could use to build their characters!
Scene Two, Part II: The Bar
JEANIE and GEOFF appear at the bar. During the following dialogue, ED moves to another part of the bar.
JEANIE: (Making eye contact, though slightly unsure of his name. There’s still a slight air of freshers’ week about the way she says it.) Hi, Geoff?
GEOFF: Yes… Pause.
GEOFF: Of, course, sorry. You read English.
JEANIE: I did, for all the good it did me. And you were History?
GEOFF: Well, it seems I am now. He gesture around the bar. Feeling thoroughly Ancient and out of touch with the Modern.
JEANIE: I know the feeling; some young hussy’s sitting on my stool at the bar over there.
GEOFF: How quickly our traces fade. Though why we should expect otherwise I’m not quite sure. We must have trampled the spoor of those ahead of us, when we first arrived and took possession of the quads.
JEANIE: I’d have liked to trample the spoor of whoever had my first year room before me.
JEANIE: Yes, blue-tack marks all over the walls and a slightly sticky patch by my wardrobe that never quite went away.
(Again, a slight laugh at the pleasantry)
GEOFF: I expect the current generation here are still putting up with similar conditions. Everyone but the lucky few whose rooms we’re staying in.
JEANIE: Yes, I certainly seem to have picked a plum in my weekend quarters. But I wouldn’t really care, I didn’t back then either, so long as the room was in this city. So long as I had to cross Broad Street opposite Blackwell’s to get to the door, I honestly don’t think I’d mind where I was staying.
GEOFF: You came that way this afternoon?
JEANIE: Yes. (Beat.) Well, amongst others. To be honest, I didn’t come straight from the station to college. I walked around for a bit; through Radcliffe Square, up New Lane and round to St. Cross. Even got as far as Parks before, well, I remembered why I was here. And that I had to be in college for dinner tonight.
GEOFF: (Smiles) And an excellent dinner.
JEANIE: It was. College silver and all.
GEOFF: Right, yes, those crested candelabra are a bit much, aren’t they? Funny actually, I can only remember one other time I saw the college silver on the tables. The welcome dinner on my – (slightly diffidently) I suppose it was our – first night. Though I was in a much more exalted position then – quite randomly the historians had been assigned to sit on high table. I think we must have been just the right number to fill the gaps between the dons, but it hardly put us much at our ease. I know exactly where I was sitting, actually; third from the left window. As a matter of fact, I think I recognised the man sitting there tonight; blond, I rather think he used to row for the college…
JEANIE: Oh, shortish guy, rather high-pitched voice…
GEOFF: Yes, that’s the man. Atterley, was that his name? No, Atter…
GEOFF: Patterson. John or James, or something. It only really struck me because Dr Sturmer was sitting on his right, in exactly the same seat as he had during that First Night Dinner. I must say, I’m impressed you remembered his name.
JEANIE: I wish I could claim credit. Mark Tilling, the guy we met in here before dinner?, was telling me he’d just spoken to Patterson; apparently they used to know each other way back when. It seems he’s done quite nicely for himself; regional vice-president of an investment bank these days.
GEOFF: Ah. Nice.
JEANIE: Yes, maybe I should have put some more hours in down on the river; it’s obviously good character-building stuff!
GEOFF: You rowed?
JEANIE: Oh, just played with it a bit in my first year.
GEOFF: “Simply messing about in boats”?
JEANIE: Exactly. You ever try it?
GEOFF: No, never. I suppose the closest I ever got to rowing was punting precariously past the back of the boat-houses.
JEANIE: Still played your part in upholding college maritime pride, then? I can’t claim my contribution was any more glorious. But it was worth doing.
GEOFF: Oh yes?
JEANIE: Well, fun. I used to love going down to the boathouses on an early morning session – yes, freakish, I know, and I kept it quiet from my crew-mates, believe me – but I looked forward to those hours on the water. Even if it was five in the morning, and you couldn’t see ChristChurch meadows for mist. Especially if you couldn’t see the meadows for mist. It was so cold. So fine.
GEOFF: According to college legend, we do seem to have lived and died by our boats. It some cases literally.
JEANIE: Oh, yes, hasn’t that got something to do with the reason we never hold a crew supper on the first day of any regatta?
GEOFF: So I’m told. John Arbruth in seventeen hundred and something is the reason, I believe. Someone whose traces have not quite been kicked over yet, you think?
JEANIE: Rather a grisly way to be commemorated, a thrice-yearly observance of your death. But I suppose no-one would remember John Arbruth otherwise and if that’s the option… How would you like to be remembered, Geoff?
GEOFF: As a man worthy and notable, who did duty by his college. By never stepping into a rowing boat.
JEANIE. Oh, go on, seriously, how about a bonfire on the anniversary of your death after attempting to out-eat the Dean at a formal dinner? Or a…, a drinks party every three years in the JCR recording your sad demise after dancing with every single woman in three colleges at the May Ball?
GEOFF: Well, I’m not entirely…
JEANIE: Whilst you decide, how about another drink? You’ll have a whisky?
GEOFF: Er, yes, thanks. But you must let me pay for these.
JEANIE: (Signalling the barman and bringing out her purse) Nonsense. You sit and compose your epitaph whilst I get the Scotch in.
BARMAN: What can I do youse for?
JEANIE: Scotch, if you’d be so bountiful. Two, no ice. She hands over a note.
BARMAN: I would. He serves the drinks and JEANIE slides one glass in front of GEOFF. The BARMAN gives her the change.
GEOFF: Raising the glass in acknowledgement. Cheers. Your good health.
JEANIE: And yours. They sip. Despite which, when you do die…
GEOFF: Ha, ha. Yes. Well, quite frankly, if I could choose how to be remembered…,
GEOFF: Well…, (almost confessionally) I should choose to have been football captain.
JEANIE: Well, I can see the benefits, obviously; the girls, the glory, the honest, manly joy of showering with at least ten other men. But, no offence, you don’t exactly seem the type to, um, aspire that way?
GEOFF: (Smiles.) Quite. And tempting though you make it sound, I don’t actually want to be football captain. I didn’t when I was here, even, despite the honest manly joy, etc. But I should like to have been football captain after I am dead. In the pool room when I was here, there was a board up on the wall, in fact it’s still there, I popped my head in earlier, with all the names of the men who captained Bewick’s football team, going back years and years. I should just like my name to be there, so that somewhere in Bewick my name would be written on the wall for a long time. (He smiles, rather embarrassedly) A bit silly, I’m afraid. But I couldn’t think of a better epitaph. (He finishes his whisky)
JEANIE: Wow. Yeah. Well, as they say in that team you used to captain, (she raises her clenched right hand to just above shoulder height) “Bewick to the grave!”, huh? (She knocks back the last of her Scotch)
GEOFF: Yes, (giving the same salute back) “Bewick to the grave!”
They drift off in different directions as BETH enters and stands at the near side of the bar. The BARMAN nods to her.
BETH: Hey. Double vodka lemonade, please.
BARMAN: Coming up. He fixes the drink.
BETH: Cheers. She pays. What did I do, Steve? Why do I deserve a gaudy?
BARMAN: Grins. You want a list?
BETH: God, no. Let the bodies stay buried. Just keep sharp objects out of my reach for the evening.
MARK arrives for a drink, and sees BETH. He smiles. We suspect his mate Jimmy may have lived just across from somewhere.
MARK: Hey. How you doing?
BETH: Oh, hi.
MARK: We met earlier? In Deep Quad?
BETH: Oh, yeah. Where your mate Jimmy used to live, right?
MARK: Er, Davey.
MARK: Well, can I get you a drink?
BETH picks up her glass…
Oh, I see you…
…and knocks the contents back in one.
BETH: That would be lovely. Vodka lemonade. Thanks.
MARK: Slight on-tilt, but regains confidence; ordering drinks he’s on safe territory again. No problem. He turns to attract the BARMAN’s attention, and does so when the BARMAN has finished pouring a vodka lemonade.
MARK: He asks for a Vodka lemonade, please just as the BARMAN places it on the bar in front of him. Confidence ebbs. Right, thanks. He hands over the money, and is changed, with the vague feeling that he’s the straight man in a set-up routine. As an afterthought. Oh, and I’ll have another malt, please. Ice. The BARMAN obliges. (To BETH) You’re at Bewick, then?
She looks at him. He realizes that might sound a stupid question.
What are you studying?
MARK: First year?
BETH: Second. What did you read?
MARK: Engineering, for all the good it did me. Got a job in property, couldn’t engineer my way out of a paper bag these days.
MARK: Yeah, had a great time at the college, though.
BETH: Sure. You’re enjoying the gaudy, then?
MARK: Yeah, it’s cool. Funny, being back after all this time.
BETH: Ten years?
MARK: Right. I mean, I just bumped into a guy I knew here back then; Johnny Patterson. Running a bank somewhere in the City these days. Makes you wonder, doesn’t it?
MARK: Well, yeah, you know…. she doesn’t, and neither does he… we were here then, makes you think.
BETH: He row?
MARK: What? Patterson, you mean? Yeah, I think he did, rowed for the college. Why?
BETH: I wondered.
MARK: That’s funny too,
BETH: Him rowing? Or me wondering? ‘Cos things may have changed, but these days rowing’s an occupational hazard of a degree at Bewick.
MARK: No, not the rowing. I must have bumped into the guy however many times a day in college, but I only just recognised him this evening.
MARK: Actually, yeah. Pause. I thought he had different colour hair. Drinks.
BETH: Huh. What, like you remembered him blond and he’s a ginger?
MARK: Well, I would have said he had….ah, fuck it. Doesn’t matter.
BETH: Hah. Right. Bankers don’t. He is a banker these days, you said?
MARK: Something like that. Coining it, I should think. I mean, it’s pretty difficult to be hard up in the City, isn’t it? So I’m told.
BETH: Nice. Well, he’ll matter to some. Very attached to bankers, our David.
ED: Who’s a banker? Lays down his glass and, to BARMAN Double baileys, be ye so good. Turns back to MARK You a banker?
MARK: No, I’m in property. I was just saying….
ED: Interrupting Damn right. That’s the way. Make a graduate incision and spill it into the laps of the development office. The drink comes.
BARMAN: One double Baileys.
ED: Deeply sincerely. Yes. It certainly is. He pays with exact money and disappears, just saying Banker! over his shoulder.
MARK: You, er, do much sport in college?
BETH: Not so much in college. Not out of college either. I quite like pool.
BETH: Yes, pool. It’s a half-blue sport.
MARK: I’m sure it is.
BETH: How about you, then?
MARK: Played a bit of football.
BETH: How much is a bit?
MARK: Well, I wasn’t bad. Played…
BETH: Oh my god, you were football captain. You’re probably up on that board in the pool room, aren’t you? Please, tell me I don’t shove my bum up against your name every time I line a pot from that corner!
MARK: No, I wasn’t captain.
BETH: Oh good, I thought that “played a bit” was manly modesty for a moment. But you don’t really seem the strong silent type.
MARK: I’d have a job to be heard in this place if I was.
BETH: True. But sometimes a girl hankers after the tall, dark and monosyllabic.
MARK: Do you ever hanker, Beth?
BETH: Only when I’m pissed. And if you’re being so kind as to offer, another vodka lemonade would be lovely.
He goes to order the drink, and it is served in the same unnervingly synchronised fashion as before.
BETH: You’re too kind. She drinks. What do you hanker after, Matt?
BETH: Right. Mark, what do you hanker for?
MARK: Oh, I dunno. Time in the sun, promotion, that Arsenal win the league…you know…, what does anyone….?
BETH: Sex, then?
MARK: (Beat) Well…why not?
BETH: Yeah, right.
MARK: If it just happened…
BETH: It never just happens. Thanks for the drink.
MARK: My pleasure. He realizes he’s just been dismissed and looks around the bar, perhaps he does recognize someone on the other side of the bar. Hey, Davey! He disappears. Davey, mate!
BARMAN: Yeesh. So that happened.
BETH: Yeah. Maybe he’s curious about student accommodation.
BARMAN: Hah. Jerk.
BETH: Ah, I’m just as guilty. Another night, another place, I’d probably have shagged him. You know me, Steve, morals of a woodlouse. A horny woodlouse.
BARMAN: Same as us all. You got some pride, though.
BETH: Hah, hah. Yeah, got some college pride.