Royal Holloway Creative Writing Anthology 2012

You Can Call Me "Al", by Charlotte Lewis

Notes on production:

The play is set in South West Wales in a small village.

Set - A large living room suite with a sofa at the center with armchairs either side. This is positioned around a large coffee table CS. There are hanging picture frames USC.There is a large 80’s glass and wood cabinet against the wall of SL or SR, facing in. There is an exit to the "front door" (SR) and "kitchen door" (SL). There must be a route also to the upstairs. The set remains the same throughout the entire play except for items which change with each host’s house. These are items such as decorative ornaments or photographs. These must be used to make the set highly naturalistic, and to exude the personality, wealth and social capital of the host.

Characters

ALISON- Is a 41 year old shop assistant. She is plain but not unattractive. She is very observant if not a little paranoid. She is not married and has no children, she is very conscious of this.

MARY- Is a 67 year old retiree. She is married with no children.

JUDIE- Is a 42 year old "full time mum". She is married, however her and her husband no longer sleep in the same bed. She has two children whom she lives for.

SUSANNE- Is a 51 year old GP receptionist. She is married and has one son.

JALA- Is a 39 year old. Her ethnicity is second generation Indian. She was born in Hounslow, but lived in Surrey since her marriage at 17, she moved to Wales within the last few months. She has one son. She does not work, her husband earns a high wage.

Speech and punctuation

‘/’ indicates interruption

‘*’ coupled with another ‘*’ indicates the starting points of of simultaneous action or speech.

All speech is to be spoken using the South West Wales phonetics. Text may be adapted to fit other small suburban villages which are not multicultural.


Act I

Scene 1

SUSANNE’s house. ALISON is sat on the sofa. JUDIE is sat on the armchair SL. MARY is on the armchair SR. They sit in silence

After some time SUSANNE enters with two badly made cakes. She smiles at the others, they return weak smiles. SUSANNE takes a breath in to say something when the phone rings, saving her. She gestures an apology and goes to the kitchen.

SUSANNE

(Off)

*-Look, tell them you’ll call the police then. Or, or you could tell them you’ll get onto the...well I don’t know the bloody what’s it called...now...

*MARY looks at the cakes with obvious disgust, she moves her gaze towards ALISON and then JUDIE. JUDIE catches her eye and gives a patronizing sweet smile MARY tries, returning a smile just as patronizing.* ALISON is uncomfortable at SUSANNE’s conversation she looks at the others for reassurance. JUDIE is occupied trying to engage MARY.

SUSANNE

(Off)

*-You know mun...that bloke with his gang of 40,000 blokes- Ali Baba. Him. Tell em his bloody lot will be round to get old of em!

(Off)

-Showin how bloody christian they are bein inni!

SUSANNE pokes her head into the living room phone stretched making dramatized faces about the long conversation she is having, mouths "Sorry!" and goes back into the kitchen. JUDIE gestures a muted and dramatic "It’s fine!" too late. ALISON looks uncomfortable. MARY peruses the living room from her seat.

SUSANNE

(Off)

*You what? Well what are they then? Oh yeah well I know they aren’t bloody Christian, you know what I meant- Look! I’m going to come round tomorrow first thing okay?

(Off)

No, I’m not having any of it! I’ll get a prescription sayin you’ve had to av depression treatment or something then! They can’t say anything then can they??

(Off)

Love thy bloody neighbor it’s supposed to be mun.

*There is an uncomfortable silence in the room as SUSANNE’s phone conversation becomes louder. The women exchange the same awkward smiles until it becomes ridiculous. JUDIE tries MARY again, MARY is aware and avoids her, again this becomes ridiculous. MARY finally looks at JUDIE and SUSANNE’s head pops around the door again, she squeezes the phone between her ear and her shoulder and acts the charade for "Tea?" she continues intermittent hmm’s on the phone. The other women mime back how they take their tea. ALISON struggles to convey coffee for some time. SUSANNE goes back into the kitchen. There is a post-energetic embarrassment between JUDIE and ALISON, they smile at one another*, MARY is unimpressed looking at her watch. JUDIE sees MARY do this and rummages in her bag for her phone checking the time.

SUSANNE

(Off)

(Laughs loudly)

-Then what did he say? Oh my God, you are lying!God...Look mam, I’ve gotta go, I’ve got my book club.

(Off)

-Oh shush mun.You know me, I love being busy...

(Off)

-Well you never know I suppose...

(Off)

-Yeah, well he did say the other day it was always easiest when I’d been in.

(Off)

-Yeah! Well she always makes it so bloody disorganised...she’s newer I suppose, doesn’t know the ways...

(Off)

-Right, really gotta go know mam kettle’s been done a while.

(Off)

-Yeah, yeah.

(Off)

-Bye darlin, bye.

There is a knock at the front door, the women look to the kitchen. There is another polite knock, JUDIE gets up smoothing her clothes, and goes to answer it.

JUDIE enters the room with JALA. JALA gives a small wave to the other women, they have a brief moment of surprise but return small waves. JALA takes off her coat and places it neatly on her handbag as she sits in the center of the sofa.

JUDIE

Um, ladies this is uh...

JALA

Jala

JUDIE

(Relieved)

Thanks! I knew I’d only get it wrong if I said it! (she lets out a laugh far too big)

Silence

ALISON

(Remembering)

Oh! I’m sorry I’m Alison...you can call me Al though if that’s easier.

JUDIE

Ha! Does that make her your "Betty"??

JUDIE expects the others to follow.
They don’t.

JALA

(Smiling)

Uh okay...thanks...Al

JALA and ALISON let out a polite laugh.

SUSANNE

(Off)

(Puts down the phone and loudly speaks)

Sorry Ladies! It was my mother-in-law, I had to chat to her cos she’s having terrible trouble with her new neighbors, she gets awful shook up it’s terrible!

(She enters the living room with coasters and sets them on the coffee table, not looking at the women)

They keep on having these parties apparently for their daughter’s wedding or something...really loud, it’s intimidating really for er...(She exits to kitchen)

The women pull faces politely to one-another once again.

SUSANNE

(Off)

Think they’re Asians...

(*She enters the living room with a tray of mugs and starts setting them down, not looking at the women)

Or some kind that have the loud weddings parties anyway...

*ALISON looks immensely awkward, JUDIE looks at JALA for some kind of response on the "loud wedding parties" query. MARY looks at her watch.

SUSANNE

(Leaves to the kitchen)

(Enters living room with spoons and a bowl of sugar)

Must be Pakistanis or Indians or...well I dunno what else has those sorts of- I know one of em has loud weddings and that...(directing the following at JUDIE)You looked like you said sugar, but I want sure so I brought a little bowl in.

JUDIE looks from JALA, to SUSANNE and back to JALA. When SUSANNE doesn’t follow, she nods at the sugar.

SUSANNE

I’ve got sweeteners?

(She rushes off to the kitchen with the empty tray)
(Off)

I’d miss the buffet myself, couldn’t do without some sausage rolls- they can’t av them can they?-nor bubbly. Oh, no! Just wouldn’t be right!

(She enters the living room with sweeteners presenting them to JUDIE)

Not right really is it? I mean it’s not a weddin without a cake and some champers! (Beat)
You think they have a cake them sorts?

JALA -(Gives a small forced cough)

SUSANNE remains oblivious to JALA. JUDIE nods at JALA to make SUSANNE turn but she does not understand, SUSANNE gives up on showing the sweetners to JUDIE.

SUSANNE

(Laughs)

What? (Beat) someone died or somethin?(Beat) was it someone else who wanted sugar?(She turns to ask the room and finally sees JALA)

Pause

SUSANNE

Oh. Shit.(Beat)I- who let-?

JALA

-(Standing to greet her) It’s good to meet you! You must be the hostess with the uh “mostess” eh!

JUDIE laughs far too big again.SUSANNE stands shocked as JALA takes her hand cupping it into a shaking motion.

JALA

I’m /Jala

SUSANNE

(Quickly remembering herself)

I’m Susanne!

JALA/SUSANNE

-Sorry?

They remain holding hands looking confused.

SUSANNE

/Allah?

ALISON looks mortified.

JALA

Susan?

SUSANNE

Oh lord no not Susan (laughs) I hate being called that!!

JALA

"J"Ala.

SUSANNE

Yes..J- (Beat) and Sus"anne" for me (laughs) Well! now that’s sorted we can get onto the ’to do’s’ I’ve put together! (She goes to sit in the armchair SL)

(Recoiling)

Oh, uh sorry Judith I was gonna sit there!

JUDIE

Oh!Uh okay (She moves to sit on the sofa SL)Sorry!

JALA who has been left standing, sits with JUDIE and ALISON on the sofa.

SUSANNE

Head of the house- head of the table and all that!And age (points at MARY) before beauty of course! (She laughs, sits and goes through her handbag)

The others take their teas to combat the awkward air. JALA sits looking disappointed.

SUSANNE

D’ya know it’s like a bottomless pit this bag!(laughs big)

Silence apart from SUSANNE’s rustling.

JUDIE

(Trying)

So..."J"Ala?

JALA

(Nods and smiles)

JUDIE

Where about’s are you from?

JALA

Oh, just round the corner actually I just moved from Thistleb/oon

JUDIE

No no like originally

SUSANNE

(From her bag)

No! No chatter yet ladies, I’ve got the order on my ’Itinerary’...

JALA

Houn- I mean, Surrey.

JUDIE

(Sits back confused)

Oh...

SUSANNE

(Slightly wildly)

Got it!

(She pulls out a colorful notepad and novelty pen)

MARY

(Under her breath)

Oh Lord...

JUDIE

Oh what a lovely notepa/d Susanne!

SUSANNE

I’ll just go through the check list...Okay! So... ’Tea’?

JALA sits up hopeful.

check! (Laughs)

JALA sinks back down.

Looking a bit low though so I’ll make some more in minute

JALA looks hopeful again.

’Everybody in their seats?’-well we got there in the end eh?! So check check! (Lets out yet another loud laugh)

The other women smile politely. MARY looks at her watch.

’Cakes’? Check check check! The one nearest Mary is a Victoria sponge and that one by you "J"Ayla is coffee and walnut

(Suddenly at JALA) Oh my God! Can you eat that??

JALA

(Confused)

Uh...

SUSANNE

You know is it like a ’Clean’ food cause it’s got coffee in?

ALISON squirms.

JALA

Uh, yes yes it’s okay...unless you’ve smuggled some a sausage or two in there or something?(lets out a forced chuckle)

ALISON quickly joins in with the laughter, JUDIE laughs to join in. MARY looks unimpressed.

SUSANNE

(Tries to laugh but doesn’t follow so returns to her list)

Yes well uh...mother-in-law’s recipe so tuck in!

(Beat)

(To JALA)

Maybe you should stick to the sponge. Just in case...my mother-in-law’s not always with it.

JALA

Ha!Yes, so I have heard.

(Short Pause)

SUSANNE

Yes...uh,well then, now we get to the fun bit eh?!I’ve made a little game, so!- We’re all going to pick a partner and learn about them, it’s a technique I picked up doing my leadership training at the doctor’s.

(Beat)

Yes, so...I’m the hostess so I won’t have a partner but you girls grab onto someone and get chatting!(She gets up and starts taking the mugs from the women whether they are finished or not and carries them awkwardly to the kitchen.) And I’ll set about wettin whistles!

The women look hesitant.

SUSANNE

(Poking her head around the door)
Oh I forgot!I want you to all learn each other’s names, their job and why they wanted to join the book club!Okay?(She goes back into the kitchen making loud sounds of making more tea.)

JUDIE immediately looks over at MARY and pats the chair where SUSANNE was sat.

JUDIE

(Patronizing)

I don’t bite!Come on lets leave the others over by there.

MARY doesn’t move. JUDIE smiles and awkwardly gets up to sit nearer MARY. JALA and ALISON move down the sofa to allow JUDIE in. MARY doesn’t move.

JUDIE

(Leaning in painfully close to MARY)

So. Mar/y

MARY

Mrs.Churchill

JUDIE

Oh yeh good idea last names too, top of the class ha! ...Churchill? Like that nodding car dog on the telly!Oh /I love him!

MARY

Like our most honorable Prime Minister through the history of Great Britain.

(Beat)

JUDIE

That fat bloke with the hat..?

MARY

What’s your last name then Judith/?

JUDIE

Oh Judie’s f/ine.

MARY

Judith "Thomas"? did I hear you say/ earlier?

JUDIE

Oh yeah!Good Memory!

MARY enjoys the praise.

JUDIE

Judie Thomas, full time mum to Leah and my baby Lilly- well she’s not really the baby anymore she’s fiv/e but I still...

MARY

Yes yes lovely lovely, so why did you come here, to this literary discussion group?

JUDIE

Oh...oh the book club?!Didn’t know what you was on about then!ha!Well I didn’t do the best in school/ really

MARY

really...well I/

JUDIE

yeah yeah...I always got jobs though, I was a marketing girl for Lambert and Butler and a makeup technician/and a...

MARY

Judith...

JUDIE

Right okay yes not much time! Well tell the truth the girls are getting really clever now in school and coming home with all these things and I just don’t get it! They talk about it all the time at tea and things and Martin gets it all/ but I just bloody feel left out!

MARY

Judith.

JUDIE

And I’ve got too much time on my hands now to be honest, it’s drivin me nuts, I hate droppin them off in the mornins/ I miss em you know and-

MARY

Miss Thomas!

JUDIE

Yes miss!(Laughs)

(Beat)

MARY

Children are hubs of information, they get it from the brilliance of the teachers! Consider it a compliment that you sent them to the right school!

JUDIE

(Nods in thought)

MARY

I myself have no children, I taught them, i was head mistress for twenty three years./I came because...

JUDIE

That’s incredible that is!

MARY

Uh yes, quite. I retired almost two years ago now, so I too like to keep things busy.

JUDIE

Oh. Lovely.

MARY

Quite.

JUDIE

It is nice, keepin-

JUDIE is stopped short as MARY gets up and starts walking around the living room judging its cleanliness. JUDIE then follows suit and walks around looking at photo frames and other ornaments around the room. ALISON and JALA quickly realize that they have been eavesdropping on the other conversation and quickly turn to one another.

ALISON

Uh right! So Jala what do you/ do?

JALA

You said it perfectly!

ALISON

Oh did I? Well It’s not that hard isit!

JALA

(Smiles)

ALISON

Anyway, what do you do? And what is your reason for joining this (Imitates MARY) "literary discussion group"?

JALA

(Laughs)

Well, I don’t work actually, I look after the house and things you know/ and I...

ALISON

Oh how nice! I work in my brother’s shitty corner shop (mortified) Oh god, excuse my language!

JALA

(Laughs)I joined because my son started university here recently and I wanted to have good conversations with him.

ALISON

Oh how nice you have a son?-

JALA

Yes! What do you have?

ALISON

Oh well-

JALA

Oh I am sorry, I should have thought/...

ALISON

No! It’s fine!I just haven’t met that special person I suppose!

JALA

And you could always adopt if you did!

ALISON

Ye- uh (Beat)
well... I wanted to join to hear different people’s opinions, I love listening to what everyone has to say on things. I think it’ll help me write-

JALA

Oh, you write?

ALISON

Oh no...well...only silly things really; I paint and sometimes write bits of poetry to go with the pictures-

JALA

Dark horse...

ALISON

I’ve not told many people really, it’s a bit of a guilty pleasure. I used to do a bit of amateur dramatics, but they didn’t ever do any really challenging stuff you know?

JALA

Oh...you think this will be challenging?-

SUSANNE suddenly kicks the door open with a tray of mugs.

SUSANNE

Soooo?!

SUSANNE puts the mugs on the coasters. The women sit back in their original places. And go to take the mugs.

Alison, yours is the dark one- the coffee.

JALA reaches for a mug.

SUSANNE

Oh wait, that one’s mine "J"Ala, yours is the herbal one- didn’t know if you could have milk so I used one I got from ’Good Food’ a while ago, "berry bonanza" or something. (To all except JALA) been in the cupboard for ages, nice to put it to use!

JALA picks up the herbal tea. She plays with the teabag, looking disappointed.

SUSANNE

So what did we all dig up about each other then eh?

JUDIE

Well it was lovely actually me and Ma/ry

SUSANNE

Plates!(She quickly gets up and goes to the kitchen)

MARY sighs and looks at her watch. JUDIE slumps embarrassed. JALA tries her tea and pulls a face of disgust.

SUSANNE hurries back in with the plates, she offers them, they all refuse.

SUSANNE

Right. Well (Puts plates on the table) there if you need them. (Beat)
So "J"Alo you were going to start I believe?

JALA looks at JUDIE.

JALA

Uh well...okay...

SUSANNE

Really tell me about Alison, really let me know who she is. As if, I’m a complete and utter stranger.

JUDIE

Well you are a bit /innit!

SUSANNE

Jala?

JALA

You said it right Sue!

SUSANNE

Yes I’m very good at languages- now paint me the "Alison" painting.

(Awkwardness)

JALA Uh, okaay. This is Alison, but you can call her "Al".

JUDIE loudly imitates the keyboard of "You Can Call Me Al" hoping that someone will get the reference.

The women all stare at JUDIE.

JUDIE

Sorry...Just love that song.(She goes into a daze)
Miss the eighties...

Slight pause. The other women look at each other. SUSANNE gestures to JALA to continue.

JALA

She joined because she wanted to hear other’s thoughts.

SUSANNE

Great! yes, as we all do, okay...Go on.

JALA

(Looks at ALISON)

That was it really.

SUSANNE

Well obviously Alison was more curious about you Jala?

ALISON

Oh, well uh okay. This is Jala, she came because her son is in university here/ and-

SUSANNE

Ooh is he going to be a doctor?!

JALA

Uh...no.

ALISON

(Quickly moves on)

Yes, he is in university here and she wants to be able to chat to him about things really...

JUDIE

That’s why I came yur! My girls are really clever and all!

SUSANNE

(Talking over JUDIE)

So anything else then Alison?

ALISON shakes her head.

JUDIE

Okay so this is Mary-

SUSANNE

Uh Judie?

JUDIE

Sorry, I thought they were finishe-

SUSANNE

Well that may be, but I am the hostess here and must pass the focus of the room onto the next person to ensure that everyone is listening.

JUDIE

Oh.

MARY

(Under her breath)

Oh for goodness...(Louder) This is Judith, Judith Thomas and she has two children Leah and Lilli. She wanted to join this group to engage with her daughters in fruitful and intelligent discussions.

JUDIE looks an MARY in shock.

JUDIE

(After a moment)

Yes! Yes, I did say those things...(Beat)
Is the focus of the room here now Susanne or do you need to-?

SUSANNE gestures JUDIE to go on.

Fab! Okay. Well this is Mary, Churchill- not like the nodding dog, like the grumpy bloke with the hat.

She likes schools and kids...

The other women look confused including MARY.

...And thinks they are all really important- cos, if you think about it, if there’s no schools and tha, then how are they gunna like be intelligent older people/ that’s why she likes reading too...

SUSANNE

Okay great. (Beat)
Yes, thanks for that Judie.

JUDIE looks pleased with herself.

Well, I’ll be my invisible partner then! (She changes the way she is sat, presenting an invisible person with her hands)

This, is Susanne. She is the founder of this book club. Doctor James said it’d be a great shame if she didn’t. (Beat) Yes, so she made some posters and waited to see who’d turn up!

She changes back to her original seating position, thinks, then switches back to present the invisible "SUSANNE" once more.

Oh, almost forgot. She also wants to see if there are any great reads she’s missed, after many holidays with at least two books on the go...

She returns to her original seating position.

Okay! So. Me again! (Laughs loudly) I thought we’d do a book every three weeks from the list I have ma-

A back door (offstage) can be heard opening and slamming shut loudly. Someone is heard running up the stairs. A door upstairs slams loudly. Heavy metal music begins to play loudly from the room above.

The women all react with a mix of disdain, confusion and embarrassment for SUSANNE. SUSANNE gestures an apology and quickly heads for the sound upstairs. We hear banging, a door opening and SUSANNE and a young male voice having a muffled argument in the above room. The women all listen, some more obviously than others.

SUSANNE enters from upstairs.

SUSANNE

(Combating the music above)

Yes, so! The next book will be- let me get my list (Begins to rummage furiously in her bag)

JUDIE

Sue, what’s the (Points to ceiling) that um/...?

SUSANNE

Oh that! That’s my son Simon, he’s ever so talented- practices for hours up in his room with his guitar we bought him last Christmas.

ALISON

Is that him playing now? My god! Sounds like there’s a full/ band-

SUSANNE

Oh no no no, this is his "music meditation" hour/

MARY

Well how sil/ly

SUSANNE

(Ignoring MARY)

Where he absorbs the musical rhythms and sensations, to feed and...and nurture his own.

ALISON and JUDIE nod. MARY and JALA look perplexed.

JALA

Well I am glad Mo does not take part in this “musical medication”!

JUDIE

(To JALA)

Oh! "Mo", Short for ’Mohamed’ oh how traditional!

ALISON nods and smiles in agreement.

SUSANNE

Meditation

JALA

What?

SUSANNE

Meditation

MARY

/Poppycock!

JALA

No, I meant Judie. What did you say?

JUDIE

When?

JALA

Just now, you said something about Mo/

JUDIE

Oh yeah!Nice traditional name! Wish I had a boy I’d so call him Jesus now you lot use his /name

JALA

I’m not sure I follow..?

JUDIE

You know you’ve got Mo-hammed, we’ve got*-

There is a loud bang upstairs, and the music *cuts out.

JUDIE

-Jesus!!

(Beat)

JALA

But his name’s not Mohamed. It’s Domonic...

ALISON quickly takes away the agreement on her face, joining JALA in her confused looks at JUDIE.

Silence.

MARY

Right! Well now that whatever was being murdered upstairs is finally dead, I can say my piece at a civilised level!

JUDIE tries to work out how “Mo” fits into “Domonic”.

SUSANNE

Yes yes go ahead Mary!This is all perfect with the plan! (She puts her schedule down)

MARY

I shall be next week’s host, and I propose a little rule/ she who-

SUSANNE

Sounds ideal/

JUDIE

Didn’t you have your-(Points at SUSANNE’s schedule)

SUSANNE

No. Mary?

MARY

Well why don’t we make it so it’s, she who hosts, shall choose the next piece?

SUSANNE

Fab!

JUDIE

Ooo!What you gonna pick? No no no! Wait wait wait! Let me guess!’Pride and Prejudice’!

MARY

(Takes a beat then looks at the ceiling)

I was actually thinking, Salinger’s ’Catcher in the Rye’ would be (Beat) appropriate.

The women all turn to one another looking excited apart from ALISON who hides a small laugh.

SUSANNE

Oh fab! Yes how...“appropriate” I’ve never read that one but it’s supposed to be a...

JUDIE

A classic?

The music bursts back on in the room above.

The women listen pulling politely minimal faces of discomfort. SUSANNE is desperate to appreciate the noise.

Extremely loud feedback is heard making the women all recoil and grimace.

Blackout.

The feedback fades into a tuning radio.


Scene 2

Lights fade up on MARY setting up the room as her own, replacing ornaments, dusting and plumping cushions. The radio eventually tunes into Roy Noble, who is speaking on the free "Alien sighting" phone-in service. MARY tuts as the story goes on and picks up the remote to turn it off when Noble starts speaking of the poll which favors Winston Churchill for the new face of the five pound note, she proudly sets down the remote and allows the radio to keep playing.

She leaves to the kitchen and returns with a can of ’Pledge’. She douses and frantically polishes the coffee table, the cabinet, the picture frames etc.

She leaves to the kitchen again, returning with a tray of perfectly presented triangle sandwiches with salad garnish, placing it precisely on the coffee table. She then, in multiple trips fetches a glass jug of iced tea, china plates then finally cotton napkins. She then goes to the cabinet and takes out crystal glasses, she puts them on a tray, takes them to the table then wipes them with a cotton napkin inspecting each one as she finishes wiping them. She takes time to adjust the items on the table carefully.

Finally she slowly goes to sit, but as she does a loud musical clock strikes four, and a melodic doorbell sounds. Mary rises, switches the radio off and exits offstage towards the front door.

JUDIE

(Offstage)

Mary!

(Beat)

Love that doorbell. Right jingle-jangler isn’t it! You get it from Home base or something? /Wouldn’t mind one of them!

MARY

(Coming back into the living-room)

We had it in Holland actually, it was a gift from Winston’s nephew /he studies music there.

JUDIE

Oh nice...Music! Bet him and Susanne’s son would get on then!

MARY

I’m not too certain they would.

(Silence)

JUDIE

So uh...sit anywhere then is it?

MARY

Uh, you can sit on the sofa if you’d like.

JUDIE

(Sitting)

Great...

(Silence)

The Doorbell loudly sounds. MARY quickly exits to answer it. The offstage greeting conversation can be heard between MARY,JALA and ALISON.

In the living-room JUDIE looks at the sandwiches and iced tea. She flicks one of the glasses and it "pings" loudly, she jumps back clasping her hands like a misbehaving child.

MARY, JALA and ALISON enter. MARY indicates that they should sit on the sofa either side of JUDIE. They sit.

JALA, JUDIE and ALISON sit in the same awkward position on the sofa looking at the sandwiches.

JUDIE sneezes loudly, the others jump.

JUDIE

Shit, sorry girls! Only thing that makes me do that is pledge!

(Beat)

Haven’t sneezed like that since bein at my Gran’s house, she douses the place in it!(Laughs loudly)

JALA and ALISON try and laugh. MARY coldly hands a decorative box of tissues to JUDIE.

ALISON

Thanks for having us Mary. What did you think of the book? I did read it before, was good readin it again, gave new meanings you know?

MARY

I thought it was very apt...

JUDIE

Yeah...I liked /it too.

JALA

Hmm! Yes...

(Silence)

JUDIE

So um...anything else about the book then we want to talk about?

MARY

We are anticipating Susanne’s arrival Judith, then we shall begin the literary discussion.

JUDIE

Oh. Okay...

(Silence)

ALISON

(Suddenly)

Oh! Jala I forgot to ask, is Mo okay now?

JALA

Sorry?

ALISON

Oh, sorry, your husband told me- He comes into the shop all the time- didn’t realize it was him!

JUDIE and MARY become interested, discreetly listening.

JALA

Oh, uh yes he does the...he likes to do the shopping for the house.

ALISON

I can see that! He’s always buying lovely bits and bobs...Always a bit jealous when I see his basket!

JALA

(Slightly embarrassed)

-Uh yes, well Mo is fine thanks. Just a cold.

ALISON

Oh. good...

(Silence)

I thought he said he fell playing football?

JALA

Sorry?

ALISON

Mo. He had a nasty bump on his head. That’s why I asked, and Amir said it was football. I’m sure he said football/ anyway...

JALA

Oh yes! Football he did yes, sorry.

ALISON

Oh well good to hear he’s better from all his ailments anyway!(Laughs)

JALA

Yes...

(Silence)

JUDIE

Perhaps Mary...If I may um...suggest...provide a suggest/ion...

MARY

Please.

JUDIE

Well shouldn’t we crack on? I really want to start knowing what people thought about it.

MARY

(Looks at her watch then gives in)

Okay. I suppose we could.

(She opens a cupboard and presents a small chalkboard)

The other women all laugh.

MARY

What? What on earth is so funny?

JALA and ALISON quickly stop laughing, JUDIE continues.

JUDIE

You look like my old headmistress! I haven’t seen one of those in bloody donkey’s years!

(Continues to laugh)

Next you’ll be wearing a motor board and cloak!

MARY goes to a large framed photograph of herself in a motor board and cloak and places it on the table facing the other women. They all look wide-eyed at the photo, trying not to laugh.

MARY

I shall have you know my cloak was extremely flattering, I was highly upset when they lost that tradition in my later years.

JUDIE

(Loudly)

Oh. My. GOD! That’s not you mun!

ALISON

Uh, Judie /I think

MARY

Yes it is me/ I was the firs-

JUDIE

(Laughing)

Mare, you gotta take this away mun it’s makin me weak! It’s fancy dress innit, I mean I know you said you were a head and that but MY GOD! You look like that woman, with your face all pouty like tha!

ALISON

I, don’t think Mary uh/...

JUDIE

Al, you’ll know what I mean, you know those teachers who used to /be like...like...

MARY

Like, what Judith?

JUDIE

Oh! With that face...You know like that teacher in that film. That’s who you’re trying to be innit!What’s her name?

MARY

I am not trying to be anything of the sort, it is a end of term photograph we had one every yea-

JUDIE

That one in that film with the girl who moves stuff with her eyes...uh/...

JALA

Oh Matilda!

JUDIE

- Yes!Miss uh...It’s on the tip of my bloody tongue mun!

MARY

(Shocked)

ALISON

(Quietly)

Miss Trunchball...

JUDIE/JALA

-YES!!!

MARY

(Quietly fumes)

JUDIE

(Laughs then quickly stops)

Oh...uh...

There is a long awkward silence.

I didn’t mean you...uh, look like her or anything Mare. It just all reminded me of that fil- I/meant...

MARY

Yes well. (Starts to furiously scribble on the chalkboard ’Catcher in the Rye’)

Judith. (She hands the board and chalk over to JUDIE) Perhaps you’d like to start us all off hmm?

(Beat)

JUDIE

Oh...uh...well I/

MARY

No. (Quickly snatches back the board and sits)Didn’t think so. Perhaps Jala will be so kind to pour you a glass of lemonade and you can...listen for now.

(Awkward silence)

JALA quickly begins to pour a glass of lemonade and hands it to JUDIE. JUDIE sits back into the chair.

MARY

So, the most striking theme of Salinger’s ’Catcher in the Rye’ is of course that of ’Growing up’.

ALISON nods smugly.

Does Holden Caulfield ever really commit to growing up, or does it get the better of him?

(Beat)

Ladies?

(Beat)

Come along now...Judith was all set for "cracking on". Surely there’s something you’d like to share?

JUDIE sinks further into the sofa, JALA jumps forward to pour some iced tea. After a pause ALISON raises a hand.

MARY

Alison! Wonderful! Please, do share dear.

ALISON

Well uh...I will of course, yes but I was actually wondering Mary if I may ask/ where-

MARY

Oh now dear, I don’t have all the answers up my sleeve, we must try and discuss and unpick this text as a group.

ALISON

Uh, yes...but I was wondering where your bathroom is?

(Beat)

MARY

(Cold)

Upstairs, first door on the left.

ALISON

Okay. Great.(She exits)

(Short pause)

JALA

I actually thought it was rather uh...

MARY

Yes Jala? Rather..?

JALA

Well...sad.

MARY

Okay! Great, a possible theme "sadness". Continue, yes, yes please do!

(Beat)

JALA

Uh that’s all I really had to say about it really...I mean I tried making some notes /but I uh...

JUDIE

Yes! I did that, I tried that too Mary.

MARY

(Smiles and sets to impart wisdom)

Ladies. The brain is a muscle yes?

JUDIE/JALA

Uh...(Looking at each other) yes...?

MARY

And what is it that a muscle needs to get firmer, stronger, larger?

JUDIE

Uh, a personal trainer?

JALA

-Exercise.

JUDIE

Yeah, yeah, that’s what I meant.

MARY

(She sits back triumphant)

Well then...

After some time JUDIE sits forward and puts her drink on the table.

JUDIE

Mary?

MARY

Yes dear

JUDIE

I don’t do any exercise with "Mean Dean" on head muscles...

JUDIE’s phone suddenly rings loudly.

Oh! Sorry, gotta get this, it’s one of the girls.

(She answers the phone and takes it to the kitchen)

MARY and JALA look at each other and let off a small giggle. ALISON enters the living room and sits.

ALISON

Did I miss anything?

The women are muted apart as JUDIE talks in the the kitchen.The women do not respond to her conversation.

JUDIE

Hi Lil! Hi sweetheart, how was school?

-Yeah? Did you like daddy picking you up?

-I know, well mummy has book club doesn’t she?

-That’s it, school for mummy! (Laughs)

-So did daddy pick you up in the pretty car?

-Oh...good. I told him you liked that one.

-He what?? Well you tell him that mummy doesn’t like him playing roller coaster with you in the car.

-Oh he doesn’t mean stuff like that(tries to laugh)

-He’s only messing with you princess!He loves mummy likes he loves you!

-Yes he gives mummy lots of hugs too-

-Well...they are before you get back from school.

-Well then, he waits til you’ve gone to school, then he comes back, then he gives me hugs.

-Secret ones yeah.

-He was busy today, so not today no. Ask daddy if you can go in the bath now an-

-Come on Lil, you like baths!Mummy wont sleep in your bed tonight if you don’t have a bath and are all smelly!

-Good.

-Then we’ll do some reading then yeah?

-Yeah. Good.

-Lil..?

-In P.E. what exercises do you do for your brain?

-What head exercises do you do at school?

-Don’t laugh at mummy I want to know!

-Oh...okay then never mind.

-Yes. Yes, mummy was jokin...

-She was!

-See you later.

Love you-

-Lil..?

-Daddy can talk to you in a minute, say it back.

-Lillia-!

(She scoffs as the phone is obviously hung up)

JUDIE enters the living room. The women are unmuted.

JUDIE

(Collecting her things)

I’m uh. I’m sorry Mary, I’ve got to go home. There’s uh. It’s one of the girls...Bit upset, needs her mum.

JALA

(Directs to ALISON)

When the kids need you, they need you/ eh.

ALISON and JALA exchange an awkward look.

MARY

Well that’s not true, I’m sure your Martin can /hold the fort...?

JUDIE

Bag, phone...keys- you want a lift Al?

ALISON

Oh well If you wouldn’t mind /Judie...

MARY

You’re not going too are you?!

JALA

Actually, I can see if Amir is aroun/d, he normally does the shopping in a little *whil...

MARY

Oh!

ALISON

*Bout 5ish isn’t it/?(Beat) Judie this is very kind of you...

JALA

4.30 /actually.

JUDIE

-No probs!

MARY

Well what about Salinger?

JUDIE, ALISON and JALA (who is now on her mobile) head for the front door. MARY follows them out. Dialogue takes place offstage.

MARY

What about the themes and and the symbolism??

JUDIE

Sorry Mare! We’ll sort somethin out innit!

ALISON

Bye Mary!

The sounds of car doors being shut and driving off.

JALA

Bye Mary! I’m going to meet him at the end of the road. Easier for him to turn around!

MARY

Bye...

Lights fade to black.


Scene 3

The sound of a phone ringing.

MARY

-Susan?

-Oh, uh yes I do apologise, Susanne. Listen I was calling to ask you about the next meeti-

-Why we did have it yes.

-Well we thought the show must go on and all tha-

-Well I suppose I just assumed as I was set to be host it wasn’t a-

-Did you not like it? I know it’s a little difficult to grasp Salinger’s style at first but I’m sure if you gave it some ti-

(Pause) -I see.

-Well I am sorry you felt I would use something like this to humiliate you like that. I can assure you I had no suc-

-Well now that’s not fair! I mean Alison approved of the choice and she had even read it before! As far as I’m concerned she knew as much as I what it mean-

-I am sorry Susanne, it was a little moment of jest, it wasn’t meant to be cruel, I am sorry.

-Yes she had, yes...

-Oh lord no, she’s not the brightest bulb in the-

-(Laughs) Susanne!

-She just thought it was sad.

-Yes I know.

-Yeas Indeed.

-(’hmms’in agreement)

MARY’s "hmms" fade as SUSANNE’s voice is heard.

SUSANNE

-Well when Mary said disaster had struck, I just knew I had to phone you and see what ha- see how you were Jude.

-Oh...well Mary is a little gossip queen after all then int she! Making out you’d had a fire at home or something huge like that! (Laughs)

-Yes, yes, well she doesn’t have any does she, so perhaps she doesn’t really understand it all too well.

-Yes...well you could say I enjoyed it. Mary said you hadn’t read the book before..?

-No, didn’t think so...

-Well, I had of course heard of it but uh...no, hadn’t fancied it, not really my cup of tea...

-Hmm, yeah. I heard Alison had read it though, quite the bookworm eh-?

-Yeah she must do, if I worked there I’d be pullin my hair out!

(Laughs)

-Speaking of hair, a little birdy told me...you have your hair done at Jackson’s...

-Well of course! Suppose it’s worth it if you want it kept in good shape-

-An investment yeah. (Beat) How often do you g-?

-Really...! Judie that must cost you a small fortu-

-Oh I’d never get away with paying that much for my hair...

-Oh! Well I wish Terry would say that...that bloody Loreal’s the only one who says I’m worth it!

(Long Pause)

-Jude...it wasn’t that fun-

-No Jude listen, I only called to let you know that we need to find a new book slash hostess for next tim-

-No Jude I can’t hold on-

-Jude, he wont find it funny! I (Sighs)

SUSANNE’s "Jude!’s" fade as JUDIE’s voice is heard.

JUDIE

-Aw thanks Hun! But then, what was really funny was what Sue said, she goes...The only person who tells me I’m worth it is the telly! (Laughs then quickly stops)Don’t think I told it like she did.

-Well she said she doesn’t mind what book or where so suppose all of us can keep phoning and making suggestions really...

-Not heard of tha one.

-Or tha one...

-Or tha! You’re so clever Al mun...

-You are! You should be in charge of it all this.

-No. Serious.

-Serious! Seious dot com.

-Sorry, the girls say it all the time, it’s flippin catchy.

-Do you need a lift next time or does your brother give you a lift sometimes then yeah?

-God I hate the buses round yur, I’ll give you a lift mun, you don’t live miles an miles away do you!

-Well I can drop you there to work too if you like, ’snot like it’s far.

-Who?

-Aw there’s nice, suppose it’s nice to put a little picture together now innit, now you know Jala too.

-Yeah...

-Yeah, well you know what their like! Bumps and bruises follow kids round like flies on shit, my girls are the same.

-Wha, again?

(Pause)

-Well maybe his dad’s just a bit more traditional an stuff, you know how cultures are an tha-

(Longer pause)

-Well maybe he’s not gettin on in uni very well.

-Oh...

(Long pause)

-Vent away hun, don’t worry mun!

-Yeah, think I’m just gonna stuff it an have fish and chips! (Laughs)

-Well I’ll give Jal a bell then cos I’ve got her number by yur and give you a buzz if anyone lets me know what’s goin on orite?!

The sound of a phone ringing, it rings out. Pause. The sound of a phone ringing again, it gets louder and louder until it becomes a long loud single ring.

Scene 4

The ringing cuts out and the lights snap up. JALA’s house. There is a wide variety of food on the table along with a pot of mint tea.

MARY and SUSANNE are sat.

MARY

Well...I hope everything is okay.

SUSANNE

Oh I’m sure it’s fine. Teachers can be so over dramatic sometimes you know-

MARY gives her a look.

You...know...yes...well.

(Long pause)

These look tasty!(She reaches for the food)

MARY

Doesn’t agree with me.

SUSANNE

(Quickly snatches her hand back in)

Me neither...

(Long pause)

When do you reckon she’ll be back?

MARY

Well the university is only down the road so...Truth be told I don’t know. These things can be...sensitive.

SUSANNE

Oh yes...

Silence

There is a knock at the door.

SUSANNE

(Springs up out of her seat)

I’ll get it!

MARY makes no attempt to move.

SUSANNE goes to open the front door.

SUSANNE

(Off)

Oh...hi...

JUDIE

(Off)

Hiya!! Oh...what’s wrong?

SUSANNE

(Walks JUDIE and ALISON into the living room)

Bit of a disaster at the moment...

MARY

It’s hardly a disaster Susanne. Jala has had to go to the university for something to do with her son...Mo, isit?

ALISON

Mo, yeah that’s right...why what’s happened?

SUSANNE

(Dramatic)

We don’t know. She just rushed off. She said I won’t be long and ran off with her keys- doesn’t have a car- or, well she can’t drive it so...

JUDIE

She’s walked to the uni?! Oh I wish I’d known I could’ve given her a bloody lift mun!

ALISON

I hope he’s okay...

SUSANNE

Him?! If I know boys that age it’ll be some bloody fighting or drug doin/ or something like tha

ALISON

They can’t do all those things Sue, it’s Haram.

SUSANNE

Yeah, I know they can have hareems but it doesn’t stop em doin all that other stuff does it?!

JUDIE

Martin said he wanted a hareem once...

MARY tuts.

ALISON

It means unacceptable by Muslim law...

SUSANNE

Well loads of things are apparently, but I still see em boozing and fighting when I drive passed the Kwik Save.

ALISON

Well you can’t just tar everyone with the same brush /Sue.

SUSANNE

I can if I’ve seen it with my own eyes...

ALISON

That is ridiculous, if you did that every time /you...

JUDIE

Actually...I’ve seen it by Kwik Save, it’s got quite bad actually...

ALISON

You are not telling me that because you’ve seen some yobs, looking like they’re going to make trouble outside a supermarket, you now think all young people are instantly like that?

Silence

Mary. You don’t believe that do you?

MARY is silent.

Judie, what if one of those kids was one of the girls?

JUDIE is silent.

SUSANNE

I’m afraid it’s a fact Al...

ALISON

Well. Wow...a "fact"?

JUDIE

It’s not like I want to think that’s what it is Al...I mean. I’ve got loads of friends who are...well...you know...

ALISON

Yeah, I do know Jude. Just find it ironic that all of you are here at a book club judging one by its cover...

SUSANNE

Look. I’m not saying that anything like that has happened, I am saying, I’ve seen it. And in this day and age I’m sorry but gut instinct is worth an awful lot.

ALISON

Just didn’t think you were all like that...

Silence

JUDIE

So what did everyone think of the book...?

MARY looks at JUDIE.

No? (Beat) Okay...

Long silence. They are wrestless, looking at their watches.

SUSANNE

(Sighing)

I should’ve told her to just forget it.

MARY

We could have easily rescheduled.

JUDIE

hmm.

ALISON

Well some of us can’t that easily actually.And it’d be nice if Jala had someone to vent to, if anything has happened.

JUDIE, SUSANNE and MARY look at one another and pull faces of "Well, what’s wrong with her?".

Silence.

ALISON

Look. I think I’m just gonna go...They’re short at work so I can just go in-

JUDIE

No! Don’t do that!What about the "venting"? You’re good at that stuff.

SUSANNE

Yes, stay. I’m sure she’ll be back soon. And after all this is your "You" time too love...

MARY

(Agreeing)

Hmm!

JUDIE

Yeah, you can unwind! You can vent an all.

(Beat)

ALISON

Is that what you think I do this for? For some "Me" time...? For some tea and a moan?

JUDIE/SUSANNE

(Look at each other)

Well...yes.

(Beat)

ALISON

I work...It’s not a disease-

MARY

Now you know I certainly don’t think that Alison, after all I did work for almost twenty four years-

JUDIE

Yeah!

SUSANNE

And I work at the surgery.

JUDIE

Oh yeah!

SUSANNE

But...our work, and our...well-

ALISON

Yes? Yes?

JUDIE

I don’t like this convo...And your getting all stressed Al-

ALISON

I’m NOT STRESSED!

Awkwardness

JUDIE

BRB...

JUDIE exits to the toilet.

MARY

We all have those days dear...

ALISON

I am NOT having one of those "days"!

SUSANNE

Why don’t you get your brother to take you out hmm? Ooo, go to that new Italian in town-

ALISON

I can’t afford it.

SUSANNE

Well then come with us lot then- we’ll pay!

ALISON

I do not need charit- Jesus I only wanted to have an adult conversation with people about sodding books!!!

Long awkward silence.

JUDIE

(Off)

Cooey! (Beat) I found something to cheer you up Al!

ALISON

Oh for goodness- (Shouting) I do not need cheering-

ALISON is cut off by JUDIE Egyptian dancing into the living room wearing a hijab.

MARY

Oh. My. /God.

SUSANNE

(Laughs hysterically)

ALISON

Judie...

JUDIE begins to sing the tune to "Hava Nagila" as she continues to dance.

Jude...

MARY

(Beginning to laugh)

Oh Judith. You do look pretty ridiculous you know...

SUSANNE

(Begins to roar with laughter)

MARY/SUSANNE’s laughter and JUDIE’s singing builds to an uncomfortable level.

ALISON explodes and rips the hijab from JUDIE. All noise stops.

ALISON goes and sits calmly back on her chair. She slowly pours some mint tea and sips. The others watch her.

ALISON

I’m sorry Judie...But I can’t stand bullies-

JUDIE

Bullies?!

ALISON

What else would you have just called yourself? Hmm? Apart from hugely racist and disrespectful in somebody’s family home-

MARY

Oh come off it Alison, she was hardly trying to be ra/cist

ALISON

So singing "Hava Nigila" (a Jewish song) whilst prancing round the living room trying to perform Egyptian dance wearing Jala’s scarf is not "trying to be racist"?? Hmm?! Well sorry that is just ignorant, I mean in the day and age we live in with all the educatio-(She stops exasperated)

Silence

SUSANNE

Was funny though.

JUDIE

(Lets out a trapped laugh)

MARY

(Tries to keep composed but fails)

Judith stop it! (Laughs) Susa- Oh I am sorry Alison, I know you have this whole "racist" perspective thing going on here but it was just a bit of fun!

ALISON

Fun? (Under her breath) We’ll just wait to see how "fun" Jala thinks it is...

MARY

What?

JUDIE

Oh Al you’re not going to tell her are you? I’m sorry, I am-!

SUSANNE

For goodness /sake Al...

ALISON

Well sorry but I think I’d like to know if I had bigots in my house.

MARY

Now hang on-

SUSANNE

I’ve never heard anything more stu/pid in my-

ALISON

Well you can talk.

SUSANNE

Sorry?!

ALISON

That entire rant you went on before about ethnic kids being yobs- "bigitory" Susanne.

SUSANNE

You can’t call me that...I...I have friends who are/ eth-

JUDIE

(Quietly)

I am sorry Al. I was just coming out the loo and her bedroom door was open and it was just on the bed...I just wanted to cheer you up.

ALISON

I’m afraid that wasn’t the right way Judie...

SUSANNE

(Under her breath)

How dare she.

MARY

Alison. I think you owe Susanne an apology.

ALISON

Are you mad?!

MARY gives her a stubborn look.

If any of you were bad-mouthed like that or made fun of like /that-

SUSANNE

I wasn’t talking about Jala for goodness-!

JUDIE

You think I was making fun of Jala Al?

ALISON

If anyone said or did anything about one of you like that, then you would defend them no?

(Beat)

MARY

I’m afraid it’s not quite the same Aliso-

ALISON

How is it any different?!

JUDIE

I was just trying to...

SUSANNE

Look (Picks up the scarf) I’m putting it back, and we’re forgetting the whole thing okay?

MARY

Marvelous idea...

ALISON

No. I’m sorry, you can’t just wander yourself out of an argument like that!

SUSANNE

I’m not "wandering out" I’m putting it back...So we can avoid more of the dramatics.

MARY

-Right okay. Alison is right, there needs to be a sense of democracy here like she so implores...

ALISON

But I’m not talking about the bloody scarf-

MARY

Who thinks we should put the scarf back?

SUSANNE and MARY’s arms shoot up in the air, JUDIE’s slowly follows.

ALISON

Oh well this is just childis-

MARY

I’m afraid Alison, the majority has spoken.

SUSANNE takes the scarf from ALISON and steps towards MARY.

ALISON

Judie, you know I’m not getting upset about the scarf or the bloody "democracy" of the living room yeah?

JUDIE

Well, I-

ALISON

I’m not! It’s just that I hate to see intelligent women being...well...unintelligent like that.

JUDIE

Okay...

ALISON

And I really like their family and I don’t want Amir to stop coming into the shop. All the other customers are such boring buggers, telling me how crap the weather is all the time.

JUDIE

(Laughs)

It is always crap...

ALISON

Look, I am sorry for gettin a bit wound up orite?

JUDIE

I’m sorry I wore the burka and did the racist dancing.

ALISON

It’s not a burk- never mind. Look...you didn’t know you were being racist...okay? And now you know why it’s bad yeah?

JUDIE

Cos, it makes me sound as if I’m really un-intelligent.

ALISON

Yes. Yes it does...

Pause

JUDIE

So. Can I just ask...?

ALISON

Yes?

JUDIE

What does make you sound intelligent?

ALISON

Uh...well...I...I’m...

MARY

Excellent articulation of a good argument.

SUSANNE

A.K.A knowing what you’re talking about.

ALISON

Okay. I can see that’s aimed at me, but d’you what? I came to chat about books, and I’m pretty sure Judie did to...

JUDIE

I’m gonna put the scarf back where I found it...I don’t want Jala thinkin I was makin fun of her...

JUDIE goes to take the scarf off SUSANNE. The front door opens, SUSANNE stuffs the scarf down the back of the sofa.

End of Act One

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