Characters:

VOICES 1-5: All male. Age indeterminate; not particularly young or old.

MEG: 60-year-old woman. As seen in Pinter’s The Birthday Party.

STANLEY: Middle-aged man. As seen in Pinter’s The Birthday Party.

PINTER: Middle-aged balding man.

The stage is dark. We can hear nothing save the soft sound of a man breathing. This persists for roughly twenty seconds, the breathing intensifying in sound but not in frequency. Suddenly, it stops. The following voices overlap, each one picking up the very moment the previous one stops. All male, without great variations in pitch or tone.

VOICE 1: …and it sifts through you…

VOICE 3: …it takes root inside…

VOICE 5: …it calls to you…

VOICE 4: …softly…oh…so softly…

VOICE 2: …it calls…

VOICE 1: …and yet you do not fear…

VOICE 3: …you do not question…

VOICE 4: …it calls, and deep down you know…

VOICE 5: …you know…

Silence. The stage is still dark. Now we can hear some papers being shuffled, but not too loudly. A gavel bangs, and the shuffling stops. A soft yellow light is turned on. It has a continuous switch, so that it strengthens periodically from utter darkness until it is bright enough to illuminate the surface of a wooden desk, and the face of PINTER, who is seated comfortably on a metallic chair. The lamp is tilted downwards, facing the desk, which has on it only a clear pad of A4 paper and a pen. PINTER breathes out again loudly, and the gavel bangs a second time. A further row of yellow lights now brighten in the same fashion. They are placed on the floor at the opposite end of the room, behind a large curved table (or multiple conjoined desks) which seats five men. These lights are left slightly dimmer than PINTER’s lamp, and suffice only to illuminate the outline of the men. The two tables are roughly four metres apart, and facing each other. They are angled slightly towards the audience (in the vicinity of 20-30 degrees from the parallel line drawn from the stage), such that when PINTER addresses the audience, nearly the whole of his face can be seen without requiring him to twist his core. PINTER is on the right side of the stage. All directions are given from the perspective of the audience.

 

VOICE 3: [Deeply. Formally.] Harold Pinter. Playwright, actor, poet. [PINTER looks up slowly, his expression distant and slightly cold.] You have been brought before us today for your crimes against art. For your reckless absurdism, and blatant disregard for the truth. By the powers vested in us, by the Consortium of Conservative Artists, we shall pass judgment on your sins. We, shall determine how posterity sees you… How do you plead?

PINTER remains silent.

Murmurs of dissent amongst the voices. Pause.

VOICE 3: [Sounds a bit tired. Starts straightening a pile of loose sheets on the desk.] Very well. Let us begin.

VOICE 4: Reality, Mister Pinter, reality.

VOICE 5: Yes… [Thinks carefully.] yes…

VOICE 4: We must speak of the truth.

VOICE 2: Only of the truth.

VOICE 1: The truth and nothing else.

PINTER mutters something under his breath.

VOICE 1: What? [Turns to the other VOICES] What did he say?

VOICE 4: What did you say?

PINTER: [More loudly.] I said it’s a waste of time.

VOICES murmur once again.

VOICE 3: A trial is a serious matter, Mister Pinter.

VOICE 2: [Echoes] …serious…

VOICE 3: [Continues undeterred.] You would do well to keep that in mind. It is certainly not ‘a waste of time.’

VOICE 4: [Nods with gravitas.] Certainly not…

PINTER: [Doesn’t balk.] I was talking about reality.

Murmurs of annoyance from the VOICES.

VOICE 3: Come now.

VOICE 2: You can’t expect us to believe that.

VOICE 5: What else is there? Other than truth? That reality?

VOICE 4: [Nods in agreement.] Nothing at all.

VOICE 3: [Reasserting command.] I believe we can all agree that truth is of paramount importance. Reality, the standard that every playwright should aim to attain. It is a great flaw, for one to be aware of the curtains at the edge of the stage.

VOICE 2: Your work, must be flawless.

VOICE 1: Without fault…

VOICE 5: For too long, has society suffered with inadequate forms of expression.

VOICE 1: Uninspired art.

VOICE 2: Dull music.

VOICE 4: Repetitive writing.

VOICE 3: It is time for something new. The people are ready for something new, Mister Pinter, and it is your duty to provide it.

VOICE 4: To write past the muck and focus on the truth.

VOICE 2: [Echoes] The truth…

VOICE 4: [With even greater conviction] The truth!

Short Pause.

VOICE 4: [Quietly, and much more calmly] It is the only way…The only way to truly obscure the curtains. To make your writing one with life.

PINTER: I – [Pause]

VOICE 3: [Coldly] You have failed, Mister Pinter. You have failed quite miserably.

VOICE 4: It all stems from your characters. From the ways in which they speak.

PINTER: [Slightly lost] The way they… speak?

VOICE 4: [Continues] The way they feel.

VOICE 3: The way they interact.

VOICE 5: [Faster and more forceful] Their dreams. Their oppressions.

VOICE 1: [Faster and more forceful] The pain. The fear.

VOICE 4: [Conclusive] The love. Their love.

Silence

PINTER: [Bewildered] I…

VOICE 3: [Normal matter-of-fact tone] You appear to be confused.

PINTER: I must admit I am.

VOICE 4: It is life. They have too much of it. Simply too much.

VOICE 3: [Shakes his head forlornly] What my colleagues are trying to say, is that your characters aren’t real people. They’re merely vessels for your thought.

PINTER: [Slight sense of realisation, but still appears to be unimpressed] So?

The VOICES appear affronted by the response, muttering amongst each other in hushed voices.

VOICE 3: ‘So’, Mister Pinter, your plays lack form. Quite frankly, they’re a mess.

[Mixed nods and harrumphs of assent from the other VOICES.]

Pinter grows cold, but doesn’t display it.

VOICE 3: Don’t misunderstand us. One might still enjoy them…

VOICE 1: [In a comforting manner.] …and very much so…

VOICE 3: …but it’s simply bad art. You can’t just give people what you’re thinking, and expect them to understand. It’s too cruel. It’s too much.

VOICE 1: And it’s our job to tend to the garden. To ‘clear out the weeds.’

Pause. Pinter waits for them to continue. He does not appear particularly impressed.

VOICE 3: [Continues] The stage is a holy place. Sacred. And one must never cross its borders. You see, unlike our reality, one can never extend the stage.

VOICE 5: The boundaries. They’re always fixed. Right there [Points to the edge of the stage.] [Whispers] Can you see them? [Snaps up to the audience] Can you feel them watching? Waiting? Can you hear them breathe?

VOICE 3: This is no reality Mister Pinter, it is an eternal past.

VOICE 5: A never-ending history.

VOICE 3: And you, can do nothing to stop that.

Another pause. PINTER stands up, looking slightly affronted.

PINTER: I don’t agree.

VOICE 3: You don’t… agree? My dear fellow, [Coldly] we’re not asking you to agree.

PINTER: [Sounds irritated] But yes, goddamn it you are! My character and my plays. All of it. I don’t agree.

The voices engage in a short, hushed dispute.

VOICE 3: [Turns to PINTER, having concluded the discussion with the other VOICES.] A truth held by one man, is surely no truth at all.

VOICES 2 & 4 nod in confirmation.

PINTER: [Shakes his head.] That’s not what I mean.

VOICE 1: Oh…?

VOICE 5: Oh…

PINTER: What you speak of are simulations, not reality. Of falsehood and emotion.

VOICE 2 scoffs, PINTER continues undeterred.
PINTER: Of love, pain and truth… [His voice grows softer] But not of chaos. Not, of madness.

The VOICES seem unconvinced.

VOICE 3: We can all draw distinctions, Mister Pinter. But right now, we are calling upon you to defend them.

PINTER: [Shrugs] Very well, I shall! [Stands with confidence and vigour. He now appears to be fully in control. Turning to the back of the stage he shouts:] Call them in! Call them both in!

VOICE 3: [Turns to the back of the stage.] Usher! Call in the victims.

A door creaks from behind the stage. A third spotlight strengthens from above, casting a circle of light on the stage, roughly in between the tables, and 1.5 metres in diameter. MEG and STANLEY will be standing within this circle when they’re ‘acting’. During this process, they will fully immerse themselves in their characters and ignore PINTER and the VOICES.

 

 

MEG enters, but stands at the very end of the stage, barely visible in the dark. She is arguing in hushed voices with STANLEY, who is just off the stage. This continues for a few seconds, until PINTER grows visibly impatient and shouts:

PINTER: Meg! Meg, get over here!

The figures stop arguing and turn towards PINTER. MEG quickly shuffles to the front of the stage, and stands in the spotlight.

MEG: Alright, alright. There’s no need to shout.

PINTER looks at her exasperated.

PINTER: Stanley. Bring Stanley too…

MEG: [Turns to the door at the back of the stage.] Stan! Hey, Stan! Get out here!

The VOICES are silent, looking at MEG. She turns to look out towards the audience, unperturbed by her surroundings.

MEG: [Partly to PINTER, partly to herself.] There’s quite a few of them, huh? Quite a few… [Calls behind her, losing her patience.] Stanley! Stanley, the stage is getting cold! [A shuffling can be heard from behind the stage and the door creaks open again. MEG starts straightening her dress nervously and smiles at PINTER.] There. He’s coming now. Didn’t want to wake him, did I?

PINTER: [Not paying much attention to her.] He wasn’t asleep.

Stanley shuffles onto the stage, not in any particular hurry. He yawns once he reaches the spotlight.

STANLEY: What is it? Why’re you shouting?

MEG’s expression has changed drastically. She’s now smiling and full of life.

MEG: [Lovingly latches onto Stanley’s arm. Gushes out.] Stan, oh Stanley, we’ve got a demonstration! Just the two of us. A real demonstration!

Stanley ignores what she’s saying and tries to peel her off his arm.

STANLEY: Stop grabbing me woman, it’s not right.

MEG: Oh… But St-

PINTER: [Annoyed. His voice is authoritative, and they both freeze when he speaks.] Enough. Prepare yourselves. [MEG and STANLEY move to opposite edges of the spotlight on the ground, and then freeze, staring into each other’s eyes. PINTER takes a few steps back and turns towards the VOICES.] Well? They’re here now. What’d you want?

The VOICES find this all quite normal, and do not seem in any way surprised by what has occurred.

VOICE 4: [Confers with VOICE 3.] The breakfast scene?

VOICE 3: The first one? [VOICE 4 nods.] Alright. [Turns back to PINTER.] Give us the first breakfast scene with Stanley.

PINTER turns back to MEG and STANLEY and claps his hands once. MEG and STANLEY unfreeze. They are now fully in character, no longer aware of PINTER or the stage.

STANLEY: Visitors? Do you know how many visitors you’ve had since I’ve been here?

MEG: How many?

STANLEY: One.

MEG: Who?

STANLEY: Me! I’m your visitor.

MEG: You’re a liar. This house is on the list.

VOICE 3: [Calls out.] There! Stop! [MEG and STANLEY freeze. VOICE 3 turns to PINTER.] Can’t you see it?

VOICE 2: [Muttering to VOICE 1.] Horrible…

VOICE 1: …just horrible.

PINTER: [Ignores VOICES 2 & 1, keeps his gaze on VOICE 3. Growing annoyed.] See what?

VOICE 4: [Exasperated] The visitors Mister Pinter! The visitors!

VOICE 5: She’s the proprietress for God’s sake!

VOICE 1: She ought to know!

VOICE 3: There’s only one of them!

The other VOICES nod in assent.

VOICE 2: [Echoes] Only one…

PINTER: [Continues to ignore them.] Yes, but how do you feel?

VOICE 3: [Taken aback.] What?

PINTER: I said, how do you feel? [Takes a step in their direction, inching closer with every word.] Happy? Sad? Anxious? Depressed?

The VOICES hesitate, glancing around at each other before responding.

VOICE 3: [Uncertain] Well… agitated, I would say.

VOICE 4: [Nods] Confused…

VOICE 1: Frustrated…

PINTER pivots away from them and turns back to the couple.

PINTER: Good.

Short pause. The VOICES seem to be expecting more.

VOICE 2: So?

PINTER: [Returning to stand behind his desk] So, what?

VOICE 3: Why is it important?

PINTER: [Smirks] Why is it important to react?

VOICE 3: [Not impressed.] To react in such a way, Mister Pinter. In this way.

PINTER: Because characters aren’t always people. [Pauses takes a step towards MEG and reaches out with his arm. Stops himself just before he touches and pulls back.] Sometimes, sometimes they’re so much more.

VOICE 2: [Hesitant. Trying to understand.] Like what?

PINTER stretches his arms out in front of him and says:

PINTER: Look. [Claps his hands casually, without any airs of magnanimity or authority. MEG and STANLEY unfreeze. They look bleary-eyed and lost. Only MEG seems to notice PINTER. STANLEY is still oblivious to his surroundings.]

MEG: G’morning.

PINTER: It’s not morning yet, Meg.

MEG: But I just gave Stanley his cereal. [Turns to Stanley.] Didn’t I Stan? [Stanley ignores her, looking around without seeming to register anything.] Stan?

STANLEY: Yes, very good.

MEG: What was?

STANLEY: The cereal.

MEG: Cereal?

STANLEY: Yes, the cereal.

MEG turns to PINTER triumphantly.

MEG: You see? ‘Very good.’ Very good indeed!

PINTER: Alright, alright, stop it. [Meg and Stanley freeze for a few seconds, then they unfreeze again.] Let’s go through the sequence again. But this time, act normal.

STANLEY: [Brief pause.] Visitors? Do you know how many visitors you’ve had since I’ve been here?

MEG: [Looking slightly hurt] It’s not funny Stanley.

STANLEY: [Taken aback.] I- I didn’t mean it like that.

MEG: [Turning the other way.] I know… It’s just… You know, Petey said we might need to put up a sign…

STANLEY: A sign? Oh, come on, it can’t be that bad. [Walks up behind her and puts his arms around her waist, pulling her close.] Things will get better. I know they will.

MEG: [Smiles forlornly.] That’s what you always say.

STANLEY: [Pecks the side of her neck, trying to cheer her up.] And I’m always right, aren’t I? You just have to wait. [She giggles as he pecks her a few more times, then swats him away playfully. Tries to compose herself, smoothing down her dress and combing through her hair with her hand.]

MEG: Stop it! Petey’ll be back any minute!

PINTER claps his hands once again, and MEG and STANLEY freeze. PINTER turns back to the VOICES.

PINTER: You see what I mean?
VOICE 2: [Now appearing genuinely confused.] No. No I don’t!

PINTER: Well, yes, they’re ‘people’ in your sense of the word. Miserable souls that you might find roaming the streets, keeping each other warm in their households. But that’s all. They’re just people. They feel, the same way you and I do. They laugh, and cry, and talk, and care. They have lives, lives beyond the lines they speak of. Dreams and aspirations, unvoiced fears and inhibitions. They are people in every sense. Downright boring and normal. [Exasperated] Do you not see now? They are just people! People like everyone else! Why should I write about them? What can they teach me? What can they possibly ever say? [Pauses] No. I’m not interested in people. I never was. [It appears as though he’s talking to himself, he turns towards the audience, but his head is titled slightly downwards, giving the impressing that he’s simply thinking aloud.] All I wanted… All I want is the truth. The real reason. [Turns to MEG. His voice becomes more tender.] Isn’t that right, Meg?

MEG unfreezes.

MEG: Oh, Mister Harold, [Looks at him with incredible rapture. Then turns upset.] I forgot your breakfast yesterday.

PINTER: [Smiles] That’s quite alright.

MEG: Is it?

PINTER: Perfectly. You know why? [Steps towards her.]

MEG: [Scared. Breathes out quickly:] Why?

PINTER: Because I’m not a visitor.

MEG: [Smiles with immense relief.] Ohhh, Mister Harold. Thank you! Thank you… [Starts to approach him but stops abruptly after a few steps, as though suddenly remembering her place. Smoothens down her dress again while mumbling inaudibly. After a few seconds, still clearly flustered:] Yes. Stanley likes his cereal. He really does.

VOICE 3: [Louder than usual. Assumes an authoritative tone.] Megan Boles. Wife of Peter Boles. [MEG swivels round toward the VOICES. She squints hard in the darkness.]

MEG: Who is that? Who is that over there?

VOICE 2: Do not fret Mrs Boles. We just want to ask you a few questions.

MEG: Questions? What right do you have to ask me questions? I’m a married woman you know.

VOICE 4: We are well aware.

VOICE 5: This won’t take long, Mrs Boles. You’re not the one under trial.

VOICE 3: All we want to know is how you think.

VOICE 1: What Mister Pinter tells you.

MEG peers at them suspiciously.

MEG: How I… ‘think’?

VOICE 3: [Nods] Exactly. Just that.

MEG: Well, what business of yours is my thinking? [Growing angry.] It’s mine and no one else’s.

PINTER: [Soothing] It’s just a trial, Meg. You haven’t done anything wrong.

MEG: [Turns to PINTER. She looks afraid.] Oh, you won’t tell Petey, will you?

PINTER: He doesn’t need to know. You’ve been a good wife.

MEG: [Repeats, trying to convince herself.] A good wife…

VOICE 3: [In a softer tone.] Let’s return to the first scene, shall we? [Leafs through the sheets on his desk. Finds the page he’s looking for, and then quickly skims across it. Once he’s done, he looks up again and says:] Now, are you aware of Grice’s Principles of Cooperation?

MEG looks confused. VOICE 2 steps in to clarify.

VOICE 2: The set of rules which govern conversation. The maxims we must all know.

VOICE 5: Come on, Mrs Boles. Everyone must know. Don’t play the fool, [Starts becoming angry.] Don’t –

VOICE 3: [Raises his hand to silence VOICE 4. Speaks in a soft voice.] It’s all right Mrs Boles We just want to talk about the maxim of relation.

VOICE 2: [Speaks in a monotonous tone.] ‘A response has to be relevant to the topic of discussion.’

VOICE 3: [Pushes on, softly, yet firmly.] Now Mrs Boles, please cast your mind back to the breakfast scene. It is very important that you tell us the events exactly as you felt them.

Short Pause.

Now then, did you abide by the maxim?

MEG: [Tearfully.] Oh… I don’t know…

VOICE 5: [Snaps] Think Mrs Boles, think!

VOICE 3: [Glances at the script once again, and then addresses PINTER.] Mister Pinter, I direct your attention to Exhibit B, line fifty-seven. [PINTER jots the number on the pad in front of him.] Stanley said… [Pauses and turns to Stanley. STANLEY unfreezes with a heaving breath once VOICE 3 speaks.] tell us, Stanley.

STANLEY: [Monotone voice.] Me! I’m your visitor.

VOICE 3: [Continues] And Meg replied: ‘You’re a liar. This house is on the list.’ [Turns back to MEG] We can hardly call this a relevant response, can we, Mrs Boles?

PINTER ignores the following exchange between the VOICES and MEG. He starts writing in his notepad. As the conversation develops, PINTER’s writing becomes increasingly frantic and laborious, reaching a climax right before he stands to speak again.

MEG: Why not?

VOICE 3: [Taken aback.] Well… because your house being on a list has nothing to do with the number of visitors you receive…

MEG: [Shakes her head.] No, no. They told me at the newspaper. They said, ‘Put it on a list, and they’ll all just come.’ [Wistfully] So many… [Whispers conspiratorially.] You know, once –

VOICE 3: [Cuts her midway.] That’s not what I meant. I was referring to when you called Stanley a liar.

MEG: When?

VOICE 3: [Growing frustrated] Now!

MEG: Now? [Confused] But I’m not talking to Stanley now… I’m talking to you.

VOICE 4: [Takes charge.] Focus, Mrs Boles. The first breakfast scene.

MEG: What about it?

VOICE 4: You called Stanley a liar.

MEG: [Happily] Oh yes, I did.

Pause. The VOICES are hesitant and confused whereas MEG seems satisfied.

VOICE 3: [Exasperated] That’s not the point.

MEG: What is the point?

VOICE 3: The house! Your house being on a list does not make Stanley a liar!

MEG: [Affronted] Of course not. My house is on a list. Stanley can’t lie about that.

VOICE 4: What my colleague means to say is… [Rubs his temples in frustration.] You seem to be ignoring Stanley’s responses.

MEG: Completely?

VOICE 2: Not entirely.

VOICE 1: But to quite a large extent.

MEG: It’s the noise he makes with that piano of his…

VOICE 5: Up in his room?

MEG: What?

VOICE 4: The piano in his room?

MEG: [Wistfully] Oh, he’s played in many rooms. Some of them quite full…

VOICE 1: We heard…

MEG: …filled to the brim! He told me himself.

VOICE 4: And his clothes?

MEG: ‘Unique’ he said. ‘A completely unique touch.’ [She twirls around and curtsies, facing the audience.]

VOICE 2: His father must be proud of him.

MEG: [Still facing the audience. Her voice grows darker.] Don’t ever say that.

VOICE 4: [Louder than VOICE 2.] I said his father must be proud of him.

MEG: No!

VOICE 1: [Angry and gruff.] Why can’t you just answer straight?

VOICE 5: [Turns to VOICE 1] Don’t pressure her!

MEG: Stop it!

Silence. The VOICES and MEG freeze. PINTER lets out a tired yawn and pushes the (now ink-stained) sheets away from him. He stands slowly and places both hands on his back, stretching out. STANLEY, MEG and PINTER interchange in the dialogue, all of them adopting PINTER’s character/voice. Whenever one is speaking, they face the audience, and the other two freeze.

PINTER: They can become quite tiring, can’t they? But it’s easier to keep it up like this, what with all the back-and-forths quibbling. At the end of the day, it’s all a matter of faith. Faith that your work will convince the audience. That the characters are capable of shouldering the burden themselves…

STANLEY: …there’ll always be some who don’t agree. Some who call what you do… ‘base,’ or simplistic…

MEG: …but there’s no way to please all of them. No, that would be absurd. All you can do is try to convince them. Convince them that what they’re watching, what they’re listening to, is true…

PINTER: …now that is worth writing for. To escape this talk of ‘simulations.’ Approximations to a so-called ‘reality’…

STANLEY: …ideally, such questions should not even arise [points to audience]…

PINTER: …you should not even consider them…

MEG: …the characters…

PINTER: …the characters should breathe life…

STANLEY: …they should be life…

PINTER: …so forceful…

MEG: …and so true, that…

STANLEY: [falters] …that…

PINTER: …that…

Shouts out annoyed, and the lights suddenly strengthen, finally illuminating the judges. They all have their heads cast down on the table, so that their faces are not visible. MEG and STANLEY are still frozen and looking down at their feet.

Damn it!

PINTER strides back to his desk, evidently annoyed.

Damn it… damn it… damn it! ‘That’ what?

He starts scribbling on the pad on his desk as he complains, ripping out the sheets and throwing them on to the floor. Repeats:

‘so true, that… they brea-’

no, I already said that…

‘so true, that they are…that they are… true to’

– no, DAMN IT!

Mockingly imitates himself.

‘true, true, true’, too many goddamned ‘trues’.

Lets out a guttural cry of disappointment and sits back down on his chair. His body’s bent forward, his elbows resting on his knees. Mutters:

I’m such a miserable fool…

Pauses.

Stop it… Just go back a bit…

‘pleasing the audience’… ‘characters’… ‘life’… ‘characters with life’… ‘characters breathing life’- Well of course they’re breathing life you idiot, what else would they do? ‘Characters infused with life’?

Groans.

No, no, no… Think, Harold, think…

VOICE 5 slowly raises his head. He has put on a ‘faceless’ white mask, which was hidden on the underside of the desk. He whispers:

VOICE 5: The trial… end the trial…

PINTER: [Without looking up.] No, not the trial. It was a stupid idea to begin with… Maybe do something with Meg…

VOICE 3: [Also wearing a mask, as are the rest of the VOICES.] Don’t forget Meg’s a character…

PINTER: [Ignoring VOICE 3] Why even put myself in the play in the first place? Anything I do will just look cheap…

VOICE 1: [Whispers] It’s about truth… It’s all about truth…

PINTER: Lazy…

VOICE 2: Truth and reality…

PINTER: I have to start again. I need to scrap it all and start again. [Stands up. The lights start dimming slowly.] Yes. There’s no other way.

VOICE 4: Truth and reality and… time… above all… time.

The stage is completely dark now. No one is moving. VOICES become progressively softer.

VOICE 1: …and it sifts through you…

VOICE 3: …it takes root inside…

VOICE 5: …it calls to you…

VOICE 4: …softly…oh…so softly…

VOICE 2: …it calls…

VOICE 1: …and yet you do not fear…

VOICE 3: …you do not question…

VOICE 4: …it calls, and deep down you know…

VOICE 5: …you know…

VOICE 2: …that there is nothing else left…

THE END.