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a one act play by Jason Orbaum



We are in a typical small but overpriced flat in the South East of Britain.  It is owned by a young couple, as yet without children, both in their middle to late twenties.  The sparsely furnished room is decorated with a mix of pseudo-nostalgia and modern pop; 1970's movie posters sit uncomfortably with Tarantino posters, Bowie records and Radiohead CDs compete equally for space on the untidy (but not chaotic) music shelves.  The stereo is playing as the lights come up: "Magic America" by Blur.  There are too many plants in the room.  The television and video are at the back of the stage as is the front door to the flat which has a Chubb lock, a Yale lock, two bolts (top and bottom) and a chain.  Doors to the left and right lead to the kitchen, and the bedroom/bathroom respectively.  One uncomfortable sofa, an armchair, and a couple of bean bags pass for furnishings with a tatty coffee table and a new(ish) desk.  The time is the present.


Enter Gill from the bedroom.  Normally an intelligent clear-thinking woman, at this time she is waiting impatiently and anxiously for the return of her partner from work.  She checks the clock on the video.  She goes to the window to look out (she looks out and down for the flat is not at ground level).  She picks up a woman's weekly magazine.  She reads but cannot concentrate.  She lights a cigarette, carefully smokes a third of it and then extinguishes it, putting the unfinished fag back in the packet for later.  It doesn't calm her down.  In frustration she begins turning the pages, looking for something to hold her interest.  She fails in her quest and throws the magazine down.  She looks at the clock on the video again.  She turns to the audience.


  Gill:  What we really need now are words.  Beautiful tearing words.  Words that cry with pain and suffering, words that honour us with dignity and reveal us in light.  We need words that calm the anger and words that stir the conscience.  We need words that blow barracks apart, that make the churches and council buildings tremble on their foundation stones.  We need terrible words to remind us of our horror, radiant words to elevate us to our full potential and whispered words to feed our hope.  Words that dance and sing and play by the rivers.  Words that cannot be suppressed, to scream out to the world that we are alive.  If we had these words we could link arms and minds, but we don't have them.  We never invented them.  We invented words like fuck and shit instead, words like nigger, coon, and paki.  We invented words like dyke and slag, wimp and nerd.  Then we got really good at it.  We invented words like tactical nuclear weapon, like controlled explosion, collateral damage, friendly fire, and ethnic cleansing.  We gave birth to these words and we sent them out into the world with our televisions but we forgot to give them the things they'd need, like meaning, weight, reverence and understanding.  We sent them out there like glib throwaway children.  Is it any wonder that now they're adults they've come and demanded to be understood?  Is that our fault?  I mean, we thought of them as infant words, but then they came back as grown up horrors and we can't quite seem to control them anymore.  We seem to have lost control of all of it.  People, institutions, laws and moralities.  But mostly, we seem to have lost control of our words.


She goes to the stereo and turns it off.


  Gill:  I fucking hate that song.  I loved it when it came out.  Loved the whole album.  It was something fresh and new and interesting.  But now, it just sounds like another set of pop-songs.  Christ, when did we become so jaded?  I miss new music.  It was like a lifeline to me, a new album every couple of months.  I'd always treat it the same way.  First, I'd put it on and skip through it, you know, listen to each track for long enough to get the idea and then move on to the next.  Then, I'd put it on in the background a few times when people were over, to sort of give my subconscious a chance to learn the songs.  Then after that, I'd put it on a tape and listen to it in the car.  You really get to appreciate an album in the car.  Even on a cheap stereo.  Because when you're locked in, sitting in a traffic jam or racing round the M25, it's just you and the music, and you can give it your full attention.  You don't have to worry about the phone ringing, or people coming in just at that precious spine-tingling note that makes you go all funny, it's just you and the music.  I used to love traffic jams, because then you didn't even have to think about driving, you could just sit there, indulging, and you weren't allowed to leave.  Christ, typical bloody human being - everything going to shit and I'm getting nostalgic over traffic jams.  Oh for Christ's sakes where is he?


She goes to the window again for another look.  She comes back to the chair.  She flicks on the Television.  There is no reception, just white noise.  It is loud.  She turns it down but leaves the picture on.


  Gill:  You know, sometimes, just sometimes, I even miss old Richard and Judy.  I mean, I never liked them, not when they were on.  I'd spend hours watching them, hours filled with frustration and disappointment.  I'd fall for it, every time:  They'd always do that "Later this morning..." thing where they tell you what's coming up and make it sound like it's going to be really interesting.  Of course, you already know that it's not going to be; that they're going to deal with a potentially compelling idea in such a short time and with such lack of depth and insight that you're going to finish the experience none the wiser: "Next up a man who spent fifteen years of torture locked in a box with no-one but a frog for company"...."So tell me, have you seen much football since you were released?  No?  What star sign are you?  Do you think all Capricorns should be locked in boxes with frogs?  What do you think Russell?  Well, thanks for coming in, and sincerely, good luck with your recovery, we'll all be thinking of you."..."Next up, an international arms dealer... we'll be asking him if he knows any good recipes for carrot cake".  What a load of crap.  They might as well play new-age music and just put up a big sign saying "Go back to sleep.".  Mind you, at least that was one thing in TV's favour, most of the potentially dangerous stupid people were so addicted to their daily fix of soap operas, game shows, and sit-coms that they didn't have time to get out there and fuck peoples lives up.  Then again, we didn't have much time to get out there and stop the problems before they became too big.  "Sorry.  We didn't notice that you were all that pissed off with things.  We were too busy watching Melrose Place on our new 32 inch satellite dish."... "Sorry, were your children starving?  It's hard to see the news when there's so much really good stuff on.".  I wonder if Hitler would even need an army nowadays.  Anne and Nick welcome you to "Happy Fucking Morning", the gas chamber for your intellect.  Shit.  Stupid.  Really, really stupid.


The sound of a key turning in the lock.


  Gill:  Jack?  Is that you.

Jack:  No, it's the Queen.  Have you seen my corgis?


She goes to the door and undoes a chain lock and a bolt at top and bottom as she talks. 


  Gill:  No, no corgis, but we do a nice line in pissed off fiancées.


The door opens and we see Jack, a smartly dressed but slightly haggard looking young man, who to all intents and purposes looks as though he's coming home after a bloody awful day at the office.


  Gill:  Where have you been?  I've been going crazy here, waiting.

Jack:  Look, I've got to have a slash alright, I'll tell you then.

  Gill:  Tell me now.

Jack:  Lock the door and bolt it, I'll only be a second.

  Gill:  Jack?  [She points at her cheek in a gesture that means "Where's my kiss?"]

Jack:  Gill, I'm bursting, I've been holding this in pretty much all the way.  Please.


He goes to the toilet.  She locks and bolts the door.  She paces, waiting for his return.  She turns the telly off.  She turns the stereo off.  She sits down.  She can't sit still.  Noise of the toilet flushing.  She stands up, goes and looks out the window.  He re-enters.


Jack:  God, that's better.

  Gill:  You should have called.

Jack:  What?

  Gill:  You should have called me.  I was worried.

Jack:  I'm only a few minutes late.

  Gill:  [angry and upset by his dismissal]  Half an hour Jack.  You were half an hour late.  Thirty fucking minutes.  How many seconds is that?  I should know, I counted them, but I got scared somewhere round the second thousand and it's all a bit hazy from there.

Jack:  I'm sorry.  I thought I was running to time.

  Gill:  I was worried about you.

Jack:  I know.

  Gill:  Anything could have happened.

Jack:  I know.

  Gill:  I mean, shit, don't you care?

Jack:  [patience gone]  Look, how the hell was I supposed to call?  All the phones are vandalised.  You know that.  And I doubt mobile reception in the suburbs is high on the repair list right now.  What did you want me to do?  Go up and knock on some stranger's door and ask if I could use their land-line when the shooting stops?  If they’ve even got one?  Shit!  I'm sorry you got scared, okay?  Really, I am, I'm sorry, but it isn't my fault.

  Gill:  I know.  I'm sorry.

Jack:  It's no good Gill.  We can't just fall apart now.  We said when this started that we weren't going to be scared, that we were going to stay here.  It's too late to change our minds now.

  Gill:  Why?  Why is it too late?  People change their minds all the time.  Why do we have to be so puritan?

Jack:  Because that's what we spent several days deciding.

  Gill:  Don't you have doubts?

Jack:  Yes, of course I do, but everyone has doubts about everything; the secret is not to let them become preoccupations.  Come here.  [They embrace]  You're shaking.

  Gill:  Shut up.

Jack:  Have you got any cigarettes left?

  Gill:  Only five, well, four and a bit.  It's like slow torture.

Jack:  Why don't you have one now.  Calm down.

  Gill:  No.  I haven't got enough and I might really need one later.

Jack:  Gill, we're going to be alright.  At lunchtime I was talking with some of the others.  There are a lot of us left you know and we're all going to get through it alive and unharmed.

  Gill:  Yeah.

Jack:  How's the radio?

  Gill:  Dead.  So's the gas.

Jack:  Shit.  It'll be electricity next.  Still, I bought some candles earlier.

  Gill:  Oh.  Good.  We can hide behind them then.

Jack:  We're not hiding.  We're not hiding and we're not running.  Do you understand that?  I've never run in my life.  I don't do it.  Men don't do it.  Men stay and fight.

  Gill:  Yeah.  And die.  Don't forget die.  And what about women?

Jack:  They don't always kill women.

  Gill:  Oh no, you're right, sometimes they just rape us and leave us alive to tell the others.  Lucky old us.


A pause.  Neither of them wishes to take this discussion any further.


Jack:  I remember I saw this poster once.  It was a picture of one of the concentration camps, Belsen, I think.  Anyway, there was this writing over the top of this photo and I can't remember it word for word but it went something like this: "When they came for the Jews I stayed quiet and thanked God I wasn't Jewish, and then they came for the Blacks and I stayed silent and glad I was white, then they came for the homosexuals, the communists, the atheists, the eccentrics, the artists, scholars, and visionaries and throughout it all I stayed silent, and I only spoke when they came for me and mine, but by this time, of course, there was no-one left to hear my cries for help.".  Something like that anyway.  And I remember thinking then that the ones who stayed silent were the cowards, they were the really evil ones because they could have stopped it but they didn't.  And I suppose I made some sort of vow to myself that I wouldn't be one of them.  It's funny.  You'd have thought I'd have remembered it before.

  Gill:  I've seen that poster.  My granddad had one in his toilet.  I hated it.  I hated the photo of the camp.  All the bodies, just lying there: naked, broken things.  Nothing left.  No dignity, no property, not even their own fillings.  And I remember thinking "Fuck that".  Same when I heard about the dignified ways they walked into the gas chambers.  Fuck that.  Fuck that.  My pride isn't that important to me.

Jack:  It's not about pride.  It's about standing up for each other.

  Gill:  Well maybe I'm just too selfish to do that.  Maybe I don't want to be numbered among the dead heroes.  People always go on about how difficult it is to find anyone in Germany who'll admit to being in the army during the war.  Well you try finding someone who'll admit to having been a conscientious objector over here.  Same problem.  It's this winning losing thing.  Heroes and villains.  It's a sex thing, isn't it?

Jack:  No.  I don't think so.

  Gill:  Proving your virility by standing up "like a man" - no coincidence in that expression - and volunteering for the cull.  All perfectly natural.

Jack:  Gill, I'm not volunteering for death.  I'm putting a stop to it before it goes any further.  They won't kill us.  We'll be fine.  If they think they can just walk in and tell us to leave they've got another think coming.

  Gill:  Have they?

Jack:  Yes, dammit they have.

  Gill:  You're so sure aren't you Jack.

Jack:  Yes.  I'm sure.

  Gill:  When they came into Amanda's house do you think they were sure?

Jack:  Shut-up Gill.

  Gill:  Yeah, I wonder what went through their heads when they watched their kid being buggered with a rifle butt.

Jack:  For Christ's sake -

  Gill:  Or when they made him blind her with a cigarette.

Jack:  SHUT UP!  SHUT UP!  SHUT UP!  [He continues yelling this through her next speech]

  Gill:  [Yelling back]  They made him cut the throats of his wife and son and then they castrated him with a hacksaw and left him alive!  They left him fucking alive!  Don't you get it Jack?!  The dead ones are the fucking lucky ones!  Don't you get it?  Don't you get it?

Jack:  [Pulling his hand back to hit her]  Yes, yes, I fucking get it!  Alright!  I fucking get it!  [She has fallen silent]  Shit.  Shit shit shit.


A long pause.


  Gill:  I'm sorry.

Jack:  No, I am.

  Gill:  Look, I, erm, found this today.


She goes to the shelf and takes off a dusty old shoebox.  Inside is a letter written five years ago.  It has been read and replaced in the same envelope many times.


  Gill:  Listen to this.  "My dearest Gill, I've never been terribly good at taking about my emotions.  Sometimes people think I'm cold or that I don't have any emotions.  But that's not true.  I may not show it but I fill with emotion whenever I see you.  They scare me, so I fight them.  I try and keep a dignified front, stay cool, but underneath I'm burning up for you.  I love you Gill, and I can't fight it any more.  I just want to give in to it.  I love you, and I need you, and I think about you when you're not around.  I've never seen anything as beautiful as you..." - smooth if a little dishonest

Jack:  I meant it.

  Gill:  "I've never seen anything as beautiful as you and if you're prepared to put up with me I'll stay with you for ever.  I'd kill for you, I'd die for you... I'll even spend Christmas with your family if it's absolutely necessary.  What I mean is..."

Jack:  Will you marry me.

  Gill:  I thought I'd lost it.

Jack:  I hoped you had.

  Gill:  No such luck though.

Jack:  Shitty way to propose.

  Gill:  I thought it was very sweet.

Jack:  Oh, don't call me sweet.

  Gill:  Why not?

Jack:  Well, it's just crap isn't it.  Sweet.  It's a horrible thing to call a bloke.  Men like to be called tough and rugged and huge and brave and all that stuff.

  Gill:  Yes.  I know.  I think it's sweet.


They both laugh.


Jack:  Let's see that letter.

  Gill:  Here.  What are you doing?

Jack:  Counting the words.

  Gill:  Why?

Jack:  Amanda told me to keep it brief.

  Gill:  What?

Jack:  We were both living at home then, with mum and dad.  She said to me that true romance wasn't long weekends, it was brief moments - the time it takes for a breeze to pass.  That's what I wanted the letter to be: romantic.  So I tried to be brief.

  Gill:  Only a man would look for a formula to be romantic.

Jack:  Bloody worked didn't it?


A pause.


  Gill:  What I said back then... I'm really sorry.

Jack:  I spoke to her a couple of days before they came.  She said that she'd been watching the news.  She couldn't understand why it was happening.  "Bullies.".  That's what she said.  "They're just bullies, and in the end, the only way to stop them is to stand up to them.  Why isn't anyone standing up to them?"  That's what she said.  "Why won't the people fight?"  A day and half later she was dead.  And what did I do?  Did I get in the car and go to stop them?  No.  I stayed here, with you.  I should have done it then.  We should all have stamped on them.  We should have stopped them before they got so cocky.  So many people running from them, it must make them feel so.... frightening.  So very very powerful.  But sometime it has to stop.  They've taken my sister, probably my parents,

  Gill:  We don't know that.

Jack:  Well they'd have had to come through there to get to here.

  Gill:  Yes.  But we don't know that.

Jack:  Gill.  This isn't just our home.  I've built my life here.  I can't just hand it over without a fight.  What am I without it?

  Gill:  You're a man building a new life.  And you're not alone.

Jack:  Aren't I?

  Gill:  No.  No, you're not.  I said I'd stay if that was what you wanted.  Christ knows why, but there it is.  However, I never promised not to try and change your mind.

Jack:  True.

  Gill:  The others, that you talked to today.  Do they, think it'll be tonight?

Jack:  Very probably.

  Gill:  Very probably?

Jack:  Yes.  Very probably.

  Gill:  It's amazing isn't it, the speed they move.  I mean, three days ago it was someone else's problem and now...

Jack:  Well, it's a small world.

  Gill:  But it's like they're on holiday or something.  You'd think it would be hard.

Jack:  What, Britain?  Hard?  We forget how small this country is.  There are national parks bigger than Britain.  Lakes that you could sink it in.  We're just a tiny little piss pot country that somehow managed to fluke an empire and hasn't really been able to enjoy life since we lost it.

  Gill:  They still draw us too big on the maps.

Jack:  What?

  Gill:  The maps that you get don't show the world how it is.  They draw the developed western countries bigger than they are and Africa and all that smaller.

Jack:  Who told you that load of crap?

  Gill:  It's not crap.  And it's consistent.  The victor writes the history, and the victor draws the maps as well.

Jack:  Amazing.

  Gill:  What.

Jack:  You.  Amazing.

  Gill:  No, me: stupid, stuck here with you: Tarzan.

Jack:  [After a pause]   I've got something to show you.

  Gill:  Oh yeah?

Jack:  Yeah.


He opens his bag and produces a gun.


  Gill:  Oh.

Jack:  Yeah.

  Gill:  Oh... fuck.

Jack:  Yeah.

  Gill:  Do you know which way to point it?

Jack:  Yeah.

  Gill:  Do you think you could... you know... use it?

Jack:  Yeah.

  Gill:  Do you know any other words apart from yeah?

Jack:  Yeah.


A pause.


  Gill:  I hate guns.

Jack:  Well that's sort of good, isn't it?

  Gill:  I don't know.

Jack:  When I was a kid I had an air-rifle.  Got it for my thirteenth birthday from my best mate.  Christ knows where he got it from, neither of us got anywhere near enough pocket money for such an... adult purchase.  We used to go out onto the common with it wrapped in his jumper and then when we were sure there was no-one around we'd unwrap it and shoot at cans and bottles and stuff.  One day we caught a frog and we tacked it to a tree, arms and legs spread, then we shot at it from a few yards away.  I remember he caught it right in the middle of its belly.  There was blood and gack everywhere, but it just kept twitching.  Little fucker just didn't want to die.  Well in the end I had to whack it with the butt of the rifle.  I sort of went off shooting after that and my mate took the gun back.  I felt guilty about it for years.  And here we are.

  Gill:  And here we are.

Jack:  Never thought I'd actually need a real gun.  You know, when I used to watch the American news and I'd see them all gun crazy I'd wonder why anyone in their right minds would want to own a gun.  It seemed obvious to me that if there wasn't a gun in the situation then no-one could get shot.  I mean, the single most terrible risk with having a gun is that it might go off.

  Gill:  And here we are.

Jack:  And here we are.  I mean, when we get hauled up in front of the almighty at the end of it all and we have to say why, is any excuse good enough.

  Gill:  Yes.  Sometimes.  I think so.

Jack:  I'm scared Gill.  I'm scared that I might have to kill them.

  Gill:  Well that's how it works, isn't it?  All the time that we "good people" are committed to not using violence, the power crazed bastards can just walk all over us.  I mean, imagine the luxury of knowing that your victim will make no effort to fight back.  Wow, what a deterrent.  Sometimes I think that the mistake the peace lovers make is that they assume the enemy has the same conscience, the same sense of right and wrong.  But the bastards can't even agree among themselves.  How does it happen?  How does one go from being loving and kind and caring to raping and killing.  How?

Jack:  I'm prepared to kill to protect you, maybe it's as simple as that.  Maybe sitting by watching your children starve whilst rich people feast their faces gets too much.  Maybe if you refuse to listen to someone for long enough their only recourse is to make a loud noise.

  Gill:  No, it's more organised than that.  It's about someone with the right charisma and the right voice and a dangerous idea.  This type of thing is run from the top down.

Jack:  I don't think so.  I think that we like to make it easy on ourselves, put things into neat little conspiracy theories so that we don't have to face up to the fact that the world is no less a jungle for all its billboards and street lights.  Listen, when we were at school there was this kid called Michael Gallagher.  Michael was the one who always got his homework in.  Michael was the one with the beautiful handwriting and the reading age of thirty.  Every morning he'd get dropped at the school by the family chauffeur in the Rolls Royce with the tinted windows.  His dad was a champagne socialist.  Felt that Michael ought to have a state education so that he didn't lose touch with the real world, so we taught Michael all about the real world.

  Gill:  Everyone gets bullied a bit, girls too.  I remember going for three weeks without lunch because Gloria Bickell decided my knees were weird.  Kids will find any excuse.  Any little difference.

Jack:  We picked on Michael because he had more than us.

  Gill:  You were children.  When you're a child no-one tells you that the world isn't fair.  That should be the first thing they tell you.  It should be written on the board when you walk into the first class of your first day at school.  Big white letters.  "Life is unfair.".  You should have to write it down.  A thousand times if necessary.  I know it's bleak but it wouldn't half save trouble later on.  It took me years to face that fact.  Your Michael was lucky.  He learned early.  You shouldn't feel bad.

Jack:  I don't feel bad.  At the time it was hilarious.  God, we did some horrible things to him.  Well, we did loads of things to him, pretty much at every opportunity.  Anyway, that's not the point.  The point is that he let us get away with it.

  Gill:  Did he have any choice?

Jack:  Everyone has a choice.

  Gill:  Not necessarily.  What would you have done if he'd stood up to you?

Jack:  Hit him.

  Gill:  And then?

Jack:  And then he'd have run home to Daddy.

  Gill:  Or maybe he could have waited at the school gates for you?  Jumped you when you left?

Jack:  No way, he'd never have stood a chance.  There were loads of us, see?

  Gill:  There are loads of us now though, aren't there, and it doesn't seem to be changing anything.

Jack:  Well maybe Michael should have bought a gun.

  Gill:  Maybe.  It certainly levels the playing field.

Jack:  What?

  Gill:  Ironic isn't it.  Those most suitable to run the world, the kindest, most compassionate, most creative people; the free thinkers and philosophers.  Nearly every last one of them refuses to pick up the tools they need to exercise their judgement.  And what's the result?  A world where the biggest bully gets to the top.  How very evolved we are.

Jack:  Well that's always the problem with intellectuals isn't it.  Too much time thinking.  Never get round to putting any of their great ideas into practice.  I suppose they think that having the idea is enough, maybe they think that they're so fucking clever we'll all flock round bleating.  But it doesn't work like that.  If you want someone to do something for you you've got to have a big gun or a large reward - concepts don't cut it with your average man in the street.  He can't even grasp them so why should he give up his compact disk player?

  Gill:  Shouldn't we be doing something?

Jack:  Like what?

  Gill:  I don't know.  Preparing ourselves.  Preying.  Building traps.  Anything.  I mean, it's so pathetic, just sitting here waiting for the sky to fall in.

Jack:  Well, this is the way the world ends, isn't it?

  Gill:  Show me how to use the gun.


There is a knock at the door.  Jack and Gill stop what they're doing and look at each other.  Slowly both their heads turn towards the door.  Fade to blackout.  Curtain.




To obtain permission to perform this play


or write to Jason Orbaum, c/o

53, Thornash Road, Horsell, Woking,

Surrey, England, GU21 4UL