Themes of parallel universes/the multiverse/quantum physics are bandied about in some of the dialogue and echoed in various repetitions of the characters’ behaviour and the use of certain structural elements in the set. The possibility is raised that when we think about doing something a universe is created in which that thing is done. Another popular parallel universe notion is of the world that is almost identical to the origin world apart from insignificant details here and there. The playlet speculates on physical problems that might be experienced by travellers between worlds.
The characters: Angela – an adventuress with links to an intelligence agency. Betty – Angela’s identical twin sister, in some ways just as resourceful as Angela. Roger – possibly Angela’s partner; possibly Angela’s control. He has an identical twin brother called Roy, who is a sexually predatory psychopath. Alex – a friend of Angela and Roger; possibly an English-speaking inhabitant either of a parallel world or a hitherto undiscovered and remote geographical location.
It should be noted that Angela and Betty – despite being identical twins – are played by different actresses (Jude Barrington and Bernadette Russell) while Roger and Roy are played by one actor (Chris Newland). Alex may be two identical people who are both versions of Alex, played by one actor (Gareth Brierley).
The lighting: 1. Monochrome – some scenes will be lit with monochrome washes such as red, blue, green etc. 2. Off-Set – some scenes will be lit brightly and baldly, revealing the territory adjacent to the set in addition to the set itself. 3. On-Set – other scenes will be lit in a ‘normal’, non-monochrome way. When monochrome of a particular colour is applied to a scene the colour itself should not be seen as particularly significant.
The music: it is likely that a low, electronic drone will run throughout the show (possibly from the ambient work of ‘The Caretaker’). This will add a degree of underlying menace to the scenes. It will, however, be supplemented by other types of music, such as trance, hard house, terrorcore, film sound track, baroque and other classical.
Scene 1 LIGHTING: ON-SET IN SILENCE: AS HER SKIRTS REPEATEDLY SWIRL ANGELA PRESSES FIRST ALEX THEN ROGER TO HER BOSOM IN FOND FAREWELL. A BIT DANCE-LIKE. IT IS AS IF MANY ADVENTURES HAVE BEEN VENTURED AND NOW THE COMRADES MUST PART AT LAST. AN EMOTIONAL ENDING TO A CLUSTER OF SAGAS THAT THE AUDIENCE MAY WISH THEY HAD SEEN. PERHAPS THEY WILL. BUT THIS SEQUENCE STRONGLY RESEMBLES THE END OF A PLAY. AFTER ONE MORE LINGERING EMBRACE THE TWO MEN LEAVE. ANGELA IS ALONE. SHE SITS. ANGELA Ha! Roger! Alex! And I (Angela)!
(Note: It is conceivable that, like James Joyce’s ‘Finnegan’s Wake’ and the M25, Dash Dash Dash has a formal circularity, whereby this brief scene eventually closes the entire crazy journey upon which we are about to embark.) (Writer’s retrospective note: It didn’t.)
Scene 2 LIGHTING: ON-SET THROUGHOUT THE ENSUING DIALOGUE SEQUENCE MUSIC IS PLAYED. Music: Corelli – Concerto da Chiesa No 8 in G minor THE SET SHOULD ACCOMMODATE THE FOLLOWING POSSIBILITY: WHEN ANGELA IS WALKING WITH THE MEN ALL THREE SHOULD BE ABLE TO EXIT THEN IMMEDIATELY REAPPEAR WITH BETTY IN ANGELA’S PLACE. THE MEN DO NOT ACKNOWLEDGE THE SWITCHES. AFTER ALL, THE TWO WOMEN ARE IDENTICAL TWINS. THE ACTRESS SHOULD ALSO BE ABLE TO RUN ROUND THE BACK OF THE SET IN ORDER TO BE SWITCHED FROM THE OTHER SIDE LATER IN THIS SCENE. THIS WILL BE DONE A COUPLE OF TIMES IN THE SCENE (INDICATED IN THE SCRIPT), WHICH WILL END WITH ANGELA ON STAGE AND BETTY OFF. ROGER AND ALEX ENTER. A MOMENT LATER ANGELA ENTERS. ALEX SHOUTS DELIGHTEDLY AND HUGS ANGELA. IT IS AS IF ANGELA IS RETURNING AFTER A LONG TIME AWAY. ROGER TOO IS DELIGHTED AND HUGS ANGELA. THEY EACH TAKE ONE OF ANGELA’S HANDS AND EXCITEDLY WALK UP AND DOWN WITH HER. IT IS AS IF A PLAY IS ABOUT TO BEGIN. THE FRIENDS ARE VITAL AND ENCHANTING. THEY TOUCH EACH OTHER AFFECTIONATELY FROM TIME TO TIME. ANGELA Now it’s all behind me! The places! ALEX We thought… ROGER The good things first! ANGELA The hill villages, the plage, the general feeling of groups of people very much in love struggling through on board ship. ALEX We thought… ANGELA What did you think, darling? ROGER I think we thought you’d gone… ALEX CHOKES BACK A TEAR. ANGELA Oh, Alex! FIRST SWITCH: ANGELA SWEEPS ALEX OFF STAGE, EXITING THROUGH A DOOR IN THE SET. ALEX IMMEDIATELY RE-ENTERS WITH BETTY. ALEX Now we can really start. ROGER Now that everything is over. ALEX Tell us about the islands. BETTY Some days soot and mud. Other days flowers. ROGER Did it drive you mad? BETTY I liked the variety. The problem was being followed all the time. Or feeling that. SECOND SWITCH: BETTY MOVES OFF STAGE, FOLLOWED BY ALEX. ANGELA RE-ENTERS, FOLLOWED BY ALEX. ALEX Were you? Followed? ANGELA (LAUGHING) You’d see the boats out there. The people were hard to make out. Sometimes one of them would be washed ashore though. Then you’d see them. Bloated. Grinning through dead lips. Their spines torn out. ROGER But you got away. You made it all the way back to Combray. THE MUSIC STOPS ABRUPTLY. ANGELA I’d love a sweet biscuit now. ROGER AND ALEX EXIT.
Scene 3 LIGHTING: OFF-SET, BRIGHT. AS ANGELA SITS, A DOOR BURSTS OPEN AND, FROM THE OPPOSITE SIDE TO THE EARLIER EXITS (Scene 1), THERE ENTERS ALEX. HE MOVES TOWARDS ANGELA BUT CONTINUES TO DOWNSTAGE CENTRE, CLOSE TO THE AUDIENCE. VERY LOUD, POUNDING TRANCE MUSIC IS SNAPPED IN. ALEX DANCES ENERGETICALLY AND CHEERFULLY FOR A NUMBER OF SECONDS UNTIL STOPPING ABRUPTLY AS THE MUSIC IS CUT. ANGELA Alex! THE SAME DOOR BURSTS OPEN AGAIN AND ROGER ENTERS. VERY LOUD, POUNDING TRANCE MUSIC IS SNAPPED IN. ROGER DANCES ENERGETICALLY AND DETERMINEDLY FOR A NUMBER OF SECONDS UNTIL STOPPING ABRUPTLY AS THE MUSIC IS CUT. ANGELA Roger! ROGER Angela – your shapes are the talk of the town and its side streets! Will you throw some? ANGELA DANCES ENERGETICALLY AND INVENTIVELY FOR A NUMBER OF SECONDS, TO THE SOUND OF POUNDING TRANCE MUSIC, UNTIL STOPPING ABRUPTLY AS THE MUSIC IS CUT. (Note: While the Director will certainly give notes to the Actors concerning the manner of their dancing in this scene, he will stress that variations on personal idiosyncrasies of style are more the biscuit than polished passages of discotheque simulation.)
Scene 4 LIGHTING: MONOCHROME ALEX (TO HIMSELF) What if…say, I were to do something, then, as if on a whim, quite suddenly and abruptly, decided not to do it. In fact, I never did it. Not because there was anything wrong with it. Not because I particularly had an attitude to it. It could be something quite important or quite minor. I would halt at the very brink, the very brim, almost tipping into it. Would that do it? Would it set something up? ROGER ENTERS ROGER How would you know? It might do it – but there’s no way of telling. It’s a luxury – the argument, I mean – you can say what you want and never be wrong. ALEX They have no word for ‘Wendy’. ROGER What? ALEX When they say it there’s just a terrible noise. ROGER From their mouths? ALEX Partly. And in the air. Quite separate from the mouth. Birds fall from the sky. ROGER I notice, Alex, that no such phenomena accompany your own voicing of the problematic word. ALEX I’ve explained this to you many times, Roger. ROGER So you have, so you have.
Scene 5 LIGHTING: ON-SET ANGELA When I think about the children I want to die. ROGER You want to die before you die? ANGELA (ACKNOWLEDGING THE ABSURDITY) I know. ROGER You worry about how they’ll be. ANGELA Well, of course. What else? At the moment they don’t have a clue. ROGER When do you want to tell them? ANGELA I don’t want to tell them! ROGER We’ll both tell them. ANGELA I just…can’t. I want a door to open up. I want to be swallowed. ANGELA AND ROGER TURN AWAY FROM EACH OTHER AND SMILE WARMLY AT THE AUDIENCE AS A SPECIAL LIGHT COMES ON DIRECTLY ABOVE THEM AND GROWS STEADILY IN BRILLIANCE. THEY LOOK UPWARDS TO THE LIGHT AND SHIELD THEIR EYES WHEN IT BECOMES UNCOMFORTABLY BRIGHT. (THIS EFFECT MIGHT BE HEIGHTENED BY FADING ALL OTHER LIGHTS.) THE OVERHEAD SPECIAL SNAPS OFF. VERY BRIEF BLACKOUT (DURING WHICH A PERSONNEL SWITCH IS EFFECTED) FOLLOWED BY A SINGLE BRIGHT FLASH OF LIGHT. IT REVEALS BETTY AND ROGER SITTING NEUTRALLY TOGETHER.
Scene 6 LIGHTING: MONOCHROME ALEX I didn’t like her breath. It was milky. ROGER Were you particularly close? ALEX I didn’t know her. That was the point. ROGER What I actually meant was were you physically close to her? So that you could smell her. ALEX Does it matter? It was milky. She was…uneasy. ROGER Of course she bloody was. She had shit down her legs. ALEX I didn’t notice. ROGER But you noticed her breath.
Scene 7 LIGHTING: ON-SET ANGELA My brief was to go upriver, to the islands. One of our people was impregnating natives at the rate of three a week. Not a good thing, need I say? The crew was composed of degenerates – one of them shot a puppy. At one point we drank the water. Big mistake. Pissing though our arses. One’s grasp faltered. We debarked and trekked inland. For eight weeks. Fucking big country. Sometimes it was dark in the daytime. What can you say about that? At least I didn’t have to shave. Not a sign of the guy. A coconut fell on our compass. GPS – it’s a terrific idea but we didn’t have the requisite thing. Frank took his trousers off so he could shit whilst walking along. It was increasingly hard to feel ladylike.
Scene 8 LIGHTING: MONOCHROME ALEX When…when…when… we were taking the car back to…to…to…to… ALEX CONTINUES TO STUTTER AT SOME LENGTH. HE TRIES TO BREAK THE CYCLE BUT DOES NOT SHOW UNDUE ANXIETY. THERE IS A DEAFENING BANG (THEATRICAL MAROON). BETTY They’re so shit! They can’t even say fucking ‘WENDY’! ANOTHER DEAFENING BANG, FOLLOWED BY LOUD DRONE MUSIC (MAYBE ‘THE CARETAKER’) AND SNAP BLACKOUT, DURING WHICH A PERSONNEL SWITCH TAKES PLACE (ANGELA REPLACES BETTY). THE MUSIC CONTINUES AS THE LIGHTS SNAP BACK, DISCOVERING ANGELA STANDING CLOSE TO THE SEATED ALEX. SHE COUGHS VIOLENTLY AND SPITS BLOOD ALL OVER HIS FACE. ALEX (UNPERTURBED) …the dockside. In those days you’d drive onto a rope net attached to a big high up crane, well, probably not so big by today’s standards where bigness is so advanced, and they’d gather up the net and the car would go up in the air and across to the boat then down into the hold. That was how you moved cars in those days. Off you’d go! To Sweden on one occasion. Gothenburg, in fact. Or ‘Yurtaborg’ (HE MANGLES THE CORRECT PRONUNCIATION) as they say it in Yurtaborg or Yurtaborg as they say it in Yurtaborg Note: We will ask a Swedish person about this. Does anyone know one?
Scene 9 LIGHTING: MONOCHROME ROGER When these people get down below twenty metres their lungs start to compress. At sixty metres they’re down to the size of a fist. Sometimes they bleed from the ears. I’m not against it. People used to say ‘Roger, you should fucking relax’ and I’d say ‘For what fucking reason?’ and they’d say ‘It can’t be good to be going about with all the muscles clenched’ and I’d say ‘Why not? Why the fuck not? Who actually said in the first place? Where is your evidence? Is this scientific? Or is it some fucking whimsy? Some fucking little tale that no one knows where it came from but they all fucking believe it, as if they were fucking scientists with a degree from fucking Edinburgh University in fucking Human Physiology, no, in Higher fucking Unclenching … Disclenching…where you let go… BETTY …and we saw a 58, that were good, then an oh oh nine, that were champion, then a four four four, that was a little repetitive, then a 6C, that was super, then not one not two not three not four but five small F11s, in serial packets, that rocked, then, as if we were not already sated with quite so much, a cluster of yellow 10s pockmarked prettily with what looked like rat shit. ROGER How will we tell? BETTY He’ll put a foot wrong. Then we will done for him. ROGER For him it’s a game it’s. As soon as we have him he’ll vanish.
Scene 10 LIGHTING: MONOCHROME ALEX When I first saw you both I felt you had no weight. You seemed to float. ANGELA Was that bad? ALEX I wanted to put my hand through you. BETTY Isn’t that quite saucy? A DEAFENING BANG. BLACKOUT. LIGHTS SNAP ON, TO A LOW LEVEL, DISCOVERING ANGELA, BETTY, ALEX AND ROGER, IN A LINE ABREAST, DANCING DELIGHTEDLY TO PLEASANT SWIRLING TRANCE. Note: The actors will be encouraged to smile genuinely and winningly throughout this sequence. Their expressions will suggest a joyous and attractive ease.
Scene 11 ON-SET BETTY He says he wants to help me. But for the kids it’s. He don’t want to know it. Not himself. ALEX So you helpin him helpin you. BETTY He need the help. He can’t bear to tell.
Scene 12 LIGHTING: MONOCHROME ROGER IS AT HIS DESK AT MI5, WHERE SPYING IS DONE. SEATED BEFORE HIM IS ANGELA. ROGER We’re getting news of certain effects, Betty. It’s hard to know what sort of a box to put them in. Guinness thinks it’s a social sort of thing, sort of social breakdown. Stella tends to some kind of fracture in the fabric of reality. Whatever the bloody hell that means. ANGELA Reality is a language, Roger. ROGER Really? I wish I bloody spoke it, then. ANGELA I’ve always considered you fluent. ROGER How are the headaches? ANGELA Do you want to play doctors, Roger? ROGER No, Betty. I wanted to talk about your sister. ANGELA Angela. ROGER Yes. ANGELA I’m told we’re very alike. ROGER I wouldn’t know. What interests me is that you’re physically identical. I’m going to need you to persuade her to work with us. ANGELA Shall I get her in? ROGER If you would. ANGELA EXITS. ANGELA COMES RIGHT BACK IN AGAIN, THROUGH ANOTHER DOOR. ROGER Angela! How are you? ANGELA Very well, Roger. Nice place. ROGER Keeps the rain off. AFTER FOUR REPEATS THE SCENE CHANGES TO…
Scene 13 LIGHTING: MONOCHROME BETTY What? ALEX I said ‘Hello’. BETTY And you said ‘I said’. ALEX Yes. BETTY And ‘Yes’. ALEX Yes. BETTY FAINTS. ALEX CATCHES HER.
Scene 14 LIGHTING: MONOCHROME BETTY My brief was to go upriver, to the islands. I would be disguised as Angela and I would attempt to seduce Roger’s twin brother Roy, who had gone rogue. Apparently his penchant for sexual intercourse had led him into practices that verged almost on amateur surgery. Not unreasonably the islanders wanted something done. Roy, however, was a fractured, complex character with an intermittent grasp of reality. Roger, with whom I had briefly had intercourse some years ago, thought that Roy, who had been enamoured of my twin sister Angela more recently, could be made vulnerable were I to appear to hold out to him the possibility of getting his leg over. Unlike Angela, I have martial arts and, given the physical resemblance that some find uncanny, although it is, let’s be frank, only the standard monozygotic anomaly, could look after myself if Roy, once drawn, started to ‘have a laugh’, as he chillingly puts it.
Scene 15 LIGHTING: OFF-SET, BRIGHT ANGELA (STUTTERING FIERCELY BUT WITHOUT ANXIETY) Ah…ah…ah… ah…ah… ah…ah… ah…ah… ah…ah…ack…ack… ack…ack… ack… ack… ack…ack…vvv…vvv… vvv…vvv…vvv…vvv… vvv…vvv…vvv…vvv
Scene 16 LIGHTING: MONOCHROME ANGELA He spoke English! ALEX That’s not possible. It’s simply not. SAD MUSIC OVER… ANGELA And I wept. ALEX Why? ANGELA We’d come so far. Beyond the maps. Shit down our legs. ALEX But if it was off the maps… ANGELA I don’t know! My God, Alex, if I understood it I’d bloody tell you! SHE DRINKS FROM A MUG ALEX So he…they…must have got there first…some other expedition…a private one. Surely. ANGELA COUGHS VIOLENTLY AND COVERS ALEX’S FACE IN BLOOD. HE IS UNPERTURBED.
Scene 17 LIGHTING: ON-SET ROGER It’s a game. But it’s not playful. People use it without realising it. It constitutes a thorough challenge to Freudian thinking. It undermines the most basic and well established assumptions about identity and individual responsibility. Our scientists are within months of effecting passage. But there is already resistance in the form of leakage from the places that had assumed that passage was impossible. They are sending their people through in order to scupper us. ALEX I think you’re feeling a little paranoid. ROGER That’s what they always say, isn’t it? ALEX That’s what they always say. ROGER No, that’s what they always say. ALEX No, that’s what they always say. ROGER Alex…they sent you through, though, didn’t they? ALEX No, they didn’t. ROGER Yes, they did. ALEX I know who you are, Roger.
Scene 18 LIGHTING: MONOCHROME ROGER I’ll spell it out. The play – it appeared as a play first – came out in 1904. Before that time the name did not exist. In 1905 Einstein published, in the Annalen der Physik, four ground-breaking papers: (SAD MUSIC) Uber einen die Erzeugung und Verwandlung des Lichtes betreffenden heuristichen Gesichtspunkt; Uber die von der molekular-kinetischen Theorie der Warme gerforderte Bewegung von in ruhenden Flussigkeiten suspendierten Teilchen; Zur Elektrodynamik bewegter Korper and Ist die Tragheit eines Korpers von Seinem Energieinhalt abhangig? To translate: On a Heuristic Viewpoint Concerning the Production and Transformation of Light; On the Motion of Small Particles Suspended in a Stationary Liquid, as Required by the Molecular Kinetic Theory of Heat; On the Electrodynamics of Moving Bodies and Does the Inertia of a Body Depend Upon Its Energy Content? (END SAD MUSIC) LIGHTS TO ON-SET The shit hit the fan. Hadn’t been such an upheaval since the days of Robert Newton. We’re still some way from Everett, mind you. The multi thing. He didn’t make a mark till ’57. However, we can speculate – or rather, they can speculate, because, frankly, I don’t understand a fucking word of it – that when something like this comes along it makes a big ripple, and not just down the fucking pub. ANGELA What…it can move across? ROGER Maybe. Everything is possible. ANGELA That’s vague. ROGER I said, suddenly, everything is possible. Usually it isn’t. ANGELA And Wendy? ROGER Look: Barrie was a pervy little runt. But socially connected. He knew all the writers and he also knew the scientists. Who knows what he might have pulled off? ANGELA So you think Alex… ROGER Yes, I do. Increasingly.
Scene 19 LIGHTING: OFF-SET ALEX DANCES IN A JOLLY, NON-SLICK MANNER TO SOME BANGING BEATS. ANGELA (SHE MAKES CLICKING, GRUNTING NOISES, AS IF SPEAKING SOME OBSCURE LANGUAGE) ALEX I’m sorry..? ANGELA What? ALEX I didn’t understand… ANGELA But how do you understand me? ALEX Well…we speak the same language… ANGELA When did you get here? ALEX I live here. ANGELA How long? ALEX I was born here. ANGELA Where were your parents from? ALEX They were born here. ANGELA Where were their parents from? ALEX They were born here. ANGELA Where were their parents from? ALEX They were born here. ANGELA Do you have a society? ALEX Of course. Do you? ANGELA Of course. Thousands of miles away. ALEX It’s nice here. ANGELA My legs are covered in shit. ALEX That’s okay. You can stay here if you want. ANGELA Do you have a house like mine? ALEX Very like yours. Very like it. ANGELA Do you know Roger? ALEX I know his brother Roy.
Scene 20 ON-SET ROY IS POSING AS ROGER. ROY (TO BETTY) Did you have to fuck him? BETTY Uhuh. ANGELA Sis! BETTY It was a loss leader. ROY What about Alex? ALEX What about me? ROY What have you been thinking about? ALEX Nothing much. ROY Good. ANGELA What about Roy? ROY It was a question of directness. Not deciding to do something without actually doing it, thereby avoiding the creation of a universe in which that thought – the one you didn’t act on – was acted on. BETTY Please don’t, Roger. I find it all faintly psychotic. ANGELA Betty – what if..? BETTY Roger! Your brother wanted to kill you, didn’t he? ROY I’m afraid he did. ANGELA He wanted a world in which you had never existed… ANGELA AND BETTY LOOK AT EACH OTHER IN HORROR AS IT SLOWLY DAWNS ON THEM THAT THEY ARE IN ROY’S WORLD NOW. ANGELA & BETTY Roy! ALEX YELLS IN TERROR LIGHTS TO MONOCHROME ROY I need your help. I come from a place where the things you abhor are considered perfectly conventional. As for the values that you uphold here, I find them utterly debasing. I fear that unless I can effect passage I may commit, without malice, acts that you will find atrocious. ANGELA MOVES TOWARDS ROY, APPARENTLY ABOUT TO EMBRACE HIM SYMPATHETICALLY. ANGELA They’re just thoughts… BETTY Fuck that! BETTY PUSHES ANGELA OFF COURSE AND IS ABOUT TO ATTACK ROY. ALEX Don’t touch him! ROY What do you know, Alex? ALEX Can he say ‘Wendy’? ANGELA (ACCUSATIVELY) Roger? BETTY (ACCUSATIVELY) Roy? ROY I don’t think you’d like me to say it. BETTY Bollocks. ROY TURNS SLOWLY TOWARDS BETTY. HE OPENS HIS MOUTH WIDE. A TERRIBLE, DEAFENING, GROANING ROAR COMES FROM HIS THROAT. A DEEP, SHUDDERING BASS DRONE IS MIXED INTO IT. ANGELA, BETTY AND ALEX SCREAM IN TERROR. SLOW FADE TO BLACK. THE ROAR FADES. THE BASS DRONE CONTINUES FOR A FEW SECONDS LONGER. THEN SILENCE. END
(A retrospective note: I often thought that given many audience members found the playlet confusing, then Scene 6 must surely be the most perplexing of all. My intention was simply to use this scene to demonstrate what kind of play you were not watching. It obtruded like a sore thumb and would ideally prompt the viewer to think ‘This should be amputated’. I suspect that some audience members may well have had that thought but found it irritating rather than significant.)(2019))
I have to say I really love ‘In the Bosom of Roy’. It marked a change of gear in my writing and I loved watching it being performed by the actors. Around that time I wrote here about my impatience with theatre whose form was inappropriately coherent, given the lack of coherence in our everyday early 21st century experience. As a counter to this, I had in my mind an elusive vision of a theatre of fragments that ultimately hung together insofar as they would contribute to a fragmented whole. Themes would be apparent but the parts would remain discontinuous. The fragments would not just be a collection of any old random bits but represented the decomposing of many of the systems and beliefs that had once made us feel we were consistent subjects in a reliable environment.
Over the preceding forty years I had seen a great deal of experimental performance and I was familiar with many varieties of performative fragmentation. Much of the British progressive work was designed to find alternatives to narrative strategies found in mainstream performance and the novel. This work tended to favour a multi- or cross-disciplinarity enhanced by an increasingly sophisticated articulation of alienation, disenchantment and unstable identity. But times changed. If the work was to maintain currency it would have to take into account a complex of factors that had irreversibly metastasised from the local to the global. Tall order.
‘In the Bosom of Roy’ was, I think, the first piece I wrote that featured loud trance music introduced at the wrong moments. Most of my long and short plays had used music but invariably in order to intensify or complement mood. When electronic dance music began to emerge I found in it some of the most exhilarating experiences I had had since punk. I picked up scores of trance and hardcore CDs at charity shops and, as the century turned, amassed them in my very exciting iPod Classic, a white device closely resembling, in shape and size, what the portable wireless telephone would evolve into six years later.
I noticed that when I listened to the right kind of dance music I would sometimes see streams of performance imagery in my mind’s eye. Increasingly and perhaps not surprisingly, the images featured actors dancing as well as acting. While I am not a choreographer I do know what I like. I like watching just about anybody dance but there’s something about heavy pounding that brings out the best in many who consider themselves only modestly equipped in terms of a repertoire of shapes. The pounding attacks the body directly and solves, for some, the problem of making thoughtful aesthetic movement choices. On a good day the body will be taken care of.
Rather than use the dance music to energise a scene I envisaged the abrupt and uncomfortable eruption into a scene of music played so loud that nothing else could be heard. This would not discommode the performers so much as compel them immediately to break out of the acting mode in order to demonstrate their moves. The figures seen dancing were not dancing as previously established fictional characters. They had seceded from fiction but neither were they actors being themselves. They would stand downstage in a line abreast, a few feet from the front row, facing towards the audience, not acknowledging each other, just demonstrating dance.
This mode of demonstration could, I thought, be extended to the acting style. Instead of authenticity, along with its tiresome baggage of purported healing power, the actors would present actors presenting examples of acting. It would be possible to open up the seams that welded actor to character so that a small but disconcerting gap could be seen. Not so large a gap that the effect could be dismissed as bad acting but one which afforded a glimpse of artifice. This would not be a Brechtian effect but one which reflected the new styles of alienation burgeoning in a successful consumer society that supported the consciously performed presence rather than a less self-conscious version. The actors I was working with regularly on both short and long plays – Lydia Ayers, Jude Barrington, Gerard Bell, Gareth Brierley, Abigail Davies, Christine Entwisle, Martin Gent, Amanda Hadingue, Chris Newland, Barney Power, Mary Roscoe and Bernadette Russell – all acquired a distinctive declamatory style that simultaneously expressed the role and demonstrated it as a role.
The spectacle of actors dancing hard in your face with the volume up to 11 was, I found, intoxicating and moving. I found it so intoxicating and moving that I used it over and over. It suggested a world in which few experiences were not truncated by others, in which the personal was urgently and unpredictably invaded by forces that both erased it and defined it. The eruption of hard thumping and ecstatic breaks gave a context to the ‘drama’ that located it in a relentless, repetitive, machinic, merciless place. This was a place that was fundamentally frantic and panicked and could only offer a deliverance that was itself possessed of a transcendence that was superb to a fault.
Prior to writing the script hereunder, performed at Wimbledon College of Art in January 2008, I ventilated here my thoughts on Theatre at the End of the World and here an account of aspects of the preparation of the piece. Clearly the world had not ended subsequent to the publication of the earlier post. More recently I wrote an introduction to the play here.
(a Note (2019): If pressed I would concede that the text hereunder, in which I strove to defeat story-telling at every turn, is hard to follow at times. A pre-occupation with identical twins, played either by the same actor or by two actors who do not remotely resemble each other, has resulted in this postdramatic vehicle intermittently sailing quite close to the coast of opacity.)
Scene 1 THE SET HAS SIX DOORS MOUNTED IN A WIDE BOX SET. THE BACK WALL HAS FOUR DOORS IN A ROW WHILE AT EITHER END, AT RIGHT ANGLES TO THE BACK WALL, MOUNTED IN THE SIDE WALL, IS ANOTHER DOOR. BETWEEN THE DOORS ARE WALL PANELS. THE DOWNSTAGE SPACE IN FRONT OF THE BACK WALL IS SHALLOW – A FAIRLY NARROW CORRIDOR RUNS BETWEEN THE FRONT ROW OF THE AUDIENCE AND THE SET. Music: Couperin: Le Charme
ROGER AND BETTY ENTER ROGER Betty, would you get me some bread? BETTY Of course I will. Are you hungry? BETTY EXITS ROGER What? BRIEF PAUSE ENTER WENDY WITH SOME BREAD WENDY Here we are. SHE HANDS ROGER THE BREAD ROGER Thanks, Betty. WENDY So, wow! ROGER What have I been up to? WENDY And me! ROGER EXITS MUSIC ENDS
Music: O.S.I.R.I.S. – Oneness with the Universe @ 3mins 30secs THE FIRST 30 SECONDS OF THE TRACK (HEAVY POUNDING TRANCE) IS PLAYED THEN ABRUPTLY CUT. AS THE MUSIC PLAYS WENDY DANCES TO IT AND STOPS WHEN IT STOPS. ENTER BETTY. THE FIRST 30 SECONDS OF THE TRACK IS PLAYED AGAIN THEN ABRUPTLY CUT. AS THE MUSIC PLAYS BETTY DANCES TO IT AND STOPS WHEN IT STOPS. ENTER ROGER. THE FIRST 30 SECONDS OF THE TRACK IS PLAYED THEN ABRUPTLY CUT. AS THE MUSIC PLAYS ROGER DANCES TO IT AND STOPS WHEN IT STOPS. THE CAST EXITS.
Scene 3 THROUGHOUT THE ENSUING DIALOGUE SEQUENCE MUSIC IS PLAYED. Music: Corelli: Concerto da Chiesa No 8 in G minor THE VOLUME OF THE MUSIC IS SUCH THAT THE DIALOGUE CANNOT BE HEARD. ROGER AND WENDY ENTER. A MOMENT LATER BETTY ENTERS. WENDY SCREAMS IN DELIGHT AND HUGS BETTY. IT IS AS IF BETTY IS RETURNING AFTER A LONG TIME AWAY. ROGER TOO IS DELIGHTED AND HUGS BETTY. THEY EACH TAKE ONE OF BETTY’S HANDS AND EXCITEDLY WALK UP AND DOWN WITH HER. THEY TALK (INAUDIBLY) NINETEEN TO THE DOZEN. THEY ARE VITAL AND ENCHANTING. THEY TOUCH EACH OTHER AFFECTIONATELY FROM TIME TO TIME. THIS IS WHAT THEY ARE SAYING: BETTY Now it’s all behind me! The places! WENDY We thought… ROGER The good things first! BETTY The hill villages, the plage, the general feeling of groups of people very much in love struggling through on board ship. WENDY We thought… BETTY What did you think, darling? ROGER I think we thought you’d…gone. WENDY CHOKES BACK A TEAR. BETTY Oh, Wendy! WENDY Now we can really start. ROGER Now that everything is over. WENDY Tell us about the islands. BETTY Some days soot and mud. Other days flowers. ROGER Did it drive you mad? BETTY I liked the variety. The problem was being followed all the time. Or feeling that. WENDY Were you? Followed? BETTY (LAUGHING GRIMLY) You’d see the boats out there. The people were hard to make out. Sometimes one of them would be washed ashore though. Then you’d see them. Bloated. Grinning through dead lips. Their spines torn out. ROGER But you got away. You made it all the way back to Combray. THE MUSIC STOPS ABRUPTLY. BETTY I’d love a sweet biscuit now. BETTY AND WENDY EXIT.
Scene 4 ROGER WALKS TO THE NOISY BOX (A LARGE, HOLLOW METAL STRUCTURE) AND LIES ON IT FACE DOWN. HE STARTS TO TREMBLE ALL OVER. HIS FEET KICK AT THE SURFACE OF THE BOX AND HIS ARMS JERK OUT FROM HIS SIDES. HE GETS OFF THE BOX. ENTER WENDY. SHE WALKS TO THE NOISY BOX AND LIES ON IT ON HER BACK. SHE STARTS TO TREMBLE AND UNDULATE, KICKING THE SURFACE OF THE BOX WITH HER HEELS. SHE GETS OFF THE BOX. ENTER BETTY. SHE MOUNTS THE NOISY BOX, LIES ON HER BACK AND HAS A GRAND MAL SEIZURE.
Scene 5 THIS SCENE IS REPEATED SEVERAL TIMES. ON EACH OCCASION IT TAKES PLACE IN ROGER’S OFFICE. HOWEVER, THE SET IS BUILT TO ACCOMMODATE 4 IDENTICAL OFFICES, ARRANGED SIDE BY SIDE, EACH WITH ITS OWN DOOR. THE SCENE WILL TAKE PLACE IN A DIFFERENT OFFICE EACH TIME IT IS REPEATED. WHEN AN OFFICE IS BEING USED, ITS DOOR IS LEFT OPEN SO THAT THE AUDIENCE CAN SEE ROGER AND ANGELA WITHIN. THE INTENTION IS TO SUGGEST THAT EACH OFFICE IS LOCATED IN A WORLD PARALLEL TO THE OTHERS. ROGER IS AT HIS DESK AT MI5, WHERE SPYING IS DONE. SEATED BEFORE HIM IS BETTY. ROGER We’re getting news of certain effects, Betty. It’s hard to know what sort of a box to put them in. Guinness thinks it’s a social sort of thing, sort of social breakdown. Stella tends to some kind of fracture in the fabric of reality. Whatever the bloody hell that means. BETTY Reality is a language, Roger. ROGER Really? I wish I bloody spoke it, then. BETTY I’ve always considered you fluent. ROGER How are the headaches? BETTY Do you want to play doctors, Roger? ROGER No, Wendy. I wanted to talk about your sister. BETTY Wendy. ROGER Yes. BETTY I’m told we’re very alike. ROGER I wouldn’t know. What interests me is that you’re physically identical. I’m going to need you to persuade her to work with us. BETTY Shall I get her in? ROGER If you would. BETTY EXITS. BETTY COMES RIGHT BACK IN AGAIN, THROUGH ANOTHER DOOR. ROGER Wendy! How are you? BETTY Very well, Roger. Nice place. ROGER Keeps the rain off. Music: O.S.I.R.I.S. – Oneness with the Universe @ 1min 37 secs. (THE CHILL PASSAGE) WENDY ENTERS. ROGER AND BETTY ENTER AND WATCH WENDY WITH INTEREST AS SHE DANCES TO THE CHILL PASSAGE AND ON INTO THE POUNDING @ 2min 11 secs UNTIL THE BREAK @ 2 mins 52 secs WHEN THE MUSIC IS ABRUPTLY CUT. ROGER AND BETTY EXIT.
Scene 6 WENDY My brief was to go upriver, to the islands. I would be disguised as Betty and I would attempt to seduce Roger’s brother Roy, who had gone rogue. Apparently his penchant for sexual intercourse had led him into practices that verged almost on amateur surgery. Not unreasonably the islanders wanted something done. Roy, however, was a fractured, complex character with an intermittent grasp of reality. Roger, with whom I had briefly had intercourse some years ago, thought that Roy, who had been enamoured of my twin sister Betty more recently, could be made vulnerable were I to appear to hold out to him the possibility of getting his leg over. Unlike Betty, I have martial arts and, given the physical resemblance that some find uncanny, although it is, let’s be frank, only the standard monozygotic anomaly, could look after myself if Roy, once drawn, started to ‘have a laugh’, as he chillingly puts it.
Scene 7 IN THIS SCENE WE HEAR THE DIALOGUE THAT WAS RENDERED INAUDIBLE IN Scene 3. BETTY ENTERS FAR STAGE LEFT. ROGER AND WENDY ENTER FAR STAGE RIGHT. WENDY SCREAMS IN DELIGHT AND HUGS BETTY. IT IS AS IF BETTY IS RETURNING AFTER A LONG TIME AWAY. ROGER TOO IS DELIGHTED AND HUGS BETTY. THEY EACH TAKE ONE OF BETTY’S HANDS AND EXCITEDLY WALK UP AND DOWN WITH HER. THEY TALK NINETEEN TO THE DOZEN. THEY ARE VITAL AND ENCHANTING. THEY TOUCH EACH OTHER AFFECTIONATELY FROM TIME TO TIME. BETTY Now it’s all behind me! The places! WENDY We thought… ROGER The good things first! BETTY The hill villages, the plage, the general feeling of groups of people very much in love struggling through on board ship. WENDY We thought… BETTY What did you think, darling? ROGER I think we thought you’d gone… WENDY CHOKES BACK A TEAR. BETTY Oh, Wendy! WENDY Now we can really start. ROGER Now that everything is over. WENDY Tell us about the islands. BETTY Some days soot and mud. Other days flowers. ROGER Did it drive you mad? BETTY I liked the variety. The problem was being followed all the time. Or feeling that. WENDY Were you? Followed? BETTY (LAUGHING) You’d see the boats out there. The people were hard to make out. Sometimes one of them would be washed ashore though. Then you’d see them. Bloated. Grinning through dead lips. Their spines torn out. ROGER But you got away. You made it all the way back to Combray. BETTY I’d love a sweet biscuit now. THE CAST EXITS.
Scene 8 Music: Roy Orbison: A Love So Beautiful. UNTIL FURTHER NOTICE IN THE SCRIPT, A SHORT LOOP TAKEN FROM THE FIRST FEW SECONDS OF THE TRACK – THE ‘DRONING DRUM BEAT’ PART – WILL BE PLAYED ACROSS THE WHOLE OF THE FOLLOWING SCENE BUT NOT OVER LOUDLY. THE SET, WITH ITS SEVERAL DOORS, IS NOW USED INTENSIVELY.
(Note: A farce is a comedy written for the stage or film which aims to entertain the audience by means of unlikely, extravagant and improbable situations, disguise and mistaken identity, verbal humour of varying degrees of sophistication, which may include sexual innuendo and word play, and a fast-paced plot whose speed usually increases, culminating in an ending which often involves an elaborate chase scene. Farce is also characterized by physical humour, the use of deliberate absurdity or nonsense, and broadly stylized performances.
As opposed to romantic comedies, farces usually do not utilise a traditional plot involving frustrated young lovers who eventually surmount all obstacles. Rather, they frequently focus on a transgression or on a character’s urge to hide something from the other characters, and the unforeseen chain reaction that results. In staged farce there is usually only one setting throughout the play, often one with numerous doors, such as a drawing room, hotel or hospital room or an office.)
THE ENSUING STAGE DIRECTIONS DESCRIBE A SERIES OF ACTIONS BUT DO NOT SPECIFY THE LOCATION OF THE ACTIONS – IN PARTICULAR THE DOORS THAT WILL BE USED FOR ENTRANCES AND EXITS. SUCH PARTICULARS WILL BE DETERMINED IN REHEARSAL. CERTAIN PRINCIPLES OF IDENTITY WILL PERTAIN: 1. ROGER AND ROY ARE FREQUENTLY MISTAKEN FOR EACH OTHER. 2. BETTY AND WENDY ARE FREQUENTLY MISTAKEN FOR EACH OTHER. IT MAY BE THAT ROGER AND ROY ARE DIFFERENTIATED IN SOME MODEST WAY, SUCH AS BY THE USE OF A HAT. IT MAY ALSO BE, HOWEVER, THAT THIS LEAVENS THE CONFUSION OF THE AUDIENCE TO A DEGREE THAT IS NOT CONDUCIVE TO CONSTRUCTIVE PERPLEXITY.
ENTER ROGER ROGER Where is Roy? ENTER WENDY WENDY (SEEING ROGER) Roy! ROGER (SEEING WENDY) Betty! WENDY I still bathe in the milk of your admiration. ROGER Where is Wendy? ROGER EXITS ENTER BETTY BETTY Sis! WENDY Don’t let Roy see you! A KNOCK AT A DOOR WENDY EXITS ENTER ROGER ROGER Wendy! BETTY We had intercourse, Roger. ROGER Good. Please be careful of Roy. BETTY Has he gone ‘upriver’? ROGER Considerably. BETTY EXITS ROGER So much horror. BETTY ENTERS ROGER Betty! BETTY SCREAMS ROGER AND BETTY EXIT, BY DIFFERENT DOORS ENTER WENDY WENDY Roy? Roy? It’s Betty! ENTER BETTY BETTY (SEEING WENDY) Wendy! WENDY Let me handle this, Betty! BETTY I’m afraid I shall mistake Roy for Roger and go all the way with him! WENDY Betty! Rise above it ! Try to keep your pants on for once! BETTY I melt even when I say his name! WENDY Go! I am Betty now! EXIT BETTY ENTER ROGER ROGER Wendy! WENDY I am Betty! ROGER God! it’s impossible to tell! WENDY There are discernible differences of temperament. ROGER I really love you then. The way a smile plays ironically yet vulnerably around your lips is very Betty. WENDY That’s right. ROGER And your sister – is she well? A LOUD BANGING ON A DOOR WENDY It’s Roy! ROGER I’ll talk to him. ROGER EXITS ENTER BETTY BETTY Wend! WENDY Sis! BETTY I’ve just been with Roger! WENDY WHAT!? But… BETTY He was so direct! WENDY Are you sure? I mean, how did you know? BETTY Well, the things you told me after you had had intercourse with him. WENDY That was years ago! BETTY Well, you can’t teach an old dog! WENDY Bet, but what if… BETTY Roy…? WENDY Then..? BETTY He squeezed my cheek. WENDY In a nice way? BETTY How do you tell? A DOOR BURSTS OPEN REVEALING ROGER, HIS TROUSERS ROUND HIS ANKLES.
BETTY Roy! WENDY Your belt! ROGER We can’t be judged. It’s judgment that destroys us. I’ve seen so much, Betty. BETTY & WENDY (TOGETHER) Wendy. ROGER I’ve seen men, moral men, men with great purity, full of love, men with families. Walking across towns, along the high streets, past the shops with their insulting wares, striding to the gates of the town, more men joining them, some of them shaved, some with the growth of days, some with full, flowing beards. WENDY It’s you, Roy. BETTY We need new standards of beauty, Roy. Let us stand under different flags. ROGER When you speak it’s as if I had glimpsed the shadow world. Just beyond my reach but full of all the choices we could have made, all the people we could have been. BETTY They are streaming through now, Roy. They see Illyria. ROGER What’s that? BETTY What you will, Roy. WENDY Betty? BETTY I’ve been there. Upriver. I stepped through. It was like a slash in the silk. As I pushed through it brushed against my cheek. You were there, Wendy. I thought you were me. But then I saw me. ROGER There were two? BETTY Three. I was there too, don’t forget. WENDY Pull up your trousers, Roy. ROGER PULLS UP HIS TROUSERS BETTY In Illyria, Roy, is the man who didn’t pull up his trousers. WENDY In Illyria are the sisters of all our thoughts. BETTY Roger would love this. ROGER But I am Roger. BETTY & WENDY (TOGETHER) What!? ROGER My brother and I share ideals of purity, certainly, but where he is rogue I am of the people. BETTY & WENDY (TOGETHER, AGHAST) Roy! THEY ALL DASH OUT. AN EVEN LOUDER BANGING ON SEVERAL DOORS. THE Music TRACK NOW STOPS LOOPING AND MOVES INTO THE REST OF THE ROY ORBISON SONG (c 3 mins 20 secs REMAINING). AN EPISODE OF WORDLESS FARCE ENSUES (TO BE DETERMINED IN REHEARSAL): THE CHARACTERS HURTLE THROUGH DOORS, PAUSE TO POSE THEN HURTLE OUT. THEY ARE ALWAYS ENTERING A SPACE IN WHICH THEY ARE EXPOSED AND COMPROMISED. THEIR CLOTHING, AFTER THE MANNER OF 20thC BRITISH FARCE, WILL, WITH EACH SUCCESSIVE ENTRANCE, BE REDUCED. THE GENTLEMAN WILL LOSE HIS TIE, JACKET, SHIRT AND TROUSERS UNTIL HE IS CLAD ONLY IN HIS UNDERPANTS AND SHOES. THE LADIES WILL LOSE THEIR BLOUSES, DRESSES, SKIRTS AND SLIPS UNTIL THEY ARE CLAD ONLY IN BRAS, PANTS, SUSPENDERS AND STOCKINGS AND HEELS. ALL THIS WILL BE A SOURCE OF SHOCK AND EMBARRASSMENT TO THEM. SCREAMS WILL REGULARLY REND THE AIR. REACTIONS GENERALLY WILL BE TYPICAL OF THE ‘CARRY ON MISSIS’ SCHOOL OF ACTING.
THE EPISODE BUILDS UNTIL THE PANTED AND PANTING ROY FINDS HIMSELF ALONE ON STAGE. HE RUNS IN AND OUT OF THE DOORS DESPERATELY THEN FORLORNLY, FINALLY EMERGING WITH HIS CLOTHES CLASPED TO HIS GROIN AS HE WALKS THE WIDTH OF THE STAGE AND EXITS. THE MUSIC STOPS.
Scene 9 BACK AT MI5. IN THIS SCENE ROGER’S OFFICE DOOR IS CLOSED. THE AUDIENCE CANNOT, THEREFORE, SEE THE CHARACTERS. THE VOICES OF THE LATTER, HOWEVER, CAN BE HEARD FROM BACKSTAGE. WENDY How did Roy go? ROGER He was noisy. Kicked a lot. BETTY And Illyria? ROGER Closed it down. And not without a struggle, I might add. WENDY What did it entail? ROGER It was a question of directness. Not deciding to do something without actually doing it, thereby avoiding the creation of a universe in which that thought – the one you didn’t act on – was acted on. BETTY Please don’t, Roger. I find it all faintly psychotic. WENDY Betty – what if..? BETTY Roger! Your brother wanted to kill you, didn’t he? ROGER I’m afraid he did. WENDY He wanted a world in which you had never existed! THE WOMEN LOOK AT EACH OTHER IN HORROR AS IT SLOWLY DAWNS ON THEM THAT THEY ARE IN ROY’S WORLD NOW. THEY SCREAM. BETTY & WENDY Roy! IN A FRANKLY REMARKABLE PIECE OF STAGE SPECIAL EFFECTS THE TWO WOMEN BURST EXPLOSIVELY RIGHT THROUGH THE PANEL WALLS OF THE SET, FROM BACKSTAGE TO DOWNSTAGE. AS SOON AS THEIR FEET TOUCH THE GROUND, Music CRASHES IN: Beds Are Burning – Novaspace (from 50″) (SAMPLE LYRICS: How can we dance when our earth is turning? / How do we sleep when our beds are burning? ) (HEFTY POUNDING WITH A DASH OF BARN DANCE). MOMENTS LATER ROY BLASTS THROUGH THE CENTRE PANEL OF THE SET, LANDING BETWEEN BETTY AND WENDY, WHO ARE ALREADY DANCING, WITH GLASSY SMILES. ROY QUICKLY REALISES THAT HE HAS LANDED IN A DANCE NUMBER AND STARTS TO EXECUTE THE QUITE DEMANDING ‘DICK VAN DYKE COCKNEY CAPER’ MOVES. THIS ALL FADES, IN EVERY WAY. End
These are the credits for the whole series. Actors: Gareth Brierley, Chris Newland, Bernadette Russell, Jude Barrington Writer and Director: David Gale Set & Costume Designers: In the Bosom of Roy: Flo Tasker, Ryan Walsh, Issy Haythorne, Izzy Aidallbery, Emma Leigh-Tipping The Flutters: Pallavi Dave, Choi Jackson, Hans Jhun, Yi-Hwa Kim, Sofia Sanchez-Langton The Fastness: Miriam James, Theodora Makariou, Samantha Nicholls, Andreas Papaleondiou, Lauren Penfold Gulch: Helen Richardson, Alberta Jones, Karolina Roziecka, Hyemi Shin, Sawako Yoshioka Sleet: Lucie Nebas, Lee Zand, Kat Harvey, Anna Sparshatt Gush: Tom Blakey, Becky Perryman, Lydia Hicks, Jutta Bornemann, Petra Hjortsberg The Omnibus: Flo Tasker, Andreas Papaleondiou, Theodora Makariou, Sawako Yoshika, Helen Dale
Light Design & Light and Sound Operation: Dan Hutchinson, Dan Jackson and Emily Breeds Lighting and Operating Assistants: Jack Wilkins, Sue Rhee, Arjeta Sedju, Emily Freeman, Sam Wright, Seth Rook-Williams, Hayley Bunce, Yana Demo, Silva Rhinas Production Manager/Stage Manager: Bernd Fauler, Tom Cotterill, Matt Spencer Metal work: Steve Wood Carpentry: Julian Romanczuk Producer: Stephanie Allen
For Wimbledon College of Art: Pathway Leader Design for Performance: Michael Pavelka Pathway Leader Theatre Lighting Design & Practice: Dave Horn Thanks to: Mark at www.CaterFor.co.uk, Hans Soloo, Fred Defaye and all at BAC and Wimbledon for their support. The series is entirely designed by students from the Theatre School at Wimbledon College of Art. Dash Dash Dash is commissioned by BAC and supported by the National Lottery through Arts Council England and Wimbledon College of Art
The Dash Dash Dash series of short plays was prefigured by the making, over the years, of a number of playlets inhouse at Wimbledon College of Arts. These, I felt, were largely successful and it occurred to me that the whole production process, featuring new material, could be exported to a commercial venue.
I decided to write a series of six short plays designed for public consumption and secured a commission from Battersea Arts Centre wherein the plays would be presented in a studio theatre once a month over a period of six months between November 2009 and May 2010. In the seventh month the plays would be combined into a feature-length omnibus edition. Once again, all the plays were designed by Design for Performance students at the Theatre School in Wimbledon College of Arts, under the supervision of programme leader Michael Pavelka.
‘Dash Dash Dash’ as a title, despite the fact that each play was written in three days and rehearsed in two and a half, was not intended solely to signify performance work made in a hurry. It also refers to life lived in a hurry, or the hurry that life imposes or the busy-ness that characterises a world replete with labour saving devices or the sense of running from something unsatisfying to something that surely must be more satisfying. In Morse code ‘ – – -‘ stands for the letter ‘O’ and is perhaps most well known for its inclusion in the emergency signal ‘. . . – – – . . .’ : SOS.
The programme for the Dash Omnibus show contained the following statement:
The plays are not narratively linked. They are not episodes in a serial. While the plays may be satisfactorily viewed as singles they will also combine in a manner that will reveal hitherto unforeseen affinities. Each play is written after its predecessor has been performed. Each play is written in a few days. Rehearsals are brief.
The claim above that the plays ‘will also combine in a manner that will reveal hitherto unforeseen affinities’, describes my intention to run the six stand-alone playlets together in one connected feature-length Omnibus performance, combining to produce a seamless (if not necessarily coherent) single play.
As I’ve suggested in the previous link and also here, it seems odd to attempt to portray fragmentation, disarray and disorder using an ordered grammar or coherent structures. Conventional strategies of representation can, of course, depict disorder very well. The depiction, however, will be resistible to some extent due to the ‘healing power’ of coherence, even when incoherence is the focus of attention. It is arguable that when matters of social and personal incoherence are expressed by means of broken or fragmented devices then the outcomes will be less resistible.
Over the years the experience of writing and directing 16 short plays at Wimbledon enabled me to take risks that I might not have undertaken in a fully public context. I discovered that I could write at great speed and that sometimes the material thus produced was usable. The brevity of the playlets compelled a considerable compression of certain forms of development, in particular the unfolding of character. I will not pretend that this was a handicap – my interest in writing the fully rounded character has always been minimal. The ‘Show Not Tell’ approach was also of limited use. In 1976 I wrote a play called ‘Dogs’ in which characters, entering for the first time, would promptly describe themselves and their objectives. It clears the way for action. I never looked back. The characters were not ciphers so much as embodiments of extreme psychological states, untrammelled by circumstantial detail.
This etiolated aesthetic prevails throughout Dash Dash Dash, as shown in the sixth Dash playlet, ‘Gush’:
GINA I was talking with Roy. Or someone very like him. DEAN What’s he up to? GINA He said he had been experiencing the need to murder. DEAN Did he mention anyone that he had in mind? GINA No. He said that it was rarely personal. DEAN Ah. GINA He said that his anger was of a generalised nature and, in consequence, he felt no need to particularise. DEAN Except, of course, at the last minute. GINA At that point, I grant you, it does become rather personal. DEAN Is Roy still even-handed? GINA He says that it is of no consequence whether he murders a woman or a man. DEAN Which is refreshing. GINA It is. So often we hear of men concentrating on women. DEAN He is a misanthropist – no more, no less. GINA Less fucked up. DEAN Oh yes.
In addition to the use of deafening music, described here, the Dash series also featured the first uses of the crashbox. The crashbox consists of a tea-chest containing a quantity of broken plates. Two rope handles are fixed to the upper edges of the box so that it can be readily lifted. A stand microphone is arranged so that it projects down into the body of the box. When the box is raised eighteen inches then thrown to the floor, a loud and shocking bang will be heard through the sound system. The bangs were generally used as a means of cutting sharply and irresistibly across the onstage action in order to derail, destabilise but also enhance moments in which it was deemed appropriate to signal the imminence of chaos. Sometimes the bangs would simply interrupt without warning, at others they would punctuate dance sequences or passages of threat and physical struggle. We wanted to use theatrical maroons – electrically activated pyrotechnic devices – but it was feared that the windows in the performance space at Battersea Arts Centre would not withstand the blast.
Continuing an engagement with effects that could be said to be physiologically irresistible, many of the Dash plays featured simulated bloodshed. The impact of the bleeding walls in the inhouse WCA play ‘Red Devils’, described here, had been considerable and had, the designers and I felt, overcome the audience’s scepticism about theatre’s limitations with regard to the depiction of death and injury. Like swearing, it depends how you do it. In this post from 2010, the extent of Dash’s blood use is made clear.
In many of the playlets character names are changed in mid scene. Similarly, characters will be played by one actor in one scene then migrate to another actor in the next scene. Alongside plot lines that do not resolve or are impenetrable (‘In the Bosom of Roy’ is the main offender here) and the intermittent appearance of identical twins who do not resemble each other, there are also obtrusive geographical and temporal impossibilities. Little, then, can be relied upon. The characters, however, soldier on. Unless they are murdered.
Postscript: I wrote the playlet ‘In the Bosom of Roy’ in 2008 as an inhouse production at WCA, then used that title again in the ‘Dash Dash Dash’ series in 2010, taking some of the themes from the original but introducing a new ‘storyline’. Post postscript: find links to all the ‘Dash Dash Dash’ plays below.