PROPH/FIT

By David Bullen

Queen NIOBE of Thebes

King AMPHION of Thebes

Leucon, the ADVISOR

A TELEVISION ASSISTANT

The HEAD OF SECURITY

MANTE

APOLLO & ARTEMIS, gods

The Voice of the ANNOUNCER

The Voice of the COMMENTATOR

 

N.B. It is recommended that the footage displayed on the big screen is not original, but rather edited together from real life events that have previously been reported upon.

There are two modes of speech in the play. The first and most frequently used is based on the conventions used in transcripts of genuine conversation. Standard spelling, grammar and punctuation does not apply.

(.) indicates a brief pause

(2) indicates a longer pause — higher numbers signify longer pauses

Where a line of dialogue is directly underneath a certain part of the preceding line this indicates a point of interruption, e.g.

A: hello how are you

B: fine thank you

- indicates a quick succession of lines

The second mode is similar to standard play dialogue, written prosaically with standard spelling, punctuation and grammar — though how the line has been set out is intended to inform delivery.

 


 

At the back of the stage is a large projector screen — a looped montage of footage depicting NIOBE and AMPHION touring the slums of Thebes. It is frequently interrupted by commercials for ‘Cash for Gold’, budget supermarket deals and life insurance.

In front of the large screen, silhouetted, are the figures of various people moving about the stage in preparation for something.

When the play begins, the screen changes to a ‘Thebes Broadcasting Agency’ ident.

ANNOUNCER. Please stay tuned for a broadcast from Her Majesty the Queen.

 

The screen goes blank; stage lights. The scene is within the Theban palace, the people are officials and assistants preparing for the queen’s live broadcast. There is King AMPHION speaking to a representative from the television company. He is interrupted by an advisor.

ADVISOR: your majesty we’re set to go live in a very few minutes (.) do you know where the Queen is

AMPHION: she was here (.) she’ll be back imminently

ADVISOR: do you know how soon or (.) where she is (.) we have notes on the latest draft we need to brief her thoroughly

AMPHION: she will be back

ADVISOR: I don’t mean to press the point sir but there isn’t a lot of time

AMPHION: (taking the ADVISOR aside) her royal highness is is allowed to be nervous (.) would you not be

ADVISOR: Your majesty I don’t-

AMPHION: (so no one else can here) her highness is in the bathroom

ADVISOR: (mortified) understandably (.) er the notes can wait a moment (.) my apologies sir

AMPHION: quite

The ADVISOR turns away only to be met by NIOBE, entering.

ADVISOR: your highness I had a few things to show you er (.) we need to brief you we have a new draft of-

AMPHION: (shooing the ADVISOR away) they can wait (to NIOBE) how are you feeling

NIOBE: like I’m pregnant (.) are there any pills I could get

AMPHION directs an assistant to do so.

NIOBE: how long

AMPHION: quite soon

NIOBE: damn (.) I’m going to fuck this up

AMPHION: Niobe-

NIOBE: oh stop I’m allowed to swear the mic isn’t on yet

AMPHION: it’s a bad habit (.) we’re meant to set an example

NIOBE: don’t fret you’re dreadful (.) I know what I’m going to say

AMPHION: yes (.) Leucon wanted to speak with you—

The ADVISOR swoops.

ADVISOR: yes your majesty allow me a few minutes of your time I understand you’re apprehension but I think what we have now is the best possible message for the palace to give (.) we have updated the speech to address some of the latest information we gathered at the polls (.) you’ll note the changes to paragraph seven in regard to the circumstances of the incident we felt that the phrasing in the last draft left you a shade cold there are also amendments to the end of (.) paragraph fourteen and the beginning of fifteen (.) in regards to the pledge for penitence

NIOBE: I beg your pardon (.) penitence (.) the pledge for penitence

ADVISOR: er yes ma’am as was agreed—

NIOBE: I didn’t realise we were calling it the pledge for penitence

ADVISOR: it’s just a short hand (.) for reference purposes

NIOBE: I’m aware of that but is is is this what you think I’m doing (.) making a pledge for penitence (.) who wrote this

ADVISOR: er (.) it was a team of writers selected by-

NIOBE: and they thought they would put words into my mouth (.) you thought it prudent to put words into my mouth that you knew very well I would not (.) be happy saying I gave explicit instructions after I saw the last version of the speech for this theme of (.) grovelling (.) remorse to be removed (2) I understood that my wishes had been complied with but now you mean to tell me that you (.) you have simply acted against my wishes

ADVISOR: not er (.) explicitly not without

AMPHION: Niobe I may have asked them to reintroduce a few of the sentiments you had wanted removed

Beat.

NIOBE: I understand (2) then I suppose if the king overrides me

AMPHION: this is a very sensitive matter

NIOBE: I’m aware (.) adequately so (.) it’s not you though is it Amphion you’re not appearing today

AMPHION: the family’s reputation has been damaged (.) we’re all trying to correct that (.) I know how horrible this has been for you it’s difficult when the papers start campaigning when you’ve been targeted like you this (.) please remember though that we have got our allies not everyone in the city wants (.) you have to remember we have the television on our side and that is important (.) there have been a lot of people Leucon included who have been working to help us (.) today there’s a special series of programming to celebrate your contribution to the legacy of this city this (.) address is the prelude (.) if you will (.) it’s a chance for the people to see you (.) as you are

NIOBE: this speech is not who I am (.) it’s not what I think

AMPHION: you know what’s involved

NIOBE: it’s propaganda

AMPHION: that’s such an evil word (.) this is entirely healthy

NIOBE: (she holds out her hand for the speech, the ADVISOR complies) I’ll consider it

TV ASST: er (.) your majesty we are due to be going on live in two minutes (.) can I (.) we need to get you prepared (.) your mic

NIOBE allows herself to be suited up with a mic as she reads the speech.

NIOBE: this is (cannot find the word)

AMPHION: you must sound humble (.) as in (.) humility is desirable here

NIOBE: there is a line between humility and whatever you’ve given me here

AMPHION: go along with it please

TV ASST: you’re all ready

NIOBE: thank you

AMPHION: please (.) for the children’s sake (.) for mine (2) best of luck

NIOBE moves upstage into a spotlight. A camera trains onto her face and the live feed is projected onto the big screen. AMPHION and the advisors watch in darkness behind her.

ANNOUNCER: And now a transmission from Her Majesty Niobe, Queen-Consort of Thebes, Princess of Lydia, High Priestess of Kithaeron and Sipylus, Guardian of the Order of Cadmea, Defender of the Faith.

Initially during the following speech, NIOBE appears to be reading directly from the autocue as prescribed by AMPHION and the ADVISOR Leucon. At some point however it becomes clear she is improvising her own words.

NIOBE: People of Thebes.

I understand that my actions last week

When I let myself speak without consideration

Thinking of myself and not the city

That has taken me in as if I were a natural citizen

Upset a great many of you. My defence

Is null. What use is a defence when you have

Proof. You have all heard, I do not doubt,

The audible proof that my words were

As some have called them ‘blasphemous’.

It is entirely understandable that some

May perceive my words to be as such —

But I have come before you to clarify that

I never intended anything that would

Approach blasphemy. When I spoke it was

Without knowledge that anyone would hear.

I’d ask all of you to consider your own

Secret, cast away thoughts. The careless

Remarks made when you react from your gut.

These words are instant and cannot be edited

Checked for mistakes and consistency

They come from the untameable part of us, the

Wilderness of instinct that we cannot train

We cannot shape into a politically spotless

Entity. None of us expect these thoughts, when

They escape the mind via the mouth, to be

Heard, much less judged. For these are thoughts

That cannot be judged; they are devoid of

Real opinion, they are the children of

Reckless emotion, which has a lifespan of

Very few minutes. But as is evident — even the

Briefest of lives can have an impact far beyond

Their duration.

(beat) What I am saying to you, what I unfortunately

Am failing to express coherently

Is that I cannot be sorry for what I said,

Only apologise that I was heard.

I am not a blasphemer; I am your queen.

When I came to this city I was a foreigner

With no entitlement to respect or honour

But you have given these to me as gifts,

Gifts I have cherished and continue to cherish.

Please do not take them away from me for

An utterance I did not intend to ever exist beyond

The second it was spoken.

To those that say, ‘remove her from the throne’,

I say this: I will not go so long as the palace of

Thebes stands. I will not be removed so long as

My husband remains king, and my children remain my

Heirs. I will not go while the institution of

The Theban royal family, which has endured so much

- Plague, madness, grief upon grief,

Constant affliction from within and out

I will not go while that house remains firm, a solid

Immortal foundation that cannot be shaken by

Disquieting dissidents who would prey upon

An instance of disposable chance to achieve their own

Anarchic ends-

The transmission is interrupted — the spotlight vanishes and the screen goes blank. All the characters are in half light.

NIOBE: erm are we (.) what happened (.) are we still live

TV ASST: no something’s (.) I’ll check (.) sorry

The television crew are all action without purpose, lost as to the problem.

AMPHION: it may be fortunate anyway (.) Niobe what was that (.) what were you (.) the speech (.) you you (.) it (.) what possessed you

The lights go up.

TV ASST: I’m so sorry but (.) I think we’re having technical problems (.) we’re unsure what might be causing them (.) at the moment

AMPHION: Gods’ sake find out

NIOBE: careful darling my mic might catch you

AMPHION: you can hardly talk (.) blasphemy

NIOBE: how can an atheist blaspheme (2) I still want to know that

ADVISOR: (alarmed) majesty your mic might still be on (to someone technical) can we get that checked please?

NIOBE: oh (.) I don’t care I’ve made my point anyone with any intelligence out there will see sense

ADVISOR: with respect ma’am the speech we supplied you was carefully constructed to (.) resolve the situation politically and socially

NIOBE: this incident (.) the ridiculous outcries from the temples (.) it’s one moment taken drastically out of context (.) it’s hype

ADVISOR: a majority of the people purport to differ

NIOBE: then I say what I would have gone on to say when we were broadcasting (.) let any person with a grievance against me confront me individually instead of behind their networking site hate groups (.) it’s not the way to achieve anything

ADVISOR: that’s very er (.) er that’s not practical

AMPHION: All you had to do was apologise that’s all you

NIOBE. I did!

AMPHION: had to do that’s all that’s wanted no you didn’t you were arrogant you were almost rude you (.) disrespectful aggressive (.) ineloquent (.) I should wonder if they gave you any sort of political training in Tantalis

NIOBE: don’t (.) don’t do that don’t start (.) as soon as the press begin sniping at me you do it the whole city does it you make me a foreigner again (.) Niobe the foreign princess adopted by Thebes (.) because they had so many options because they could have rejected me (.) no (.) if they had tried you would have got your television (.) executives to do some P.R. what first class all-Greek politics

AMPHION: it was not as easy as that (.) can I be blamed for common opinion

NIOBE: you are a spineless (.) did you write that speech they gave me

AMPHION: I would ask you to have some dignity

NIOBE: why should I (.) you want us to be examples when I came here what other example did I have for how to be a Greek head of state other than you (2) you are unforgivably weak (.) it was my dignity that made it necessary for me to have to stand up for common sense live on television

AMPHION: it would have kept you in better standing if you had done what I asked

NIOBE: I am not your sub-ordinate I am your wife and I have as equal right to an opinion as any other

AMPHION: so long as you keep it to yourself

NIOBE: why is the royalty of Thebes such a controversial topic (.) they dislike us

AMPHION: some of them adore us they want to be us

NIOBE: only those who don’t know any better

AMPHION: who ever heard of honesty in politics

NIOBE: we are above that (.) we are faced with a move towards a republic and we have to counter that (.) politicians are dishonest and have to lie they need votes (.) we have the freedom of being able to do as we want (.) not irresponsibly but (.) we can show them a better way

AMPHION: that is as idealistic as the republic our enemies want

NIOBE: we have such an opportunity to dismiss generations of an ill-raised public consciousness (.) we can abolish the sort of thinking that creates the xenophobic attitude at work now

AMPHION: you criticise me for making too much of your (.) of you being from Lydia but you hang on to it as well (.) this situation has very little to do with prejudice

NIOBE: it has everything to do with prejudice

AMPHION: how

NIOBE: it might not be about where I’m from but (.) you know what has been printed (.) they know I’m an athiest

AMPHION: Niobe please would you keep your voice down (to the ADVISOR) Leucon can you clear the room please we need privacy (.) (back to NIOBE) you need to understand the implications your continually (.) misjudged actions will have (.) thank goodness you were cut off out there

NIOBE: you’re avoiding the point

AMPHION: if you continue to alienate your subjects they’ll turn their back on you (.) that yes could be to do with the stigma atheism has here it’s irrelevant (.) we rely on the support of the common people and you know I use them term with disdain (.) they’re devout (.) politicians who would make us a republic won’t dare move whilst they know the majority of the people the working class would reject them (.) there have been stories printed (.) rumours really they haven’t stuck (.) but (.) if they believed their queen was an atheist (2) I don’t know I imagine we might as well hand over the palace (.) essentially (.) without their belief in us we’re defenceless (3) I agree that what you did was relatively minor (.) you’d had a tough interview and I agree the interviewer was wrong to say those things about us (.) no matter what they do our children are royalty and deserve the respect that entitles them to (.) but you were caught on microphone recorded on a day of religious significance saying that you and your children have more worth than a goddess (.) can you see how people may have been offended

NIOBE: yes and I admitted that I openly said that I understood

AMPHION: then why not apologise

NIOBE: why the damn should I (.) I’m their queen I didn’t mean it not in the way they all assume I was caught off-guard and besides I don’t agree (.) how can I earnestly apologise for making a remark against gods I don’t believe in

AMPHION: you could have explained but instead you attacked them (.) criticised them

NIOBE: you think that the rhetoric you supplied me with would have been better

AMPHION: it did what it was supposed to do resolve the tension

NIOBE: Enough (.) I’m not (.) I’m not going to apologise (.) certainly not in the way you’re asking (2) you’ve got the most of me you can.

Enter the HEAD OF SECURITY, who addresses AMPHION. NIOBE listens.

SECURITY: we’ve made an arrest (.) I hope I’m not wasting your time but I think you should be aware of the nature of the incident (.) it developed from a situation in the courtyard I’ve just been talking with the security detail down there and they report they have detained an insurgent and are holding her in custody (.) the individual in question was preaching against the royal family and we are preparing a case for inciting hatred and treason.

NIOBE: what has the (.) insurgent been saying

AMPHION: yes what

SECURITY: I’m not one hundred percent on details sir but I do know a little (.) she she was seen amongst the crowd who had gathered to watch your broadcast in the agora officers say she was noted for her striking appearance a cloak apparently with a sort of (.) rough (.) monochiton (.) would you believe something not seen in Thebes a very out of town slum kind of attire (2) she aroused suspicion as a vagrant (.) the senior officer at the time set a watch for her activities when the crowds gather in the agora there is always so much opportunity for crime people are all too keen to flash their mobiles and brandish cash (.) those people in my mind don’t seem to care a lot about money but they’re the first to whinge when a thief runs off with their wallet I tell you I have no sympathy for those people (.) when the broadcast went live she remained silent sitting near a market stall watching like the rest of the people ordinary-like (.) that’s what alarmed the officers most apparently how she blended in you’d think they couldn’t help themselves (.) and as it happens it wasn’t (.) too long until she went far enough for our security to intervene (2) she shoved her way through the crowd carelessly and stood in front of the screen (.) we have reason to believe she or someone working in cohesion with her may have been responsible for the interruption in transmission (.) we’re not sure how but she would certainly have motive.

NIOBE: you still haven’t answered my question

SECURITY: I don’t want to upset you your majesties (.) I’ve always been a supporter of the royalty and I know there have been words said against marrying princesses from abroad

AMPHION: please

SECURITY: er (.) then (.) I’m sorry to report she the insurgent was spreading the most loathsome kind of hatred prophecies (.) religious omens (.) along the lines of (.) as I understand it she (.) was threatening the lives of the princes and princesses

AMPHION: can you not tell us specifically what she said

NIOBE: I’d prefer to hear it from her (.) bring her here and for gods’ sake make sure she’s unarmed

AMPHION nods at the HEAD OF SECURITY, who then exits.

AMPHION: is it a good idea to do this

NIOBE: why should we be afraid of her (.) I wanted my critics to come to me one by one she can be the first

AMPHION: you can guarantee that whatever she says it’s going to trouble you it’s troubling you already

NIOBE: I want to hear what she says that’s all (.)do whatever you like with her afterwards.

AMPHION: there are significant dangers bringing her up here what if she had some kind of explosive strapped to her

NIOBE: I very much doubt she’s a terrorist (.) if she is she’ll be stripped of anything harmful before she’s brought up here (.) there is a limit (.) she’s not a magician

AMPHION: if she were, she might do more damage

NIOBE: I credited you with more intelligence than to be superstitious

AMPHION: Thebes is an especially superstitious city historically

NIOBE: so I’ve learned

AMPHION: it seems to be a side-effect of piety

NIOBE: it’s a side-effect of stupidity

AMPHION: not everywhere (.) in Athens they are sure to please all of the gods but have acumen sharper than any other Greek state I know

NIOBE: they say an Athenian education is thorough (.) how many atheists are there

AMPHION: don’t let’s be vulgar

Beat.

NIOBE: I sometimes think (.) I don’t know (.) you’re so vile

AMPHION: you’re new to the unique politics of Thebes

NIOBE: we’ve been married for twenty-three years I’m as experienced as you

AMPHION: maybe it comes from Theban blood

NIOBE: that’s offensive

AMPHION: it wasn’t intended to be (2) I mean that Thebans of all Greeks seem so susceptible to mysticism (.) you need to be a Theban to realise how true that is

NIOBE: outsiders beware

AMPHION: there used to be a prophet (.) who lived near the city (.) never quite was a citizen (2) he’s probably a legend and nothing else though he reappears at intervals throughout the myths (3) all the old kings and queens were advised by him or no that’s not true (.) they were warned by him (.) he had a story that even regular temple goers strain to take (.) he claimed to have once been a priest of Apollo until he came upon a pair of mating snakes (.) he stumbled over them or angered or something (.) they must have been gods in disguise they were certainly an unfortunate pair to come across the result was that they transformed him into a woman (.) after that he became very promiscuous so they say until he transformed back (.) then (.) then and this is either the most credulous part or the least depending on your point of view (.) the king and queen of the gods themselves (.) Zeus and Hera-

NIOBE: yes I do know I’m an atheist not mentally deficient

AMPHION: either way the two gods asked of him who in sex has the most enjoyment men or women (.) amongst all mankind he was the sole being qualified to answer (.) you can see the predicament this put him in of course he was damned either way say men and displease one god say women and annoy the other (.) you know how these stories go (.) I can’t remember his answer there’s multiple versions as with everything but the god he had no choice other than to anger blinded him (.) in compensation though they gave the man, by all accounts, the gift of prophecy (2) and he used it to badger royal Thebans for generations (.) I think he must have died if he ever was real because there are stories of him as far back as the city’s founding he would have to be ancient

NIOBE: legend likes to bend the rules of science a little

AMPHION: oh there are reasons for it (2) his name was Teiresias you know

NIOBE: there’s a prophet called Teiresias in every mountain village it’s quite a feat somewhere as civilised as this put up with him for so long

AMPHION: no matter how advanced we get I don’t think we’ll ever shake religion

NIOBE: hm

Enter the HEAD OF SECURITY with MANTE, the prisoner, who is being escorted by more guards.

SECURITY: your majesty

AMPHION: thank you

NIOBE: leave please

The HEAD OF SECURITY waits for affirmation from AMPHION, then leaves with the other guards. AMPHION, NIOBE and MANTE are now alone.

NIOBE: your name

MANTE:(unwillingly) Mante.

NIOBE: you’ve something to say to me I hear some news regarding my children (.) I was very keen to ask you here so you could let me know face to face (2) messengers can be biased I find especially when they’re worried about delivering bad news (.) it is bad news I’m not wrong a lot of people have heard and they all say the news is dire

MANTE is silent.

AMPHION: you’re not in any danger

NIOBE: I wouldn’t be so sure it depends on how violent the threat is

AMPHION: Niobe

NIOBE: what’s your news then (.) I want to hear your prophecy you’re a prophet aren’t you a clairvoyant you alone can see the truth so tell us

AMPHION: it would be better to say what you want (.) be honest

NIOBE: one of the things I always find curious about prophets is their remarkable ability to be selectively mute (.) as soon as they come across somebody with a little education and (.) somebody with (.) enough money to realise the world does not revolve around the temple they find their predictions suddenly inadequate

AMPHION: I’ll call for the guard and have you taken into custody but I warn you if you remain silent it may show your guilt

MANTE: I have done nothing to be guilty of.

NIOBE: you made blatant threats

MANTE: You have asked me what I said,

But you know what I said.

I made no threats.

NIOBE: then what is it you were saying out there to the crowd I haven’t heard the speech myself

MANTE: You stand accusing me,

Without knowing what you accuse me of.

NIOBE: I’ve met your type before (.) peaceful solemn (.) proud when you’re being challenged (.) when you’re in front of the gullible masses you’re a brash monster you can’t be silenced

MANTE: You have made this point previously.

AMPHION: have you never heard of respect for your superiors

MANTE: I have.

NIOBE: it doesn’t seem that way

Beat — NIOBE stares at MANTE expectantly.

NIOBE: regale us then (2) your predictions

MANTE: Themis. Natural order.

The natural order has been

- unbalanced,

- transgressed against

By your words.

 

You know your own words.

NIOBE: if you had listened to what I said half an hour ago before you cut me off (.) they told me you were there so I know you would have heard (.) if you had paid attention you’d know that what I said was a passing mistake a reaction (.) to pressure I have not upset the natural order

MANTE: Your words

 

They show that kings and queens think themselves mightier now,

Than the gods who give them their crown.

NIOBE: Leto is a minor deity she gives no one any authority (.) if it wasn’t for her children she would be unknown

Beat.

MANTE: These were words from a moment’s passion.

NIOBE: I was under pressure (.) I (.) I’m under pressure now

MANTE: For moments of spontaneity

 

Your spontaneity is remarkably of one theme.

AMPHION: you’re taking these comments out of context

MANTE: What you said before.

NIOBE: I had just been attacked by a racist interviewer who said that because my children didn’t act with the slave-like blindness to devotion practiced in Thebes that they were (.) it was a symptom of my alien influence

MANTE: What you said still remains.

NIOBE: they weren’t all attending the temple service in honour of Leto (.) because they were performing humanitarian aid actually helping people (.) not burning goats (.) can I be blamed therefore for suggesting that maybe we were doing a little more good in the world than Leto and (.) her children

MANTE is silent.

NIOBE: you think you’ve won somehow (.) you think you’ve backed me into a corner proved what a terrible human being I am (.) not yet not yet (.) have some respect

MANTE: The balance always readjusts.

It returns to equality.

NIOBE: how will that occur in that case

MANTE: Mothers are fierce in the protection of their children’s honour.

Good children are fiercer still in return.

NIOBE: can you please speak clearly

MANTE: You come from Lydia, a place of quality education.

NIOBE: which I’m to take to mean what

MANTE: Values are ordinary, greater numbers are not always a sign of greater victory.

 

Values are reassigned when the balance is readjusted.

NIOBE: there’s a threat in there somehow (.) I’m not an idiot (2) who are you associated with (.) where are you from (.) who are you

MANTE: My father’s name was Teiresias. I am alone now.

AMPHION: the famous Teiresias

MANTE: He did many things while alive. He lived a long life.

NIOBE: how did you sabotage the broadcast

MANTE: My hands were still.

NIOBE: who are you plotting with

MANTE: The gods direct me.

NIOBE: what are you planning

MANTE: Everything is planned afore time.

NIOBE: what are you going to do with my children

MANTE: I believe that values will be reassigned.

I’ll say no more.

AMPHION: this is futile Niobe we might as well let her go

NIOBE: are you-

AMPHION: Niobe (.) the people are already feeling (.) not so warmly towards us imprisoning a prophet might worsen the mood further

NIOBE: she is not a prophet

AMPHION: to them she is (.) this is where her power lies (.) in what we do

NIOBE: if we release her (.) who can say what she’ll do (.) religion is an excuse for madness

AMPHION: I think (.) considering she is Teiresias’
daughter we ought to be aware that she will be

NIOBE: what shit

AMPHION: a banner our enemies can gather around (.) it’s not only the people we have to consider, but our enemies

NIOBE: she is an enemy (.) you heard what was reported she’s been silent here about it but would you admit treason in front of the queen (2) and king (.) we have to monitor her

AMPHION: we can do that (.) but surreptitiously (.) let’s be clever

NIOBE: I’ve yet to see you do a single clever thing

AMPHION: if we start turning on one another

NIOBE: please (.) don’t release her

AMPHION: we have to take into account the prevailing mood

NIOBE: we have to defend what’s ours

AMPHION: we can only do that through the system acting the tyrant has never achieved results

NIOBE: this is a matter of security

AMPHION: which will be threatened even further if we start arresting people without evidence

NIOBE: a hundred people or more heard what she said

AMPHION: do we know what that is (.) if it’s the same as what she’s told us and it sounds (.) very much a Teiresias sort of thing that (.) doesn’t constitute treason

NIOBE: but the security-

AMPHION: they aren’t guaranteed to be reliable

NIOBE: you’re really going to do this (2) it will be on your conscience if anything happens (2) I’m a bit perplexed a a moment ago you were worried about her being a (.) suicide bomber and now you’re content to just let her go (.) we have her here why don’t we question her

AMPHION: it doesn’t appear she’s going to say much

Beat — NIOBE stares at MANTE.

NIOBE: fine (.) do as you want

AMPHION calls in the guards and they take MANTE away. NIOBE paces.

NIOBE: can I have a phone

AMPHION: what for

NIOBE can I please have my phone

AMPHION summons the ADVISOR.

AMPHION: her majesty’s phone please

THE ADVISOR leaves to fetch it.

AMPHION: you can’t do anything now

NIOBE: it’s not about her

The ADVISOR returns and hands the phone to NIOBE. She immediately searches for a number and rings it. A beat — no answer. She tries again — no success. NIOBE repeats this again and again, fourteen times over the following dialogue. AMPHION stares, trying to understand, then mid-way through, it comes to him.

AMPHION: I doubt you’ll have any luck they never answer

NIOBE: they have minders who are supposed to

AMPHION: they’re not infants (.) they’re all old enough to be responsible

NIOBE is silent, continuing to try numbers.

AMPHION: where are they today

NIOBE: I don’t know (2) they were meant to be here for the broadcast I think

AMPHION: they are wilful

NIOBE: disrespectful (again she fails to get through) damn things

AMPHION: I’m sure they’re fine

NIOBE: I’m going to make sure

AMPHION: you’re being paranoid

NIOBE: (again she fails) you would think that by the sheer rules of probability amongst fourteen children I’d be able to get through to at least one (2) Leucon (to AMPHION) is that his name

AMPHION: yes

The ADVISOR comes in.

ADVISOR: ma’am

NIOBE: I need to know where the children are (.) they aren’t answering their phones and I’d like you to locate them

ADVISOR: yes ma’am

Exit. NIOBE keeps phoning.

AMPHION: you’re worrying needlessly (.) calm down

NIOBE: I would have thought you’d be at least mildly concerned

AMPHION: I have some faith in my children to look after themselves (.) perhaps you should try having some faith

NIOBE: don’t be an arse Amphion

AMPHION: it is after all your lack of faith that has led us here

NIOBE stops.

NIOBE: you are repulsive

AMPHION: it was blasphemy

NIOBE: the gods are fantasy (.) fictional characters (.) there is no one to offend

AMPHION: I’m not so sure

NIOBE: I don’t really care (.) but I thought you more intelligent than that

AMPHION: I’ve seen things (.) bizarre things occur in this city

NIOBE: you’re being ridiculous

AMPHION: mother always I was a son of Zeus

NIOBE: these religious stories are nothing more than excuses to make guilty people feel better

AMPHION: (matter-of-factly) well I’d prefer to think that my mother was raped by Zeus than by a (.) somebody

NIOBE: does that somehow make it better

AMPHION: you’re cruel

NIOBE: how does it improve what actually happened (.) it doesn’t soften it (.) if she was raped she was raped (.) you’re not the son of a god

AMPHION: it’s a way of dealing with grief

NIOBE: it’s deluding yourself and it’s a means for evil men to manipulate those around them

AMPHION: is this what they teach you in Tantalis

NIOBE: yes (.) very much so (2) very (.) I learned it first hand

AMPHION: what do you mean

NIOBE: my father (.) is a very pious man

AMPHION: you hate your father

NIOBE: I shouldn’t wonder (.) the man was so righteous

AMPHION: you never explained (.) why you came here

NIOBE: I came because I was in love

AMPHION: was it (2) when you arrived (.) you couldn’t go back (.) but you never said why

NIOBE: I didn’t want to stay in Tantalis any longer

AMPHION: why

NIOBE: I disagreed with father’s policies

AMPHION: I heard he was a good king

NIOBE: he might of been

AMPHION: tell me what happened

NIOBE: I’d prefer not to

Very quickly, the ADVISOR knocks and comes in.

AMPHION: Leucon

ADVISOR: Your highness (2) I’ve been speaking to the staff at the Cadmea Centre Mall on the lower west side of the city and it seems they were expecting all fourteen of the royal children to arrive an hour ago (.) they did not appear (.) I checked and it seems they most definitely departed the palace but never arrived at Cadmea (.) I’ve dispatched a police search for them and we’re waiting now for any results (2) we’ll find them

NIOBE and AMPHION exchange looks.

NIOBE: (to AMPHION) you are an idiot a grand pompous utter fucking idiot (.) no sooner than that woman was released onto the street she was on the phone telling whoever is in collusion with her to strike (.) you’ve killed all our children (.) you’ve sacrificed than for your peaceful politics

AMPHION: you can’t blame me (.) you’re the one who put us in the situation

NIOBE: I knew not to trust your judgement (.) I knew that as soon as religion was involved there would be a (.) something happen that ruined everything (2) this is what I was running away from (.) my father tried to murder my brother while we all watched and excused his actions by saying he had to sacrifice his son for Zeus (.) who was coming round for dinner (.) the most ludicrous farcical tureen of shit frightening (.) terrifying when you think that the sick man simply wanted to kill off the son he didn’t want to inherit his kingdom (.) it was only the doctor nothing to do with prayers or fasts that saved my brother (.) you now have essentially repeated my fathers’ actions your cowardly snivelling desire to schmooze your way through your reign has caused you to put into danger your only real assets (.) you’re pathetic (.) you’re barely a man at all (.) I’ll call myself king from now on and you can be queen (.) so I suggest you go and do what queens of Thebes do best in this situation

AMPHION is stunned, then comes alive.

AMPHION: I’m going to find them (.) they’re alive (after a long moment) I love you

Without stopping he leaves. The ADVISOR follows. NIOBE paces and continues to try and get through to her children. Behind her the screen comes on — a news report. An aerial camera following the progression of police cars from the city — the scrolling banner at the bottom of the screen reads ‘ROYAL CHILDREN VANISH — ABDUCTION SUSPECTED’. Juxtaposed with this are the grunts of frustration coming from NIOBE, spilling over into anger and despair. The cars keep going until suddenly the image changes to the news anchor speaking solemnly, though we cannot hear the words. The scroll changes to — ‘BREAKING NEWS — ROYAL CHILDREN FOUND IN THE TEMPLE PLAZA — TWELVE DEAD’.

NIOBE: (finally getting through; a miracle) Meliboea (.) Meliboea (.) oh thank- Meliboea my darling (.) where are you (.) no it’s your mother (.) calm down my darling calm (2) I need to know where you are (.) describe it for me (.) what (.) you need to just be calm and tell (.) what did you what did you say (.) I can’t hear you what are you saying (.) the temple (.) you’re not

The faces of the twelve dead princes and princesses are being shown on the screen, one by one, the news reporter silently mouthing what must be a list of names.

NIOBE: no my darling (.) check (.) they’re not you’re imagining (2) what happened (.) how did they did someone take you you must remember how did it happen Meliboea my darling darling (.) they’re not (.) they’re not what about you (.) get out leave with Amyclas if you say he’s still (.) police will be there soon

The police are drawing up outside the temple of Leto on the screen.

NIOBE: Meliboea (.) you’ll be safe in two minutes (.) keep out of the (2) Meliboea (.) Meliboea (.) Meliboea Meliboea (The phone goes dead) fuck (.) fuck Meliboea (she descends to a base scream)

The lights go down, the screen is cut off — there is shouting as if soldiers were storming the room, though only two people come in, dressed in black guerrilla outfits that could be militarised religious garments. They shout for NIOBE to get to her knees and keep her eyes shut. They may have guns. When she complies one of them wrenches her up by her hair so she is helpless —

APOLLO/ARTEMIS:1

Niobe, Tantalus’ daughter

Atheist queen of spiritual Thebes

 

You are punished.

 

Fourteen children you boasted of — fourteen was the sum of your value.

 

Our mother has only us

 

Just two.

 

But we two are worth infinite Niobids.

 

You called for equality, we have listened.

 

Now both of you have only two.

 

The two we spared had the grace to pray.

They shall be the last of your issue.

 

Your husband is dead

Hanged himself in shame

Taking the course which you yourself prescribed to him, the final option for all the noble spouses of prideful rulers.

 

The punishment is not ended.

 

You claimed superiority to the consort of Zeus, the mother of two Olympians whom the world reveres.

 

You ignore our signs,

And arrest our prophet.

 

You refuse humility.

 

Leave this place who’s people give us honour, return to the land from which you fled and there count your tears as they fall unnumbered, unrestrained, a spring of your regret; there shall you remain.

 

As your father who scorned our own, so you have scorned us, and so have you both come to ruin.

 

He was consigned to hell — be grateful for our mercy.

We could have taken all your kin

We could have taken your life

We could have taken your kingdom

We could have taken your wealth

 

All of which you forsook when you chose to forsake us.

 

The gods leave. Lights return. NIOBE lays face down.

NIOBE: I have nothing (2) I have nothing

After a long moment, she lifts herself up and faces the screen, which displays scenes of the state funeral for the dead royalty. She walks toward the screen as the sound of the COMMENTATOR is heard.

COMMENTATOR. ...the day that saw the devastation of the Theban Royal House. The king’s hearse leads the procession, followed by the heartbreaking sight of twelve further cars...the sovereignty of Thebes remains in dispute, with both remaining children, Princess Meliboea and Prince Amyclas refusing the throne, it has been suggested they will leave the city altogether.

NIOBE moves to leave the stage.

COMMENTATOR. The whereabouts of the Queen are still unknown and details of her disappearance are being kept secret by the palace. There has been suspicion that her father, King Tantalus of Lydia, was behind the death of the children, the Queen having been placed as an agent to undo the Thebans, chief economic competitors with Lydia. There has yet to be any proof come forward to support this theory. The verdict on the Queen all the same seems to be undecided.

NIOBE leaves. The houselights come up as the footage continues — the funeral procession passing through the streets of Thebes as the scroll along the bottom of the screen reads: ‘ROYAL FUNERAL — KING AMPHION & TWELVE CHILDREN TO BE BURIED AFTER POLITICAL MASSACRE. FORMER MONARCH SOUGHT FOR INVESTIGATION.’