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WE NEED IT NOW

by Bill Stanton

(BACKGROUND NOISE OF RADIO DRAMA STUDIO, PEOPLE TALKING, LAUGHING, &c.)

ANNOUNCER:Midweek Theatre.

AUTHOR:You know, I've never understood that. I mean, why it'scalled theatre. For a start, where's the audience? Well, there's my wife for one, I suppose. . . And Mrs Whatsername next door. And perhaps that bloke I was talking to at the Crown last week. If he's not forgotten by now. (PAUSE) They tell me there's thousands.

(SOUND OF A CHEERING CROWD, WITH THE NORMAL SOUND GOING SCREWY AS IT DIES AWAY)

Thank you, John. Nice effect.

(A LAUGH FROM JOHN)

I'll have to take their word for it. But theatre? Where's the stage? (PAUSE) Come on, then, Where is it? If this is theatre, I mean. (PAUSE) No stage. (PAUSE) Just silence. (PAUSE) As soon as anybody stops talking, that is. (PAUSE) See? Just silence. (PAUSE) A silence the size of the universe. (LONGER PAUSE) Can't say I care for it much. So I have to put a sound into it. Me. The author. Well, me first. Then the others. Later.

ANNOUNCER:We present a new play by Bill Stanton, entitled - er . . . Here! What is it entitled?

AUTHOR:How should I know?

ANNOUNCER:You're the author.

AUTHOR:No, I'm not. Not that author. I'm the author in the - the thing. The play, George. The play.

ANNOUNCER:But we must have a title. You must see that.

AUTHOR:A title?

ANNOUNCER:Yes.

AUTHOR:Is that all? Titles I can do. Ten a penny, titles. Pick where you like. Er - just a minute. Let me see! (PAUSE) How about 'The Apple Orchard'?

ANNOUNCER:A bit derivative, surely?

AUTHOR:Or 'The Root of all Evil'?

ANNOUNCER:Hackneyed,

AUTHOR:'A Playwright in Search of a Play'?

ANNOUNCER:Now you're being whimsical.

AUTHOR:I usually think of the title last.

ANNOUNCER:We need it now.

AUTHOR: That's it! That's it!

ANNOUNCER:What d'you mean?

AUTHOR:'We Need It Now'!

ANNOUNCER:You've lost me.

AUTHOR:That's it! Don't you see? 'We Need It Now'! That's the title. Just the job. It's got significance. Social comment. A bit reminiscent of Kingsley Amis, but you can't have everything. (PAUSE) Go on, then! Announce it!

ANNOUNCER: (DOUBTFULLY) Are you sure?

AUTHOR:You wanted a title, George.

ANNOUNCER:Oh, very well. A new play by Bill Stanton, entitled 'We Need It Now'.

AUTHOR:Thank you! That's all. Off you go!

(SOUND OF ANNOUNCER'S FOOTSTEPS LEAVING)Now let's see. What do we need now? (PAUSE) A man. Or a woman. A human being, anyway. Someone who'll appeal right from the start. (PAUSE) But no oddballs, no perverts, no downtrodden longsuffering nonentities that nobody could give a damn for. All right for Beckett and that lot. Not me. A real live human being. Three-dimensional. A creature, to coin a phrase, not too kind or good for human nature's daily food.

(A COUGH, DISTANT) Preferably one with a problem. Or an obsession. Better still, an obsession. Remember the title. 'We Need It Now'. You see? An obsession.

(COUGH REPEATED, NEARER)

AUTHOR:Who's there?

SIDNEY:(APPROACHING) Me! Sidney.

AUTHOR:Sidney? Who's Sidney?

SIDNEY:I thought you'd know.

AUTHOR:Should I?

SIDNEY:I'm a character.

AUTHOR:You look it. Get some clothes on.

SIDNEY:I rather thought you'd -

AUTHOR:Ah, yes, I see. (PAUSE) Sidney, eh?

SIDNEY:That's right.

AUTHOR:Sidney what?

SIDNEY:If you say so.

AUTHOR:If I say -? Oh, I see! That's your name. Sidney Watt. Suits you. What do you do, Sidney?

SIDNEY:You tell me.

AUTHOR:Right!

SIDNEY:If you say so.

AUTHOR:If I -?

SIDNEY:You said it. Write. I don't mind being a writer. Nice easy life. Besides, you must know something about it. And writers should write about what they know, shouldn't they?

AUTHOR:Very well. (PAUSE) Now, let's see . . . An obsession.

SIDNEY:If you say so.

AUTHOR:Not so easy.

SIDNEY:Oh, I don't know, What about yours?

AUTHOR:Mine?

SIDNEY:What's your obsession?

AUTHOR:Eh?

SIDNEY:What bugs you?

AUTHOR:What's that got to do with it?

SIDNEY:Write about what you know. Remember?

AUTHOR:Oh. (PAUSE) I haven't any obsessions.

SIDNEY:Oh, really?

HELEN: (DISTANT) Edward!

SIDNEY:Edward?

AUTHOR:My name.

SIDNEY:Right. Edward it is.

HELEN:(STILL DISTANT) Edward!

SIDNEY:She calls you Edward?

EDWARD:Yes.

SIDNEY:Edward? Not Ted? Or darling?

EDWARD:She prefers Edward. (PAUSE) My second name.

SIDNEY:I won't ask your first.

HELEN: (NEARER) Edward!

EDWARD:Sorry about this, but I'll have to go. (CALLS) Coming, dear!

SIDNEY:Dear . . . (PAUSE) Hey! Just a minute! Just a minute!

EDWARD:I must go.

SIDNEY:I'll go.

AUTHOR:You?

SIDNEY:Why not?

AUTHOR: Like that? Starkers?

SIDNEY:Again, why not? Edward, you said? (PAUSE) She prefers Edward. Right!

HELEN:(APPROACHING) Must you really parade around the house like that, Edward? Do put some clothes on.

SIDNEY:Why?

HELEN:Why? What on earth do you mean?

SIDNEY:Why shouldn't I run around starko if it turns me on?

HELEN:Turns you on?

SIDNEY:It doesn't turn you on?

HELEN:Edward! Whatever has got into you today?

SIDNEY:Oh, I don't know. Spring, perhaps. Or perhaps the seven- year itch. Ha! That's rich, that is!

HELEN:What on earth are you talking about?

SIDNEY:How does a man get a seven-year itch who's never come up to scratch? I must write that down. When found make a note of. A bon mot, that is. How does a man get a seven- year itch when he's never come up to scratch?

HELEN:If that's the mood you're in, perhaps I'd better go alone.

SIDNEY:Alone?

HELEN:I might have known it! The Literary Circle, remember?

SIDNEY:Oh, that.

HELEN:That, as you put it, is where you should be.

SIDNEY:Me? Why?

HELEN:A writer needs contacts.

SIDNEY:Correction. A writer needs ideas. A writer needs insight. A writer needs sensitivity. A writer needs a heap of bloody presumption to think anybody wants to listen. A writer needs - aaagh! What a writer does not need is contacts. (QUIETLY) Except for some contacts. The sort of contact you wouldn't know about. (PAUSE) Or me.

HELEN: I think after all you'd perhaps better not go.

SIDNEY:No. Give them my - my love.

HELEN:(AUDIBLE DISTASTE)

SIDNEY:They could do with some.

HELEN:Some what?

SIDNEY:Love. Agape. Caritas. Fellow-feeling. Might stop 'em sticking their critical knives into each other.

HELEN:Oh, you're impossible! (GOING) I'm going! Goodbye!

(SLAM OF DOOR)

AUTHOR:Now you've done it!

SIDNEY:Done what?

AUTHOR:Offended her.

SIDNEY:Yes. I don't know why. I just wanted to - to get through all that armour.

AUTHOR:Why?

SIDNEY:She wears a stretch girdle. Metaphorically, I mean. I just wanted to - well. snap it against her.

AUTHOR:Why?

SIDNEY:You gave me the words, remember?

AUTHOR:Yes. (PAUSE) They - happen.

SIDNEY:Happen?

AUTHOR:They sort of - come out like that.

SIDNEY:I see. (PAUSE) Then why?

AUTHOR:Why what?

SIDNEY:Why marry her in the first place?

AUTHOR:It's a long story. It happened a long time ago.

SIDNEY:Now the way I see it, a husband comes downstairs mother- naked. You'd think there'd be some reaction. Even the sort of reaction you'd expect if things were - well, right, you know. A bit of horseplay, maybe. Or even - well . . . (PAUSE) She was doing her damnedest not to look at me, you know that?

AUTHOR:Yes. I know that.

SIDNEY:Embarrassed. I mean, embarrassed. (PAUSE) How long is a long time?

AUTHOR:What's that?

SIDNEY:How long is a long time?

AUTHOR:I'm not with you.

SIDNEY:How long have you been married? In the sight of man, that is.

AUTHOR:Fifteen - sixteen years.

SIDNEY:Good grief!

AUTHOR:What d'you mean?

SIDNEY:Has it always been like this?

AUTHOR:Like what?

SIDNEY:Embarrassed.

AUTHOR:I suppose so. More or less.

SIDNEY:What you need is a writer.

AUTHOR:A writer?

SIDNEY:He'd make a bomb with a character like you.

AUTHOR:Watch it!

SIDNEY: Sorry. Forgot my place for a moment.

AUTHOR:Yes, you did.

SIDNEY:So what happens now?

AUTHOR:What happens?

SIDNEY:You're in charge, remember. Nominally. What next?

AUTHOR:I don't know.

SIDNEY:Yes, you do. Time you had a crisis.

AUTHOR:Hmmm . . .

SIDNEY:A crisis. Keep the audience on their toes. (PAUSE) I expect it'll happen when she gets home, eh? (BEGIN FADE) What's her name again? Helen?

(FADE OUT. FRONT DOOR SLAMS, DISTANT)

That you, Helen?

HELEN:(APPROACHING) Yes.

SIDNEY:Oh.

HELEN:Well?

SIDNEY:Well what?

HELEN:You called me!

SIDNEY:Oh. Yes.

HELEN:I imagine after all you want to hear about the meeting.

SIDNEY:I can't wait. Why? Anything special? Don't tell me. Proust? Jean-Paul Sartre? Or were you regaled with excerpts from the obscure work of some even more obscure Serbo-Croat?

HELEN:You should know about obscurity, Edward.

SIDNEY:Touch‚. (MORE QUIETLY) Touch‚.

HELEN:Yes.

SIDNEY:At least I don't parade mine.

HELEN:You're very wise.

SIDNEY:Nudity, maybe. Obscurity, no.

HELEN:Are you going to sit about like that all night?

SIDNEY:Funny you should mention that. It's not really the gear for this kind of furniture. I hadn't realized that a settee could be quite so . . . Ah well, all material to a writer, one might say. The rough male kiss of uncut moquette.

HELEN:You're not getting ideas, I hope.

SIDNEY: I get ideas all the time. I'm a writer. (PAUSE) Oh, I see. You mean those ideas.

HELEN:I'm very tired.

AUTHOR:Perish the thought. (PAUSE) I expect it's what comes from the thirst for Eng. Lit. Worse than the thirst after righteousness.

HELEN:You're not interested then?

SIDNEY:I could be, Especially like this. With a bit of encouragement. (PAUSE) We're at cross purposes again.

HELEN:Yes.

SIDNEY:You meant the literary soir‚e.

HELEN:Of course.

SIDNEY:Of course. (QUIETLY AND SAVAGELY) God damn and blast the literary soir‚e and all who sail in her!

HELEN:(GOING) I (DOOR CLOSES)

SIDNEY:That's it!

AUTHOR:What do you mean?

SIDNEY:I've had enough! That's what I mean! Enough! What the hell do you think I am? Look at her! Just look at her, will you? That figure. Those legs. Her breasts. Christ, just look at them!

AUTHOR:They're all yours.

SIDNEY:No, you don't!

AUTHOR:I've got what I need now.

SIDNEY:You bastard!

AUTHOR:How d'you know you won't get what you need? Don't worry, I'll be watching you. (GOING) Cheerio!

SIDNEY:Hey! Just a minute!

AUTHOR: (DISTANT) Yes?

SIDNEY:You can't do this!

AUTHOR:(RETURNING) Why not?

SIDNEY:She's your wife.

AUTHOR:Whatever gave you that idea?

SIDNEY:You said so! You did!

AUTHOR:I'm a writer, Sidney. Writers will say anything. Didn't you know that? We're not just the world's unacknowledged legislators. We're the world's con-men. Congenital equivocators. Liars to a man. Or a woman. (PAUSE) She's all yours. You ought to be grateful. A dish like that? Beautiful! You said so yourself. Look at her!

SIDNEY:You lousy rotten -! Loading me with a human deep- freeze! You -!

AUTHOR:Careful, Sidney! Here she comes!

(SOUND OF COFFEE CUPS APPROACHING)

(GOING) Be seeing you!

HELEN:Coffee. (GOING) Don't forget to rinse out the cup, will you?

SIDNEY:Helen!

HELEN:(DISTANT) Yes?

SIDNEY:What about the meeting?

HELEN:(RETURNING) I thought you weren't interested.

SIDNEY:I'll get dressed. (GOING) While you drink your coffee.

HELEN:(NEARER) Oh, very well.

SIDNEY:Won't be a minute!

(WE GO WITH HIM)

AUTHOR:Hey! What's the idea?

SIDNEY:I'm going to get dressed.

AUTHOR:At bedtime?

SIDNEY:Yes. (PAUSE) It seems to - to put her off. No clothes.

AUTHOR:There you are, then. Aubergine shirt. Tie to match. Jacket.

SIDNEY:Hmm, rather nice. (GOING) Just the gear. (BEGIN FADE) I'll put 'em on as I go . . .

(FADE OUT. CUT IN VOICE OF HELEN)

HELEN:Yes, I much prefer you dressed.

SIDNEY:Go on, then.

HELEN:Go on?

SIDNEY:About the meeting.

HELEN:Oh. You really want to know?

SIDNEY:Why not?

HELEN:I wanted you to go, remember?

SIDNEY:You wanted my company?

HELEN:To meet the speaker.

SIDNEY:Oh. Oh, I see. Who was it?

HELEN:Richard O'Nions. The poet. He's just had a book published.

SIDNEY:I heard.

HELEN:A book of poetry.

SIDNEY:That's what the blurb said.

HELEN:You're not really interested, are you?

SIDNEY:I'm making the effort.

HELEN:A pity.

SIDNEY:Pity?

HELEN:A pity you don't care for him. Despite the fact that you haven't met him.

SIDNEY:I've met his verse.

HELEN:You mean his poems.

SIDNEY: Poet is a title bestowed. Not assumed.

HELEN:I
SIDNEY:You've what?

HELEN:He's looking for a house up here. I asked him to stay over the weekend. To look round. (PAUSE) He's bringing his wife. I thought we could show them a few places to look.

SIDNEY:That'll be the day.

HELEN:All right, I will. If it's too much trouble for you.

SIDNEY:Hang on! What did you say his name was?

HELEN:Richard O'Nions.

SIDNEY:O apostrophe N?

HELEN:That's right.

SIDNEY:I'll bet it's him. O'Nions. It's the sort of thing he'd do.

HELEN:I don't follow.

SIDNEY:It could be him. Weepy Onions. I was at school with him. Is he a long thin object with a snotty nose? Yard of pump- water, sort of?

HELEN:Really, Edward, you can be offensive!

SIDNEY:I'll bet it's him, He gave all the signs of becoming a poet. That sort of poet. (PAUSE) Probably has a handkerchief these days.

HELEN:At least his poems are published.

SIDNEY:Thank you. (PAUSE) They would be.

HELEN:He's bringing his wife.

SIDNEY:You said. (PAUSE) He's actually married. (BEGIN FADE) This I've got to see.

(FADE OUT. CUT IN VOICE OF RICHARD)

RICHARD:Helen darling! So nice! And this is Edward! Lucky man, lucky man! May I introduce Jackie? Jackie . . . Helen. Edward!

(CUSTOMARY MURMURS)

RICHARD:We were admiring your garden, Edward. As we came in.

SIDNEY:My garden?

HELEN:I do the gardening, Richard.

RICHARD:Really, darling! Won't you show it me? Coming, Jackie?

HELEN:Edward, do give Jackie a drink! (GOING) We'll join you later.

JACKIE:So you're Edward?

SIDNEY:So they tell me.

JACKIE:The writer.

SIDNEY:Wouldn't you like to see the garden?

JACKIE:What are you? Aries? Scorpio?

SIDNEY:Neither - so far as I'm aware.

JACKIE:You don't go for astrology.

SIDNEY:No. Nor Joanna Southcott's box. Nor transmigration of souls.

JACKIE:Don't you believe in anything?

SIDNEY:I don't look for glib explanations to a mystery.

JACKIE:I see. (PAUSE) Do you like Richard's verse?

SIDNEY:No.

JACKIE:It's very popular.

SIDNEY:So's Bingo.

JACKIE:Why don't you like his poetry?

SIDNEY:It isn't poetry. It just rhymes and scans. (PAUSE) I'm sorry. (PAUSE) I care about poetry. (PAUSE) I can't do it.

JACKIE:I think I shall like you, Edward.

SIDNEY:Oh.

JACKIE:I didn't think I would. After meeting Helen, I mean.

SIDNEY:Why ever not?

JACKIE:I thought you might be the - the architect of all that.

SIDNEY:Architect?

JACKIE:The human Taj Mahal. Beautiful. And cold as marble.

SIDNEY:You're very - direct.

JACKIE:So I'm told. (PAUSE) I read your book. Before I met Helen, I mean.

SIDNEY:Welcome to the club. The very small club.

JACKIE:This trip was my idea.

SIDNEY:Yours?

JACKIE:I wanted to meet you.

SIDNEY:Helen said Richard -

JACKIE:She's very beautiful.

SIDNEY:Yes.

JACKIE:I thought you'd be more - articulate. From your book.

SIDNEY:Did you?

JACKIE:But I do see that writers don't have to be. In public.

SIDNEY:No.

JACKIE:(PAUSE) It's silly, this.

SIDNEY:I'm sorry.

JACKIE:Do you want to join the others? (PAUSE) You're horribly tense.

SIDNEY:Tense?

JACKIE:Round your eyes. Your mouth. Look at your hands. Why don't you relax?

SIDNEY:I've always wanted to write verse.

JACKIE:Ah.

SIDNEY:It doesn't - doesn't come out right. (PAUSE) It's - transparent. (PAUSE) It doesn't work.

JACKIE:I'd like to read it. (PAUSE) You write well.

SIDNEY:Please . . . I'd rather you didn't. Flatter -

JACKIE:Poor Edward. (PAUSE) I meant every word. You write well.

SIDNEY:Dicky Onions. The pronunciation threw me. When Helen told me. Dicky Onions. Well, well, well.

JACKIE:I'm sorry, I -

SIDNEY:I was at school with him. He didn't recognize me. The beard, I suppose.

JACKIE:You don't like his verse?

SIDNEY:No, I'm sorry, no.

JACKIE:Don't be. It's entirely a matter of taste.

SIDNEY:It ought to be in one of those women's magazines. Prudence Weekes's Flagrant Second. (PAUSE) If your friend never lies to you, never pretends/If your friend never borrows but frequently lends/Take my word for it, duckie, you've got some strange friends. That sort of thing.

JACKIE:(GOES OFF INTO PEALS OF LAUGHTER)

SIDNEY:He's very successful.

JACKIE:He makes a lot of money. Not from poetry.

SIDNEY:It's not that I envy him for.

JACKIE:What do you mean?

SIDNEY:How long are you staying?

JACKIE: Till Sunday afternoon, I think.

SIDNEY:May I see you? Next week some time?

JACKIE:You're seeing me now.

SIDNEY:Don't fence.

JACKIE:Sorry. (PAUSE) I shouldn't. (PAUSE) All right. When?

SIDNEY:I'll ring you.

JACKIE:Good. (PAUSE) Now show me the garden.

SIDNEY:Why did you ask about astrology?

JACKIE:Oh, that. Richard's very knowledgeable. (PAUSE) It's a load of rubbish, isn't it?

SIDNEY:(PLEASED) Isn't it? Come on! (GOING) I know damn all about gardens, too.

AUTHOR:Hey, hey!

SIDNEY:Well?

AUTHOR:That wasn't the idea.

SIDNEY:What wasn't?

AUTHOR:Jackie. (SOTTO VOCE) I wonder how that happened. (ALOUD) What about Helen?

SIDNEY:What about Helen?

AUTHOR:She's your wife, you know.

SIDNEY:Depends what you mean by wife.

(CUT. FADE IN BEDROOM ACOUSTIC)

HELEN:What did you think of Jackie?

SIDNEY:Jackie? (PAUSE) Oh, Richard's wife. Why?

HELEN:Imagine Richard O'Nions married to that!

SIDNEY:(GRUNTS)

HELEN:Can't think what he saw in her. It most be - disheartening for him. She's not the least interested in his work. His ideas.

SIDNEY:Amazing! His name's Dicky Onions. 'Weepy', if you like.

HELEN:It's incredible.

SIDNEY:Helen!

HELEN:Yes.

SIDNEY:Would you say I was tense?

HELEN:Tense?

SIDNEY:Yes, You know. Tense.

HELEN:They're so completely - well, different. (PAUSE) How ridiculous! (PAUSE) Tense?

SIDNEY:I just wondered.

HELEN:Of course. All writers are tense. That's why they're writers. They release their tensions through their work.

SIDNEY:Or not. (PAUSE, THEN SOTTO VOCE) A sort of sublimation.

HELEN:What's that?

SIDNEY:Never mind. (BEGIN FADE) Switch off the light, will you?

(FADE OUT. CUT IN VOICE OF AUTHOR)

AUTHOR:Now just a minute!

SIDNEY:Eh?

AUTHOR:It's my job to construct eternal triangles, not yours.

SIDNEY:What d'you mean?

AUTHOR:I mean slow down, Sidney.

SIDNEY:Edward.

AUTHOR:You're playing Edward. You're actually Sidney.

SIDNEY:I feel more Edward than Sidney. Now.

AUTHOR:Just watch it with Jackie, that's all.

(CUT. FADE IN RESTAURANT ACOUSTIC)

JACKIE:There's nothing wrong with the way you entertain a woman, anyway, Edward. That was a lovely meal.

SIDNEY:Glad you enjoyed it.

JACKIE:I did. Now what?

SIDNEY:I'm not with you.

JACKIE:What do you propose to do now?

SIDNEY:Whatever you like.

JACKIE:Let me guess. A drive in the country. Then you pull into a gateway. Then we get out. Then we walk a little. Then you kiss me.

SIDNEY:If you like.

JACKIE:And before you know it you're climbing all over me trying to get rid of twenty years of frustration.

SIDNEY:Just a minute -!

JACKIE:You've got it all wrong, Edward.

SIDNEY:Wrong?

JACKIE:You're the one with hang-ups. Not me.

SIDNEY:But I thought -!

JACKIE:You thought because I was easy-going I was easy meat. That's it, isn't it?

SIDNEY:Of course not!

JACKIE:Come off it, Edward. You've been planning how to make it with me all evening. The butterflies in your tummy were all over your face, you know that?

SIDNEY:I rather thought you might not mind.

JACKIE:Then you thought wrong.

SIDNEY:You weren't interested?

JACKIE:I was.

SIDNEY:I was rushing my fences, you mean?

JACKIE:No, you fool. I wasn't interested - that way. As a person. A writer.

SIDNEY:Oh.

JACKIE:Sorry.

SIDNEY:No, no. Forget it.

JACKIE:You think I'm a bitch. I'm not. The come-on was all in your mind.

SIDNEY:Helen says writers are always tense. (PAUSE) They have to be, she says.

JACKIE:Wives don't.

SIDNEY:You're not.

JACKIE:No. But I'm not your solution, Edward. Nor Helen's.

SIDNEY:What do you mean by that?

JACKIE:Look at her, man!

SIDNEY:Look at her?

JACKIE:Who did that to her? All that bitchiness. Who's her solution?

SIDNEY:I don't know. (PAUSE) Who? Don't you mean what?

JACKIE:If you have to ask that question . . . Or do you know and won't face it?

SIDNEY:What the hell do you mean by that?

JACKIE:Edward, I'll give it to you straight. My reservations weren't down to maidenly modesty.

SIDNEY:Eh? What's that?

JACKIE:I wouldn't mind betting you have all the finesse of a randy mongrel.

SIDNEY:Thank you very much.

JACKIE: You've got a nerve. You screw her up like that, and then you have the gall to make a pass at me. (PAUSE) Christ, man, what have you to offer?

SIDNEY:You didn't encourage me, of course.

JACKIE:I can't help your fantasies. Thank God you've no children.

SIDNEY:What!

JACKIE:What was Helen's mother like?

SIDNEY:Helen's mother?

JACKIE:Was she screwed up?

SIDNEY:I'm sorry. I wasn't with you for a moment. Helen's mother. She came with us on the honeymoon.

JACKIE:What!

SIDNEY:Oh, not in person. It wasn't a sword in the bed between us. Just a battle-axe.

JACKIE:And what d'you suppose made Helen's mother like that?

SIDNEY:How the hell do I know?

JACKIE:That's what I meant. Thank God you have no children. No daughter of Helen's will be saddled with the blame.

SIDNEY:Blame?

JACKIE:She won't carry the blame for some man's ineptitude. The way Helen does.

SIDNEY:I see. It's all my fault.

JACKIE:Who else? Think about it. There's Helen. All screwed up with her mother's hang-ups. And what does she get? The archetypical bumbler.

SIDNEY:Me.

JACKIE:Who else? If you had any pity for anyone but your stupid self, you'd weep for her.

SIDNEY:I'll take you home.

JACKIE:Do that.

(SOUND OF CAR FROM INTERIOR, CONTINUES OVER)

Thanks for a lovely meal, anyway.

SIDNEY:Think nothing of it.

JACKIE:Does Helen like food?

SIDNEY:What's that got to do with anything?

JACKIE:Why not try making a pass at her?

SIDNEY:Thanks for the suggestion.

JACKIE:There's always the chance some man will. She's very beautiful.

SIDNEY:Like Dickie, for instance.

JACKIE:She'll have to manage without skin on her face if she tries that.

SIDNEY:Oh, very adult.

JACKIE:Edward, you really mustn't fall for clich‚s. Because you don't like Richard, you mustn't suppose he's unlikeable. Or - inadequate. (PAUSE) Richard and I have got it made.

SIDNEY:You're joking, of course.

JACKIE:It's always been like that. (PAUSE) If I were generous enough I could almost wish he'd take Helen in hand. But I'll flay any woman alive who tries to take him from me, you know that? Put that in your adult pipe.

SIDNEY:As I said, very adult.

JACKIE:Oh Edward, grow up, do! What do you know about it? (PAUSE, THEN QUIETLY AND WITH DEEP FEELING) It's not adult. It's child-like. Wild. Free. Only children and lovers know how to play. (PAUSE) Forgive me.

SIDNEY:Forgive -?

JACKIE:You can't help your education. (PAUSE) But, Christ, couldn't you try getting some? For her sake? Even at this late hour? (BEGIN FADE) I never want to see you again, d'you hear? Ever!

(FADE OUT. CUT IN VOICE OF SIDNEY)

SIDNEY:Look here! I'm sick of this.

AUTHOR:Really?

SIDNEY:Where's it all to end?

AUTHOR:I've not the faintest idea.

SIDNEY:Don't give me that! Who else?

AUTHOR:I only create the characters. They do - what they do. (PAUSE) You're asking me to take over?

SIDNEY:Yes.

AUTHOR:You may be sorry.

SIDNEY:I'm sorry now. Sorry you got me into this.

AUTHOR:It doesn't often work. I mean, hardly ever.

SIDNEY:What doesn't?

AUTHOR:Manipulating you. I mean, directing where characters are going. They lose - depth. They're just - height and width. Like - like playing cards. And just about as alive. (PAUSE) I could scrap the whole thing, I suppose.

SIDNEY:What!

AUTHOR:Have you suffer a brainstorm, or something. (PAUSE) Take an overdose. (PAUSE) There are lots of ways.

SIDNEY:And then what?

AUTHOR:Then what?

SIDNEY:What happens to me?

AUTHOR:That's a damn silly question. Obvious. You'll just - cease to exist.

SIDNEY:No!

AUTHOR:Why not?

SIDNEY:I wouldn't like it, that's all.

AUTHOR:You talk like a fool. I wouldn't like it? I? There wouldn't be any I. Not any more. Ever.

SIDNEY:That's what I mean.

AUTHOR:The question is pointless.

SIDNEY:You won't do it, will you?

AUTHOR:I shall have to. When the time comes. Plays don't go on ever, you know.

SIDNEY:When?

AUTHOR:When the play's over.

SIDNEY:That's not just yet, is it?

AUTHOR:Well, no. Not quite yet.

SIDNEY:You'll tell me when the time comes, won't you? Help me get - get ready for it? (PAUSE) No. Don't!

AUTHOR:Make your mind up.

SIDNEY:Damn you! (BEGINS TO WEEP) Damn you! Damn you!

AUTHOR:Now we're getting somewhere.

SIDNEY:Why? Why did you do it? Why?

AUTHOR:Do it? Do what?

SIDNEY:Why didn't you just - just leave me where I was? (PAUSE) Wherever that was.

AUTHOR:There's gratitude for you.

SIDNEY:Gratitude? Gratitude? For what? A wife like an iceberg? A small talent? And knowing that one day - soon - there'll be - no more. No more play. No more anything. Ever. (PAUSE) Tell me, what the hell have I got to be grateful for?

AUTHOR:All right, all right. Let's call the whole thing off!

SIDNEY:(IN TERROR) No, no!

AUTHOR:Make your mind up.

SIDNEY:Couldn't I just sort of - well, carry on? In my own way?

AUTHOR:Without help from me, you mean!

SIDNEY:Well, yes.

AUTHOR:You have changed your tune, haven't you? (PAUSE) It's actually happened.

SIDNEY:Please!

AUTHOR:Oh, all right. (PAUSE) I wasn't altogether certain.

SIDNEY:I think if - if I made my own decisions, I mean, it might work. It might come out right.

AUTHOR:Now you're talking! It's all yours!

(CUT TO SITTING-ROOM ACOUSTIC. THROUGHOUT THIS SCENE SIDNEY STEADILY GROWS RATHER WORSE FOR DRINK)

HELEN:(DISTANT) Edward!

SIDNEY:Here!

HELEN:(APPROACHING) Oh, there you are! (PAUSE) What's wrong?

SIDNEY:Wrong?

HELEN:You're - upset. What is it?

SIDNEY:It's nothing.

HELEN:Oh, very well.

SIDNEY:No, it's not nothing. It's - it's everything.

HELEN:Ah, you've guessed. You know.

SIDNEY:Know?

HELEN:About Richard. And me. The way things are.

SIDNEY:Richard? Oh, no!

HELEN:Yes. I'm sorry.

SIDNEY:And what does Richard say?

HELEN:I don't know. I merely - suspect.

SIDNEY:You don't know? He's usually very - articulate . I mean, a poet and all that.

HELEN:Naturally, I haven't said anything.

SIDNEY:Naturally. (PAUSE) Then how do you know he feels anything at all?

HELEN:Women know these things.

SIDNEY:Convenient.

HELEN:We have so much in common. Intellectually. Spiritually.

SIDNEY:What about astrologically? Like you're Virgo and you see him as the Ram.

HELEN:I wish you wouldn't sneer at what you don't begin to understand.

SIDNEY:Oh, I understand all right. More than you think, perhaps. (PAUSE) Helen, my sweet, you've got it all wrong. Richard and Jackie are like that.

HELEN:Like that?

SIDNEY:Lovers. (PAUSE) You know, the beast with two backs?

HELEN:Must you be quite so common?

SIDNEY:Now there's a good word. Common. That's what they've got in common. All the time, I gather.

HELEN:(AUDIBLE SOUND OF DISTASTE)

SIDNEY:If I were you, I wouldn't do it, Helen.

HELEN: Do it?

SIDNEY:Declare your love. Unless your tastes have changed, that is. (PAUSE) You're stuck with me.

HELEN: There's one thing I'd like to know.

SIDNEY:And what's that?

HELEN:Why you don't confine your flights of imagination to your writing? Where it's needed. Instead of using it to smear my friends.

SIDNEY:Friends? Friends? Is that what you had in mind? Your friends! Christ! What would happen the first time he touched you, Helen? Go on! What would happen? Would he feel your flesh shrinking? Would he? Would you treat him to the same rag-doll performance I get? That demonstration of physical inertia? That slow non-erotic pavane? Well? Would you?

HELEN:You beast! You filthy beast!

SIDNEY:Go on, then! Tell him! Tell him! Tell Jackie to move over because you want her place in the bed! (PAUSE) She'll claw you to shreds!

HELEN:You seem to know an awful lot about Jackie.

SIDNEY:Enough.

HELEN:You - you louse! So that's it! You've been unfaithful! And with her!

SIDNEY:Helen, you couldn't be more wrong. All right, I admit it. I was - attracted. But nothing doing. Not with Jackie. And not with Richard either, I gather. For you, I mean.

HELEN:I don't believe you.

SIDNEY:Make your mind up, Helen. A moment ago you were certain I'd had it off with Jackie.

HELEN:Must you use such vile terms?

SIDNEY:I'll spell it out, Helen. You and me - it's my fault, it seems. I'm not blaming you. I'm just - hitting out, I suppose.

HELEN:As usual.

SIDNEY:For the usual reason.

HELEN:And what is that?

SIDNEY:My attentions are - unwelcome.

HELEN: Oh, that.

SIDNEY:I had it all worked out actually. Before you came in, I mean. I had it all worked out. I was going to say, 'Look, Helen, why don't we go out for a meal tonight? The lot, with all the trimmings. Everything. Let's live it up!'

HELEN:Whatever for?

SIDNEY:Oh, I had it all planned. A drink or two before the meal, and then a bottle with it. And perhaps a liqueur after. The meal could have been anything. I just wanted to get you tiddly. Not incapable tiddly, y'unnerstan'. Just - relaxed tiddly. And then you came in and said - I don't remember what you said. But it was the wrong thing.

HELEN:I said you looked upset.

SIDNEY:So you did. So you did. I forgot. It was the - the unusualness, I suppose. Strange . .

HELEN:Strange?

SIDNEY:The kind word.

HELEN:Don't tell me what your plan was. Let me guess.

SIDNEY:Oh, I expect you'll get it right. (PAUSE) Actually, perhaps not. Actually, it was by way of a - a scientific experiment.

HELEN:You're drunk.

SIDNEY:You might say I wanted to discover how much alcohol it takes to melt an iceberg.

HELEN:I'd say you've had rather too much already.

SIDNEY:No, no, you're wrong. You're quite wrong. I've had plenty. Not enough. I now propose to go out and convert that plenty into enough. You are about to see a man get stinko. Maybe maudlin stinko. Or lach - lachrymose stinko. Perhaps even fighting stinko. But stinko. (GOING) Don't wait up for me.

(SLAM OF DOOR. PAUSE. FADE IN SOUND OF CAR ENGINE AT HIGH SPEED. TAKE DOWN, SIDNEY'S VOICE OVER. HE IS NOW VERY DRUNK. THE VOICE OF EDWARD. COMPLETELY SOBER, IS SIDNEY'S INNER VOICE)

SIDNEY:Anyone there? (PAUSE) No answer. Are you there? (PAUSE) Just silence.

EDWARD:Yes?

SIDNEY:Who's that?

EDWARD:It's me. Edward.

SIDNEY:I'm Edward.

EDWARD: No. You're Sidney. The character. Remember?

SIDNEY:That's what I am all right. That's precisely what I am. The character. So it's not my fault after all.

EDWARD:What on earth do you mean?

SIDNEY:That's the lovely thing about alcohol. Everything suddenly becomes very clear. Very clear. Good old alcohol. It's not my fault after all.

EDWARD:Really?

SIDNEY:We're just creatures. Created things. So nothing's down to us. Q.E.D. Quite exceptionally drunk.

EDWARD:You don't believe that.

SIDNEY:I was wrong about astrolol - astrology. (PAUSE) Some fool flashing his lights behind me. What do you want, you silly -? Oh, I see. Wants me to move over. (SQUEAL OF TYRES) Whoops, dearie! Nearly ran out of road. Not to worry. Not to worry. Plenty of road on good ol' motorway. (HICCUPS andPAUSE) What's the good of mea culpa? How can it be my fault? I'm just a puppet on a string. (SINGS A FEW BARS) Sad. Sad. Just a puppet on a string. No, no, that's wrong. No strings. Nobody's pullin' 'em, you see. You see? No hands. (SQUEAL OF TYRES) Steady the Buffs!

EDWARD:You sure?

SIDNEY:Where's that Author chap? (GIGGLES) I sent him away with a flea in his ear, I can tell you. (PAUSE) I'm my own boss. I am the master of my fate. I am the captain of my soul (PAUSE) There's that stupid clown again! All right, all right! I'm moving over! Can't you see?

EDWARD:The Author.

SIDNEY: Oh yes, him. The Author. I'll bet if I was to do something. If I was to threaten to - you know, spoil his play - he'd come fast enough, eh? Are you watching me, you there? (PAUSE) Where's the edge of the -? They ought to mark 'em better! Over a bit. Over a bit. Not too far.

(A HORN BLASTS UP TO PEAK AND DIES QUICKLY)

Naughty, naughty. Plenty of motorway. You want it all? Whoops, what's this. A bridge? Oh, Christ, a bridge!

(HIS VOICE RISES TO A LONG SCREAM WHICH BLENDS WITH THE SOUND OF THE CRASH)

(VERY FAINTLY) Helen! Helen!

ANNOUNCER:That's it then? The end?

AUTHOR:That's it, George.

ANNOUNCER:Happy with it?

AUTHOR:One of John's usual productions. Yes, I'm happy with it.

ANNOUNCER:Just the closing announcement to edit in, then. See you in the bar in a few minutes, eh?

AUTHOR:Not this time, old boy. Helen's picking me up. I expect she's down in Reception now.

ANNOUNCER:Oh, righto, Bill. Give her my love, eh?

AUTHOR:Will do. I'll just say cheerio to John and the cast. (BEGIN FADE) Thanks a lot! Bye now!

(FADE OUT. CUT IN HELEN'S VOICE)

HELEN:Hello, darling!

(SOUND OF A KISS. CAR DOOR CLOSES. ENGINE STARTS AND RUNS, VOICES OVER)

How did it go?

AUTHOR:All right, I think. Nothing wrong with the production.

HELEN:Nothing wrong with the writing, either. Of course it went well.

AUTHOR:Oh, it's just that after-the-wedding feeling, you know. A bit flat. You know, the fun's all over.

HELEN:I don't recall that. The fun being over, I mean.

AUTHOR:Tell you what. Let's go out for a meal.

HELEN:You're sure?

AUTHOR:With a good bottle of wine. Nothing like wine for that flat feeling.

HELEN:Well, thank you very much. I'm flattered, I must say.

AUTHOR:Hmmm?

HELEN:I thought I supplied the headiest wine.

AUTHOR:So you do, darling! So you do!

(PAUSE, WITH ONLY THE SOUND OF THE CAR)

HELEN:Darling!

AUTHOR:Hmmm?

HELEN:I've been thinking.

AUTHOR:Yes?

HELEN:I don't know that I'm all that hungry.

AUTHOR:Really?

HELEN:The wine was a good idea, though.

AUTHOR: I take your point, my love.

HELEN:Home, then?

AUTHOR:Home then.

:(THE SOUND OF THE ENGINE DIES)