SUMMERLAND

                                                                                                                           Kevan Ogden

 

“There is a conservation of matter and of energy.  There may be a conservation of life; or if not of life, of something which transcends life.”  Sir Oliver Lodge.

 

Characters - in order of appearance

            Alfred Vout Peters

            Doctor Charles Kennedy

            Oliver Lodge

            Gladys Osborne Leonard

            Kathleen Kennedy

 

Scene 1

It is 1918.  To the back left of the stage Kathleen Kennedy is sitting at a desk writing furiously.  In front left is an armchair in which Doctor Kennedy is dozing.  Front right another armchair.  Centre stage a table with a drop-leaf facing the audience and three chairs. 

Alfred Vout Peters walks onto the stage.  He stands in front of the table.  His hands are raised high above his head.  His eyes are closed.  He takes two long slow breaths and opens his eyes.

Peters:  Friends!  Friends!

            What a privilege it is to be here at such a time!

            Such a time, friends!

            When we are witnessing the crumbling of the wall!

            When we, at last, find ourselves able to ...

He reaches out to the audience

            ... to stretch out our arms and pierce that partition that mankind has till now believed impregnable.

His hands sweep the hall.  He speaks more quietly.

            This hall is filled, friends. 

He points to an individual in the audience

            I see you glancing around, sir!  You see a space!  Yet I say again!  This hall is filled!

            For they are standing beside us, friends!  Our loved ones are here.

He jabs a forefinger in various spots

            There!

            There!

            There!

            Yes! Yes!  I see you!  Almost as clearly as I see the living.

He throws his arms open

            But friends!  We are all living!

Contemptuously now:

            "The Dead"!

            Why do we persist in using this ugly outdated word?

            Cast that word aside!

            There is no Death, friends! 

            We do not die!  We merely step out of a door and walk into another room - another world.

            See!

He displays

            They nod!  The ones who have passed over!  They ...!  They ...!

He's growing dizzy.

            They ...

            The scales are ... falling from our ... eyes ... and ...

He's starting to wobble

            And ...

            I ...  I...

He begins to twitch and stagger.  He crumples to the floor at the foot of the table.  He gasps.

 

Scene 2

Lights up on Doctor Kennedy who is whimpering and grunting in his sleep.  With a sudden intake of breath he wakens. Angrily.

Doctor Kennedy:  A dream!

             Fragments of clever nonsense scripted by a playful brain. 

             My dead son walking!

             I am not fooled. 

             Though plenty are.

             Not me. No. 

He looks down at Peters who is slumped on the floor and sneers.

             No.

             No.

            Beside the church, pressed firmly down by six feet of heavy soil, the flesh that was Paul’s is slowly collapsing into a cage of bones.

            He is not sitting in some vague hereafter, dictating letters to his mother. 

Mrs Kennedy pauses in her writing – looks up – bites her lip – returns to her speedy scribbling.

            Or shuffling forward in a queue of patient thousands, awaiting the opportunity to whisper platitudes into the ears of charlatans.

Kennedy glances at Peters who spots him and looks up.

            He is not. 

            All around me the bereaved are ...!

A sigh of exasperation.

             A century and more has elapsed since the Enlightenment.  Yet I have come almost to believe I am the last rational man left on earth.  

             Between this ...

He raises a forefinger

             ... the point of my birth ...

             ... and some not too distant point ...

He raises another

            ... the blind forces of biology have gifted me the privilege to bear witness to this world.  So long as this heart of mine beats I shall absorb that world into my senses.  I will not allow myself to lie!

             No!  No! 

             I interrogate - therefore I am!

             And I am ... Doctor Charles Kennedy. 

             I am ...

He regards himself

             ... sitting in an armchair in my study ...

             ... on a warm afternoon on the 7th August 1918. 

             Yes!  Yes!

             My wife - with whom I merely pass the time - has ...

             ...  retired to her room.  Were I to approach her door I know I would catch a sound like scurrying rats.  The sound of a mother frantically taking down notes from her dead son.

             It is ...

             ... seven minutes after three.  I shall rise shortly and call on Oliver, as promised.  I will drink his whisky, smoke his cigars and watch the room darken as one of the most astute minds of our time takes me on a guided tour of Fairyland.

             Over on the continent civilisations clash.  Shells, primed and polished, spin in the air, transform into shrapnel and thence into black-edged telegrams. 

             Angels – they would have you believe – have been seen on battlefields.

             And here?

He snorts

             Here!

             Dead boys speak in drawing rooms. 

             We are living in an Age of Unreason.

There is a sudden babble of voices accompanied by rounds of machine gun fire.  A few lines become audible along the lines of: “Mother!  It’s me Matthew.” / “I sense your boy is in the room with us” / “I am on the other side now!” / “Is there anybody there?” / “Mother!  Mother!  Mother!”