Snoopers

(For Anne, Jordayne and Julie - carers despite the odds).

“Sweet moderation, heart of this nation, desert us not, we are between the wars.” – Billy Bragg

 

     Three Male.

     Two Female.

     Tom Harrisson (twenty six) / Tristram (forty three)

     Greville Charlecote  (late twenties

     Nikki  / Ada Rowley (early twenties)

     Sean / Roger Church (early twenties)

     Claire (early twenties)  / Boltonian / Friend

 

     Locations – 2018 in Bolton.  The 1937 sections – Bolton, Blackpool, London.

     The props are brought on and off the stage by the cast .  The lighting switches to a hint of sepia in the 1937 sections.

 

     When the play opens Claire is sitting on stage with her arms folded around her knees which are hunched up under her chin – her head is down.  Next to her sits Roger – upright with his hands in front of him – he looks straight into the audience.  Neither appears aware, at this stage, of the other’s presence.  Claire raises her head - bites her lip and closes her eyes.  Roger shrugs his shoulders and smiles slightly.  Slowly they both sense each other’s presence.  He reaches out to take her hand – she lets him take it.  He nods to her - smiles.  Total black-out and the sound of an explosion.

     When the lights come up we see a projection of a moving image of a factory in the 1930s emptying at the end of the day. The screen is filled with people. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JrQxvUcg4q4). 

     Sean enters the auditorium.  He walks on his own through the audience, ear-pieces in – he’s finished his shift at the call centre. He suddenly lifts his head, takes out the ear-pieces and looks at the audience.  A puzzled expression appears on his face.

     Lights down and up.

 

SCENE 1: Nikki’s front room.  Bolton 2015.

     Sean is standing.  He has his coat off.  Nikki and Claire are sitting.  Nikki has a cardboard box on her knees.  Long hold.

Sean:  Well go on!  Open it!

             What’s wrong?  Want a fanfare?

Claire:   Da dad a da!

Sean:  Hang on!

  He sits and tries to strain out a fart.

            No, sorry!  I can’t manage one.

  The girls look at one another and shake their heads.

Nikki:  It meant something to her – it must have done.

Claire:   Why didn’t she give it your mam?

Nikki:  Mam calls everything clutter.  Gran’d have been frightened she’d just chuck it.

Claire:   But it’ll be what they call a ... you know ... a ... a thingy.

Sean:   Yeh Claire, they get those all the time on the Antiques Road Show – “thingies”. 

Nikki:  Heirloom?

  Giving Sean a look. 

             That’s what you mean, isn’t it, Claire?

Claire:   Yeh - heirloom.

Sean:  Only is it?

            Could be full of old tissues and sweet papers. 

Nikki:  No, there’s something’s rattling.

Sean:  Wurther’s Originals.

            Uncle Joe's Mintballs. 

           Her husband’s balls. 

           She kept them as souvenirs. 

           Unless ... unless ... yeh, course, it'll be a treasure map.  X marks the spot and all that shite.

            Don’t get your hopes up.

           Well  - open the bastard!

Nikki:  All right all right!

  She unties the string and prises the top off.

Sean:  Well?

Claire:   Let’s have a look.

Nikki:  Mm.

Sean:  Life’s just full of disappointments isn’t it?

Nikki:  Well hang on.

  Nikki reaches in and retrieves something.

            Two photographs.

Claire:   Let’s have a see. 

            A feller and a woman. 

            What’re they doing?  Oh yeh, it’s like a ...  Like one of them ...

Sean:  Yeh?

Nikki:  They’re sticking their heads through one of those pictures painted on wood.

Claire:  It’s them things they had at the seaside!  In the old days.

            Isn’t it?

  Sean takes a look.

Sean:  Yeh, it was a different kind of funny back then.  Two fat bodies with a hole for your heads.  Fucking hilarious.

Nikki:  People’ll laugh at different things when we’re dead.

Sean:  Being dead isn’t on my to do list.

Nikki:  Not over your dead body eh?

Sean:  Now these bastards would have laughed at that.

Nikki:  Piss off!

  The girls look at the other photograph.

Claire:   He’s nice – for them days I mean.

  Nikki reaches in again.

Nikki:  A book.

           Poems.

Claire:   Love poems?

Nikki:  They might be.

Claire (reading)Who’s Charles Madge?

Nikki:  There’s a book-mark.

Nikki opens the book and reads.

             “Sir, the night is darker now

              And the wind blows stronger

             Falls my heart I know not how

              I can go no longer.”

Sean:  Da de da de da de da da de da de dada!

  Something falls out of the book.

Claire: What’s that? 

               Ah, it’s just a bit of straw!

  Nikki picks it up.

Nikki:  It’s a flower – it’s been a flower.  They used to press them in books.

Claire:   Oh yeh!  It would’ve bin like a memory of a special day.

Sean:  The day she got shagged.

Claire:   They didn’t shag in them days!

Sean:  They didn’t ...?  Well how the fuck are we here then if ...?

Claire:   No!  Well they would afterwards probs – course they would - but after they was married.  They wouldn’t call it that though – they didn’t use words like that then.

Sean:  Is that right?

Claire:  They did it different ... they went walking in the countryside ... with chaperones.

Sean:  You’ve been watching your mam’s DVDs again, haven’t you?

Nikki:  There’s a bit here cut from a newspaper - folded up.

Claire:   What’s on it?

  Nikki unfolds it.

               Careful!

Nikki:  It’s a list of names.

  Nikki dips into the box again.

            A postcard.

Claire:   What’s that in the bottom?  An envelope?

Nikki:  It’s fastened.  It’s been sealed up.

Claire:  What’s the red stuff?

Sean:  That's sealing wax.  Now this is promising!

  Pause.

            Well?  Open it.

Nikki:  No!

Sean:  No?

Nikki:  Not yet.

Claire:   It’s her gran Sean.  She can open it when she’s on her own if she wants. 

             You have to tell what it is though, Nik.

Sean:  It’ll be her will.  Her gran’ll have been running a cannabis farm from her room in the home.  They’re hot enough.

Nikki:  The box isn’t my gran’s.

             It’s her mam’s.

Sean:  Passed down the line.

            But skipping your mam.

Nikki:  Mam’s practical.  Dad knocked all the sentimental feeling out of her.

Sean:  Along with seven shades of shite.

Nikki:  Well that’s over now.  But it’s left her ...

Sean:  Un-sentimental.  She doesn’t like me that’s for sure.

Nikki:  Nobody likes their daughter’s boyfriend.

Sean:  I’ll bet Kate Middleton’s mam did.

Nikki:  Yeh – well you’re not royalty.

Sean:  I could show you me crown jewels!

Claire:   Urgh!

Nikki:  I've seen them.  Nobody's going to be running off with them.

Sean:  So that’s it?  It wouldn’t have been worth a farted fanfare anyway.

Claire:   So ... it’s your nan’s mam’s.

Nikki:  My great grandmother’s.

Claire:   But your nan wants you to have it?  What’s she say?

Nikki:   She says she could be taken sudden.

Claire:   Is she ill like?

Nikki:   Not as I can tell.  She just said “in case”.

Claire:   You don’t put stuff in a box that isn’t important.

Sean:  That’s true – I’ve got my first cricket match next week.

Claire:   What’s he on abou ...?

Nikki:  No idea.

Claire:   No, what I mean is them pictures – they’ve got like sentimental value – that’s her ... let’s have another look – yeh - see it’s the same man - his head through the hole there and here in this one that’s got ripped – him leaning on the gate.  That’s her ... it’s her young man – and he was the one what gave her that book of poems – and like he maybes asked her to marry him and - and she picked that – no no he pulled that flower off and he gives it to her and he says “Can I have your hand in marriage?”

Sean:  And she says give me a fiver and you can have my fanny an all.

Claire:   Don’t be disgusting.  They didn’t ...

Sean:  Have fannies in them days, I know.

Nikki:  Sean!

Claire:   They didn’t say dirty things then.

Sean:  You’ll know that of course – having a doctorate in Hair Extensions!

Claire:  Nicky!

Nikki:  That’s enough Sean!

Sean:  Well!  Chaperones!

Claire:   I’ve ... Are you going to open the letter?

Nikki:  Like you said, Claire, it’s like it’s private.  Her giving it to me personally.  On her mam’s behalf.

Claire:   Does she know what’s in it?

Nikki:   Not unless she’s the one who sealed it up.

Claire:   Did she say she had?

Nikki:   She didn’t say anything.

Claire:   I can’t wait to find out.

Sean:  It’ll be nothing.

Claire:   Ey!

Nikki:  What?

Claire:   The postcard.

  They examine it.

Claire:  Where’s that?

Nikki:  I don’t know.

Sean:  It’ll say on the back, won’t it?

Nikki:  “Warrington”.

Sean:  It’s a Rugby League town.  The Wires!

Nikki:  “Bridge over the Mersey”.

Sean:  Exotic!

Claire:   It’ll be from her young man.  What’s he written?  What’s his name?

Nikki:  P ...  Peter?  No it’s an R.  Roger?

Claire:   What’s he written?

Nikki:  It’s pretty faded.  “Forgive me”?  Have a look.

Claire:   It looks like “Forgive me.”

They had a fight.  He wants to make ...

Nikki:  “Without” ... what’s that?

 “Mass” ... “mass observation”?

Claire:   “Mass observation – we would never have met.  Will ... “

Nikki:  “Write again.  If you have no ... objections to ...”

            's smudged.  Can't read it.

“Roger”.  It is “Roger”.

Claire:   Aw!

Sean:  Aw!

Claire:   Shut up you!

Sean:  It’ll be some Catholic thing.

Claire:   What?

 Sean:  Mass observation – it’s what Catholics do.  They bonk and then go into a box to tell the priest.

Claire:   Why would they do that?

Nikki:  That’s confession!

Sean:  Cos priests are pervs.  “Tell me it all my child.  Let’s have the details!” 

Nikki:  That’s confession.  Mass is like prayers.

Sean: “Say ten Hail Marys, my child!”

  He crosses himself.

            “Oh and don’t forget to video it for me for next week?”

Claire:   Isn’t he horrible?

Nikki:  Disgusting.

Sean:  You like disgusting.

Nikki:  Do I?

Sean:  Of course you do.  You wouldn’t have me any other way.

Nikki:  Mm!

Claire:   They met in church you think?

Nikki:  Yes – probablys they did.  This mass thing.

Sean:  Aw!

Claire:   I didn’t say anything.

Sean:  I read the bubble over your head.

Claire:   You’re going to open the letter – later I mean - aren’t you?

Nikki:  Yeh, later, when I’m on my own.

Sean:  That’s nice!

Claire:   Well it’s ... personal isn’t it? ... her gran.

Nikki:  Great gran.

Claire:   Kind of making a ... connection.

Sean:  Here - let me touch the box.

Nikki:  What?

Sean:  Give it here.

  He places his hand on it.

Claire:  What's he want?

Sean:  Is there anybody there?  Is that you great gran?

Claire:   Sean!

Sean:  What’s that great gran?  Rightio great gran.

Nikki:   So - what did she say?

Sean:  She said “Will you tell those two to shut their fucking gobs and crack open the Lambrusco – there’s no point hitting the street fuckin’ sober is there?” 

Hey, don’t look at me like that.  It’s your gran!

Claire:   Great gran!

Sean:  It's not my fault she’s got a potty mouth.

  Lights down.

 

     SCENE 2:  Nikki in her bedroom. 

     The lights close it on Nikki to exclude Claire and Sean and allow them to exit. 

     Nikki is sitting on her own.  She has the package with the sealing wax on it in her hands.  She looks at it, breaks the wax and carefully unties the string.  It’s a notebook but the pages have come loose and they spill onto the floor.  She gathers them up and flicks through.  Holds one close and reads it aloud.

Nikki:  “We are being watched.  The town is full of strangers.  The minutiae of our lives are being examined.  Every nook and cranny of our daily ordinariness appears to be under investigation.  

             I turned the corner this morning and bumped up right against one of them.  The note-pad he was holding dropped onto the cobbles.  Instinctively I bent to retrieve it.  It afforded me the chance to glance at what he’d written.

             A woman in her twenties but looking much older is pegging out her family’s washing on a line that stretches all the way across the back street.

             He snatched it out of my hands.  Gave me such a look.  Turned around and sidled off.

              What do they want?  Who are they?

              Across the alley Dora shouts: Do you think it’ll hold off?  I look up to the sky and it’s none too promising.

             That chap! I say.  Dora’s bending down to her wash basket.  She’s got a peg in her mouth.  You could think she was doing an imitation of Groucho Marx.

              Oh I know! she says out the corner of her mouth.  They’re everywhere aren’t they?  They seem harmless.  But what do you reckon it is they’re after, Ada?

               Indeed!”

 

     SCENE 3: UCP Tripe Shop in Bolton.  1937.

     Background conversations.  Roger is sitting at a table with a bowl in front of him when Tom Harrisson enters.  Harrisson looks around – walks over and taps Roger on the shoulder

Roger:  Oh - Mister Harrisson?  Sorry, I ...

Harrisson:   Good Lord boy – don’t stand up you’ll blow my cover.

Roger:  Sorry.

Harrisson:   And you are ...?

Roger:  Roger.  Roger Church.

Harrisson:   Ah, the actor?

Roger:  Hardly!  Merely amateur theatricals.

Harrisson:   I notice you’re sampling the local fayre.

Roger:  Yes.  Well.  I wasn’t too keen on the look of the tripe.  But I’m not sure I made the right decision here either. 

  Prodding it with a fork.

              It’s clearly the foot of some quadruped.

Harrisson:   You couldn’t have made a more appropriate choice.  Their association football team is called ...

Roger:  Mm?

Harrisson:   Or rather their nickname is ...

  He points to the dish.

             The Trotters. 

            You’ve got pigs’ feet.

Roger:  They’re very ... glutinous.

Harrisson:   That’ll be the cartilage.

Roger:  Mm.

Harrisson:   You know, in order to feel at ease with a meat dish, one is required at times to subdue the conscience.  To do otherwise can lead one into the extremes of vegetarianism.  You wouldn’t want to turn out like Bernard Shaw or - or our Teutonic friend Adolf now, would you?

                     You’re making the mistake of imagining those …

  He makes a running sign with his fingers.

                      ... transporting a fat little porker around a sty.

  Roger pushes the meal to one side.

                       I was expecting someone else.

  He looks around.  He waves to a couple of people.

                      No!  These are all locals.

                      A good effort by the way!

  Indicating Roger’s clothes.

Roger:  Oh – well – just getting into the part you know.

Harrisson:   Good.  Good.  We ought to have conscripted more actors.  The unmodified Oxbridge tones are sitting a little uneasily alongside the “Ow dos” and the “Ne thens”!

Roger:  I think you’re over-emphasising my theatrical skills. 

Harrisson:  What are you reading?

Roger: Classics.

Harrisson:  Classics!   Of course! 

            Classics! 

            Have you done any Shakespeare? 

Roger:  Do you know A Winter’s Tale?

             “Exit pursued by bear”?

  Roger raises his arms in a “bearlike” fashion.  Harrisson laughs.  Faces turn to them.

              Also – I doubled up as the drunken porter and the stuttering messenger in the Scottish Play – they’re my main Shakespearian achievements to date. 

Harrisson:   Actually I have in mind a detailed investigation into drinking habits.

Roger:  The majority of my outings have been in the popular canon.  Charlie’s Aunt and its ilk.

Harrisson:   “Where the nuts come from!”

Roger:  Precisely.

Harrisson:   There’s plenty regard what we are doing here as farce.  The papers have been critical of the project.  Referring to us as “snoopers”.

Roger:  I like the sound of it.  It’s a bit like espionage, isn’t it?

Harrisson:  Is it?

Roger:  Well ... you know ...

              Mister Madge is a friend of my father’s.  He ... erm ...

Harrisson:   Ah – Charles!

Roger:  Yes – he mentioned your project – he said you were wanting volunteers – and as I’m ...

Harrisson:   Mm?

Roger:  On holiday.  I thought I’d pop along.

Harrisson:  I shall be expecting a little more commitment from my volunteers than a ... a pop.

Roger:  Yes yes of course.  I ...

Harrisson:   If all you’re after is a couple of weeks playing the prole then I suggest you wait for the next General Strike.  It’d give you a chance to do a spot of tram conducting eh?

Roger:  Absolutely ... not.  I ...

Harrisson:   How is Charles? 

Roger:  I thought ...  Well, isn’t Mister Madge working with you

Harrisson:   Alongside

                     His is a separate arm of the operation you might say.  I haven’t seen him for a while.  Charles you see isn’t used to ... well slumming it, if we’re frank – he’s a little ...

Roger:  My father said he was quite a gentle soul.  I’ve a signed copy of his poems.

Harrisson:   Yes well - Charles has managed to perfect that aloof sensitivity one associates with poets. 

                      Oh Charles undoubtedly feels for the masses but ... would prefer to keep them at a distance.   It’s far easier to sentimentalise if one doesn’t actually rub shoulders with one’s subject.

                      Does that sound unfair?

                      It probably does.

                     Anyway, Charles, being the literary cove he is is organising the diaries.  All over the country he’s got his secret diarists Pepysing away recording their observations - their thoughts and feelings.  That’s Charles’ remit.  Feelings.  We’re here to ...

                     There’s no sign of this other chap.  He’s probably had second thoughts.  He was going to be lodging with you.

                      I don’t suppose you’ve read my book?

  Roger looks blank.

Roger:  Your book?  I didn't know ...

Harrisson:   Don’t worry.  It’s not a requirement.  But – it might make a diversion from Aeschelus or Aristotle or whichever dead Greek you’re presently studying.

“Savage Civilisation.” 

Roger:  Pardon?

Harrisson:  That’s the title. 

  He looks into Roger.  Roger looks away.

Roger:  Oh.  Well, I’ll see if ...  I’ll certainly place an order.

Harrisson:  Take a good look at these people, Church. 

                    Here!

  He hands Roger something.  Roger looks puzzled.

                    They’re ear-plugs.  They’ll shut out the noise.  Look at the people.

                    Put them in - and watch.

  Roger puts them in.  Sound shuts off on stage.  Harrisson lights a cigarette.  Roger looks around – spends time perusing the audience - looks back to Harrisson – back at the people.

                    Whose people are ...?

  He indicates for Roger to remove the ear plugs.

                     There!

Roger:  Yes?

Harrisson:   “What country, friend, is this?”

            There now - that's Shakespeare!

Roger:  Is it?  I’m not familiar with the line.

Harrisson:   What tribe is this?  Ask yourself.  Who are these people?

                     Three years ago I was in Malekula

Roger:  I’m afraid ...?

Harrisson:   The New Hebrides.

Roger:  I ...?

Harrisson:   It doesn’t matter.  I lived among the Nambas – they’re the indigents.  I hunted with them.  Slept with them.  Ate  ...  

  He points at the meal.

                     I’ve heard people say we taste like pork.  I’d say the flavour’s more like veal.

Roger:  Mm?

  Realising.

                    You haven’t ...?

Harrisson:   Was your father in the war?

Roger:  He’s a headmaster.  At ...  I say you haven’t really ...?

Harrisson:  Madge’s father – he was killed in the war.  Did you know?

Roger:  No.  No.  He ... he never said.  He’s father’s friend as I mentioned.  I don’t particularly ...

Harrisson (holding out his hand to indicate the people in the room):   These are the people Madge’s father would have led – not the actual people of course –  but it’s these folk – the ones we regularly call on to defend society.  In the meantime they hack out the coal, they spin the cotton, smelt the metals – plough the fields.  But what do we know of them?  Their ... habits.  Their ... passions.

Roger:  Their culture.

Harrisson:   Yes their culture.  That’s it exactly.  Good.  Mm.

            Yes!

            Their culture.

 Harrisson waves his hand.  Roger looks around.

            The clogs – the flat caps – the head-scarves – the, what do they call them – pinnies?  Their tribal dress.

Roger:  Our very own noble savages?

Harrisson:   We shall see.  We shall see.