‘The News’ is the title of a play I wrote in 2011 while living in London during the summer riots that year, and the ‘Occupy London’ protest in front of St Paul’s Cathedral. Here I share a short synopsis and the opening scenes.
Synopsis: The setting is contemporary London, 2011. Economic times are tough. As Occupy London protestors take over the forecourt of St Paul’s and the summer brings rioters into the streets, ordinary, thinking, middle-class people have to deal with a barrage of bad news that comes to them every day via their newspapers and televisions. Is it ethically enough to recycle, give to beggars and write letters to the editor? The idealism of their university student days, when they believed that they could change the world and that things would inevitably get better, is eroded as bad news proves them wrong every day. They cope with the help of willful blindness, a glass of wine and a carapace of dry humour, until the news comes a little too close to home.
Jennifer is a divorced philosophy academic, in her forties but still an attractive woman with soft wispy hair that surrounds her face, halo-like. She dresses in edgy designer clothes and wears red heels. She is already wounded from a hurt that happened to her daughter in the past, and now she must confront the potential loss of her son Rupert. Her self-defence of smart witticisms cracks as she reaches for intellectual honesty but gets caught in a morass of ideas. Her friend Fee is more successful in keeping up the facade. Her banker boyfriend Adrian doesn’t even recognise it as a facade.
Revealed is a world where ethical weakness equals survival.
by Annette Freeman
Cast of characters:
Jennifer, a philosophy academic
Adrian, a banker
Rupert, Jennifer’s 25 year old son
Felicity (‘Fee’), Jennifer’s friend
Professor Browning, a philosophy professor
Minor roles (may be shared by 2 – 3 people)
A newspaper seller
A woman beggar
Crowd on the tube (real or imaginary)
News announcer’s voice
A newspaper cameraman
Two or three passers by
Two or three audience members at a public speech
Contemporary London, 2011
St Pancras Station & the tube
A dark, empty stage with a newspaper seller plying his wares
Newspaper seller (at intervals): Ev’ning StanDARD! Ev’ning StanDARD! Ev’ning StanDARD!
A well-dressed middle-aged woman enters and collects a newspaper (which is free), folds it under her arm and keeps walking. She is on her way to the tube. She notices a girl beggar under an archway, who importunes her. The beggar has dried blood on her face, wounds of some kind; she looks like she has been in a brawl or beaten up.
Beggar: Spare some change, missus?
Jennifer: I haven’t seen you around here before.
Beggar: I just need ten quid to get home, missus. But a pound would get me some food.
Jennifer: What’s your story?
Beggar: Just a couple of quid to get something to eat, miss. I’ve had it wi’ London. I just want to get home to Manchester. I asked at the social service, but they can’t give me nuthin’. I just need twenty quid for the bus, miss.
Jennifer hands her a ten pound note.
Beggar: Oh, thank you miss! God bless you, miss!
Jennifer walks on, embarrassed at the cries of thanks, and doubtful about what she has done.
She joins the crowd on the tube, standing with one hand holding a rail. She takes out the paper and tries to read it in the crowd. Others around her are doing the same. She frowns and clicks her tongue at a story she is reading. The man standing next to her notices her. He is good-looking and nattily dressed in a smart suit, and also has a paper open.
Adrian: It can make depressing reading these, days, can’t it?
Jennifer: Yes, awful.
Adrian: What’s caught your eye tonight?
Jennifer: Oh – this…
She holds out the paper, open to the item she has been reading.
Adrian: Ah, well…they say it’s been going on for some time.
Jennifer: Gangs of men, ‘grooming’ young girls for sex – dozens, possibly hundreds – girls as young as 13 and 14 – too brainwashed to talk to their mothers. And this is right here in England!
Adrian: Yes, I know. Shocking.
Jennifer: Yes, and almost as shocking is that it’s only reported back here on page eleven, as if it doesn’t really matter.
Adrian: But you have to think of all the other stuff that they need to fit in – war, economic collapse…
Jennifer: And all the whinging about ‘cuts’. Everyone trying to defend their own little handout.
Adrian: Do you pick up ‘The Standard’ most days?
Jennifer: Oh yes, usually. It helps pass the time on the train. But I’m a ‘Guardian‘ reader in the mornings, and happy to admit it.
Adrian: Ah, I see, one of those! Believe it or not, I too am a closet liberal, despite my job.
Jennifer: What do you do?
Adrian: Now here’s something to be embarrassed about: I’m a banker.
Jennifer: Oh, you’re right. That’s quite disgraceful. And I certainly don’t believe, then, that you read ‘The Guardian’.
The train pulls in to a station.
Jennifer: This is my stop.
Adrian: Mine too.
They alight, the crowd surging around them.
Adrian: Do you have to rush home? Can I buy you a drink? Then I can show you my copy of ‘The Guardian’.
Jennifer: Well, I guess that’s more original than an invitation to see your etchings.
To contact me about this play, please use the contact form. Thanks for reading!