The following short play was read by participants at a playwrights group I attend. It is being considered by a Yorkshire based theatre company for inclusion in its program of short plays. I hope you enjoy reading it.
The Garden Square
By David McAdam
Ian is an Edinburgh based street homeless worker nearing retirement whose task is to rescue individuals who have dropped out of their support structure.
Sam, a schizophrenic with delusions of grandeur.
Duffy, an Irishman, who could be guaranteed to sing at least one verse of a song to suit the occasion.
Rab, a self-pitying man.
Figure, androgynous, something of the ethereal, neatly dressed
Night falls. Ian is standing on a busy street pavement somewhere in Edinburgh. His mobile phone rings. We only hear his responses that indicate something serious under discussion:
Ian: Not Carol again. She’s absconded from alcohol rehab? Suicidal? She’s threatened to do that before, yeah, she’s done the same with me… does it with everybody…exactly, squeezes us dry then…well you know the rest. What makes the threat any different this time? Banned from having any contact with her family whatsoever. Hmm, I can see why you’re taking her threat seriously this time. Any idea where she might be heading? Oh, you’ve searched as far out as that. Nobody’s seen her? Right…yeah, okay that leaves my district as the only other possible place she might be. Won’t be easy in the dark, no. Right, of course I will…if I find her. See
you…yeah, I’ve got the mental health team’s number as well. Right, I’ll…what? Yeah, you’re right, it’s the last thing I need with my retirement coming up. Such is life, speak later.
Ian is standing at a set of traffic lights facing a dilapidated garden square. Although it is dark he recognises the three men in the square that is partially lit up by a lamp post. Ian crosses the road and enters the gap in the low wall bordering the square.
Ian: Hello, lads
Mumbled response from the men.
Duffy (tipsy): Hello, Scotland.
‘Scotland’ is Duffy’s nickname for Ian. He is standing by the brazier warming his hands.
Ian (joins him): Hello Ireland; keeping the home fire burning?
Duffy: What brings you to my home at this time of night?
Ian (glances around): I’m looking for Carol, have you seen her?
Duffy: You mean have I heard her? No, thank goodness.
Ian: I’ve been looking for her everywhere. I hoped, as a last resort, I could’ve found her here.
Duffy asks the other two.
Duffy: Scotland’s looking for Carol. Any of you seen or heard her on your travels?
Rab, seated on the wall lost in thought shakes his head. Sam, reading a paper, doesn’t respond.
Duffy: She’s not exactly in public demand as you can see, Scotland. What’s she been up to? Shouting the odds again with that mouth of hers?
Ian: I wish it was just that, it’d be a lot easier for me and the team. No, it’s more serious this time.
Duffy: You don’t mean…?
Ian: Fraid so.
Rab: Ach, I wouldn’t worry about it, Ian; you know how it is with her, she only ever talks about doing it…and even if she does, well…
Ian looks despairingly at his watch. Duffy notices and starts to half sing half mumble the opening to Pink Floyd’s Time:
Ticking away the moments that make up a dull day, Fritter and waste the hours in an off-hand way, Kicking around on a piece of ground in your home town, Waiting for someone or something to show you the way…
As if the meaning of the lyrics hit him personally Duffy’s voice trails off. He stares silently at the fire continuing to warm his hands as he does so. Ian senses Duffy’s change of mood and noting the other two seemingly too pre-occupied to care, he makes to leave. Sam is seated by the exit straining to read a broadsheet newspaper beneath the lamp post beam.
Ian (slows down): See anything interesting in yesterday’s paper?
Sam ignores the joke and instead draws Ian’s attention to a passage in the paper.
Sam (matter of fact): Before you go, see this here, it says that EMI has lost £56 million in profit over the past year blaming falling record sales, cheap CDs and downloads. Not true. It’s them along there (nodding towards an unseen entity), they’re to blame; they’re the ones that suck the profit out of singers and musicians like me. True.
Ian: Yeah, well such is the free market.
He attempts to leave. Sam thrusts the paper in front of him blocking his path.
Sam (brusquely): I’m not finished yet.
Ian (aware of Sam’s potential for throwing tantrums): Sorry…er, suck the profit out of…did you just say ‘musicians like me…you?
Sam: Yeah, the company’s loss would be even bigger if it paid me the royalties I’m owed.
Ian is also aware of Sam’s delusions and plays along with him.
Ian (feigned amazement): Really?
Sam: Yes, if it paid me the money due since 1963.
Ian: As far back as that…1963? I was only 9 years old then.
Sam: That’s when the agreement was signed.
Ian cranes his neck to glance up and down the busy street. Sam notices.
Sam: Forget about her; she’s not going anywhere…listen to what I’m saying
Ian: You said an agreement was signed?
Sam: Yeah. When Dick James took control of the Lennon and McCartney song catalogue there was one other important signature on the agreement.
Ian subtly looking around this time.
Ian: Brian Epstein’s?
Sam: His name was on it, yeah, but no
Ian: Hmm, George Martin’s?
Sam (dismissively): Nah, he was just the producer. No, the other important signature was mine.
Ian (his attention divided): Yours? Wow! So what you’re saying is that EMI hasn’t honoured your part of the agreement?
He makes another attempt to leave. Sam thrusts his arm out in front of Ian this time.
Sam: Stand still. A fifth part, yeah. If you went to the EMI studios and asked to see the original document you would see five signatures: Dick James’s, Lennon’s, McCartney’s, Epstein’s and mine…five signatures.
Ian: Hmm, so when you said royalties does that mean that you recorded songs?
Sam: Not recorded, wrote but not for me to sing, for them.
Sam: The Beatles, who do you think? I wrote the songs not them; not Lennon and McCartney; it was me, true
Ian pauses to take this absurdity in. He decides to make another attempt to leave.
Ian: That’s, er, that’s, er, well what can I say. I mean, me, a die-hard Beatles fan in the presence of the man who wrote, nay, composed all my favourite songs. Listen, now that I know who you are I’d rather…
Sam keeps his arm in place, ignoring Ian’s sycophantic response
Sam: Help, Hard Day’s Night, Let it Be…you name it I wrote it.
Ian finds himself trapped; not confident enough to break free lest Sam explodes. He can only play along in the hope that a suitable gap in the interaction will enable him to leave safely.
Ian: So, erm, you wrote the songs; you wrote…I’m the Walrus?
Duffy (interrupts): I’m the Eggman (he chuckles)
Sam ignores him
Sam: Penny Lane, All You Need is Love, Get Back and all the other stuff plus their albums as well.
Sam: I also wrote their solo stuff.
Ian: What, you wrote Imagine?
Rab: No, Ian, he simply imagines…you’re not taking in all that crap are you?
Ian looks at Sam for his reaction in the hope that this could be the gap. It isn’t.
Sam: My Sweet Lord.
Ian (momentary lapse in feigned interest): Did Harrison, I mean, you, not get into trouble for copying the Chiffons’ He’s So Fine with that song?
Sam: Harrison just acted the part.
Ian: Of the song-writer?
Sam: And plaintiff. What was ironic about that case was that it was me that wrote He’s so Fine as well.
Ian: Accused of plagiarising your own song? Not so fine, eh?
Sam, smiling at the comment, removes his arm and straightens up the newspaper. Ian, sensing this positive reaction, takes the opportunity to try and leave
Ian: And on that funny but compelling note, Sam, I’d better be g…
Sam: I’m not finished yet. They didn’t know that I wrote the song.
Ian: Er, who didn’t know?
Sam: The courts. I was forced to buy the copyright of that song through Harrison to stop me suing myself in future every time My Sweet Lord was played in public.
Ian: Hence the influence behind, his, er, I mean your song Sue Me, Sue You Blues?
Sam (smiles): You are a die-hard fan of mine, aren’t you?
Ian: Seems I’ve been all along without knowing it. How did you come up with all those classics…such a variety of styles?
Sam: Just ideas.
Ian: Just ideas? How modest of you.
Sam: That’s all music is, just ideas.
Ian (involved): Hmm, where did you get the idea for, say, A Day in a Life?
Rab interrupts again.
Rab: Try asking where he got the sanity for HIS day in a life
Ian gestures to Rab to temper the intrusions. Sam continues unabated.
Sam: I got the idea from this newspaper…I had read about a crash while I was having my breakfast. When I arrived at work one of the lads asked what I’d been up to. The crash was still in my mind so I said ‘I read the news today, oh boy,’ which gave me the idea for the rest of the song.
Ian (sings): ‘I read the news today oh boy’ Great song, Sam. Well, my friend, this die-hard fan of yours has to be going otherwise Carol will be news tomorrow, oh boy…
Sam: Nah, she won’t be. You heard what he said…she only talks about it. Listen, I’ve written other songs like that. You know the song Baker Street, don’t you?
Ian: That was Gerry Rafferty’s hit was it not?
Sam: Nah, people only think it was; it was my idea not his; my song. He stole it.
Ian: Stole it?
Sam: I was on holiday in London. While I was walking down Baker Street I jotted down ideas about the street. I was going to make a song about it then give it to McCartney or Harrison or maybe Tom Jones. A gust of wind blew the paper out of my hand, Rafferty must’ve found it because the next thing I know he had a hit with it and took all the credit.
Ian: And all the royalties.
Sam: They all did…him, Lennon, McCartney, Epstein, Andrew Lloyd Webber…I never received a thimbleful of credit or penny in royalties. They’re just like them along there…sucking the life out of me.
Ian: Hmm, tragic…did you say Andrew Lloyd Webber?
Sam: Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice.
Ian: Two more that hovered up your ideas
Sam: Phantom of the Opera, Whistle Down the Wind, Evita, Jesus Christ Superstar…all my ideas
Rab: Heh Ian, guess who was Michael Douglas’s idea for One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, ha ha ha…
Sam (ignoring remark): When you’re a genius like me you have to learn to take those kind of insults. Oscar Wilde had to.
Ian: But unlike Wilde who received credit for his plays, you never received a thimbleful of credit for your musicals.
Rab: You mean a thimbleful of Librium.
Ian gestures to Rab to stop the remarks. He looks at his watch. Sam continues.
Sam: Nor my ten per cent cut. They live in their fancy houses by the Thames while I rough it here by the street.
Ian: A modest ten per cent cut that would have made all the difference to your life.
Sam: The cut that would bankrupt EMI altogether thanks to that lot along there.
Ian: They should be grateful that you’ve not gone public with this miscarriage of justice.
Sam: Nah, the Chiffons’ case was enough for me; it doesn’t really bother me. I know the truth
Ian: That’s magnanimous of you, Sam. I’m proud to know you.
Ian checks his watch again. An idea of escape enters his head.
Ian: I’d better be going, Sam, but tomorrow first thing I’m going to do something for you.
Sam: What’s that?
Ian (nodding towards the city centre): I’m going to go along there and tell that lot on your behalf just what I think of them and that they should do the right thing by you.
Sam withdraws his hand from blocking Ian’s path.
Sam (touched, nods with approval): Before you do, there’s another thing you should tell them.
Ian: What’s that?
Sam: You know the M8 motorway?
Sam: The money that EMI – and that lot – owes me has been invested there.
Ian (feigned disgust): You don’t say
Sam: I own all sixty odd miles of that road…from here to the other side of Kingston Bridge in Glasgow.
Ian: And no doubt that lot never gave you a thimbleful of credit for that either?
Sam: Not a single trowel-full.
Sam: Take it from me, Ian, before you ever sign an agreement make sure you get your ten per cent then sit back and let them take all the credit; it doesn’t matter then, you’ve got your cut.
Ian: And my house by the Water of Leith as well. Thanks for the advice, Sam.
Sam (straightens his paper): Don’t mention it
Ian: Just out of curiosity, Sam, what year were you born?
Ian: Same year as me.
Sam: We were born in a vintage year you and me. The Chordettes at number one with a song I wrote.
Ian: Ah yes, Mr Sandman. And you said that you’re owed royalties since when?
Realising he is rumbled, without answering Sam folds his paper, places it in his bag, rises from the wall and brushes past Ian on to the street without saying another word.
Rab: You caught him out with that one, Ian. Ha! Mr Sandman…a pure Walter Mitty.
Ian (diplomatically): Well, Mozart was only six years old when he wrote his first symphony.
Rab: Aye, Mozart actually wrote it…Sam never writes anything other than a betting slip.
Ian ponders for a moment. He has long lost the momentum to look for Carol. He goes back to Duffy by the brazier.
Ian: And how is Ireland, Duffy, when was the last time you saw the old place?
Duffy looks up at Ian, smiles and begins to sing:
When first I landed in Liverpool,
I went upon a spree,
Me money alas, I spent it fast,
Got drunk as drunk could be…
A man must be blind to make up his mind,
To go to sea once more…
He lifts his glazed eyes skywards as his voice trails off once more. He looks down at the dying embers, solemnly shakes his head, turns and trudges over to the flattened earth, lowers himself upon it and reclines with his back to Ian. Rab is seated nearby with an outstretched hand where a beer can normally sits.
Rab (a single nod towards where Sam had been sitting): Yesterday he claimed that it was him and not Brunel that built the suspension bridge. He’ll probably come back tomorrow and claim the credit for Napoleon’s strategy that won the Battle of Austerlitz…mad.
He looks at Ian with a pitiful expression.
Rab: What a life, eh?
Ian: Aye, one could be ending right this minute
Ian: Yeah, I’ve tried looking everywhere for her. I hoped she might be here.
Rab: Don’t worry about it; you’ve done your best. She only talks about doing it. You’re retiring next month. Forget about her.
Ian: I’d hate to retire with her sui…ach, maybe you’re right; she only talks about doing it.
Rab: Women talk about doing it; men do it.
Ian: Tragically, yes. Ah well, I suppose I’d better get going…Oops, better give Charlie a buzz first.
Ian pulls out his phone.
Rab: By the way, I heard about the hostel evicting her if she missed another night.
Ian: Hmm, you don’t miss a trick, Rab, do you?
Rab: Survival of the fittest out here, pal. Any chance of me getting the room if she’s topped herself?
Ian: She only talks about it, Rab, remember?
Rab: I wouldn’t be considered anyway would I?
Ian (smiles knowingly): Now why would you think that?
Rab (pulls out a cigarette stub): Got a light?
Ian: Hmm, is the rent due?
Rab: They don’t charge rent for sleeping here…besides, I can’t burn this place down can I?
Ian produces a lighter and lights the cigarette
Ian: Once you’ve mastered the art of paying rent instead of burning down each flat every time it’s due then you might get considered for another one.
Rab inhales then exhales a cloud of smoke and chuckles at the same time as he stares across at Duffy who is now sleeping the heavy drinker’s sleep that is not sleep at all.
Rab: Hmm, what a life.
Ian is about to make a phone call when a female voice suddenly rings out.
Ian looks across to the other side of the busy street and sees Carol standing at the edge of the pavement. She waves at him and steps onto the road. A truck comes careering round the corner at the lights. Ian sees it and shouts:
Ian: Carol, no!
He then runs out on to the road and pushes Carol back on to the pavement. Light fades.
Later back in the garden square we see Ian standing by the brazier warming his hands over the dying embers. As they dim Rab, who is seated on the wall, and Duffy lying nearby, gradually disappear into thin air leaving Ian alone. Suddenly a dying ember bursts into life sending a glow that shows Ian resplendent against the dark background of the dilapidated square. A figure appears out of nowhere and approaches him.
Figure: I thought I’d find you here.
Ian: Ah, it’s yourself; I thought you would too
Figure: It doesn’t take a genius to know where you’d be
Ian: I think we can safely agree that you’re more than a just a genius
Figure: The fire’s almost out.
Ian: Just about.
Figure: No need for me to ask why you’re still here
Ian: She only talked about doing it, they said
Figure: Yes, I know
Ian: It doesn’t make it any easier
Figure: I can only imagine that it doesn’t
Ian: What a question to ponder with my retirement coming up as well: did she or did she not deliberately step off the pavement in front of that truck?
Figure: At the precise moment you finally managed to step from the square
Ian: Yeah, and see where that step got me
Figure: On the one hand yes, but on the other see where it got Carol. She would not be where she is now leading a life of sobriety and back with her family had YOU not stepped out in front of the truck that night.
Ian: Not knowing whether I saved her from committing suicide or death by a terrible accident
Figure: An irony of that particular night was that for one split second you were not distracted from your original purpose to find her.
Ian: Yeah, as I say, see where that got me. Oops, the fire’s gone out now
Figure: Good, time for us to go out now as well; time for you to take that well-earned retirement.
The figure turns and slowly walks towards the exit, Ian follows. The brazier gradually vanishes into thin air. The figure and Ian also vanish into thin air. A sudden power surge causes the street light to momentarily cast its light upon the square revealing a garden that is not dilapidated but is actually a lush display of shrubs, trees and flora. A park bench stands where the brazier once stood. There is a brass plaque upon it bearing the inscription ‘In loving memory of Ian who sacrificed his life that I might live. Forever grateful, Carol.’