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Arm in arm they join the crowd heading back to their seats. He is thinking about ginger biscuits whilst she tells him her deadline is in danger of slipping or some work related topic that he is not really interested in. He nods and ‘umms’ thinking of masticating tea moistened sugary, ginger. She can tell that he is not listening and it annoys her. Dropping his arm she quickens her pace walking ahead a little. Recognizing this as a sign that all is not well he rewinds what he can remember from the last five minutes ‘Are you going to have to work overtime?’

‘Probably’ is thrown back across her shoulder. A single word answer, the moment for discussion had passed whilst he was in a dream world. This was often the case.

As they squeeze down the row of seats his attention is drawn to the stage where a row chairs had been added in the interval on which audience members, probably actors were now seated. The members of this addition to the audience fidget and fuss over bags and coats apparently readying themselves to watch a play on the second stage that had been erected as part of the set. This jogged his memory of a review or was it a conversation? Something about a play within a play. Rattling his brain for more detail failed to shake anything loose. A uneasy feeling crept across him which gave way to a vivid experience of Déjà vu. Thoughts about the plays similarities to his own past fogged his mind. There was a reason for this correlation, he was sure that he knew the connection but it eluded him, hovering tantalisingly close to forming but never quite becoming clear.

She watches him fail to find the seat of his chair twice first hitting the arm rest with one buttock then the other whilst he stares at the stage with a focus and intensity that is a little unsettling. Taking his sleeve between thumb and finger she pulls him the extra inch to the right required to find the seat. ‘What?’ he turns blinking at her like a startled idiot. Shaking her head she sits motioning for him to do the same then pats him on the knee when he successfully achieves a seated position.

ACT II Scene 1

Main curtain is already raised as audience enters for Act II.

A row of seats has been added to the front left of the stage. The seats are all occupied apart from two.

The main curtain has been raised revealing a second stage on the stage.

Just as the lights dim a man and a woman enter nosily from the back.

WOMAN: Come on its about to start.

MAN: Me come on? You were the one who was late! (to self) You’re always late

They mount the steps up on to the stage and excuse themselves along the row of people taking the two empty seats in the middle. He fidgets then stands again making a show of turning off his phone.

Curtain raises on the second stage revealing a couple in bed.

MAN:
Grunt!

WOMAN:
Groan!

MAN:
Grunt!

WOMAN:
Groan!

MAN:
Ahhhhhh!

WOMAN:
Oh. (underwhelmed)

The play within the play repeats Act I but at three times the speed. The actors ‘over act’ their heavily painted faces seem large and pantomime like. There are scenes that he does not recognise, probably from when he was day dreaming, remembering events from his own life.

Spotlight on man in (staged) audience. He rises. The play on stage quietens but continues. The man delivers a monologue whilst images are projected on the back of the set.

MAN:
I remember being fifteen, witlessly gawking at the adult world that awaited me. The whole thing was a big mystery for my clueless lanky limbs to elbow a path into it. Wide eyed and red faced with pimpled embarrassment I mumbled through.

The house parties were the best. I remember one thrown by a blond, freckled girl from school. What was her name? She had a slightly goofy smile and that night, silver glitter on her cheeks and red gloss on her lips. Her parents had gone to visit an Aunt in Wales somewhere, Port Talbot I think it was. They were away for the weekend, trusting her alone for the first time.

The party was nearly called off when she became aware that her small gathering had become a larger event in the school social calendar than was intended. She overheard two boys from the sixth form discussing the location of her house and it’s convenient proximity to the pub in which, only recently, they had began to get served alcohol. We told her that it would be OK and that the older boys would buy booze for the rest of us. That’s what friends are for, right?

Whilst her parents sipped wine on the coast of South Wales the party spiraled further and further out of control. I remember a plant being re-potted in the toilet, someone waving a broken banister in the air and a stiletto shaped hole in the bath tub as being the more amusing elements of the damage. A broken window and various pools of vomit being the predictable additions.

There is a party on the second stage. Kids stagger around smoking, dancing and snogging.

MAN:
I remember the feeling of pressing up against her as we lay on the sofa together, groin on groin through denim. We kissing opened mouthed dribbling saliva with aching jaws. She pushed my hands away from breasts at first but then after a while she let me touch them. Our young bodies became brave with intoxication, daring each other to go further. I squeezed my hand down the front of her jeans. The first touch of cotton knickers set my heart racing as my fingers slipped under the elastic to feel wiry pubic hair. I tried to push on but, alas my hand would go no further, the jeans were too tight.

A girl runs across the second stage crying. One of the couples breaks off kissing and the girl runs after her friend.

The monologue is at an end, the actor back in his seat but off stage in the audience he remembers more. The party, the plant in the toilet, the hole in the bath and getting off with Sally, that was her name, Sally! He remembers the excitement, the daring, newness of it all. It felt like crossing a bridge to adulthood. He recalls being left frustrated on the sofa as she went to look after her friend. Wanting to carry on he was disappointed not to have gotten further yet puffed up by the achievement of ‘third base’, well as close as needs be for bragging rights. He never asked her to be his girlfriend, he should have done. Years later he looked her up on Facebook but he preferred his memories version of her slim, fresh faced and young. He was enjoying the memory but what were his memories doing in this play? He knew didn’t he? There was a reason that could not quite be brought to mind. Rubbing his head he leans forward.

*****

The play moves on. More monologues are delivered, the lead actor sharing memories with the audience some amusing, some tragic but all, all of them matching events in his life. It makes no sense. How could this be? They didn’t know him. He looks on, slack jawed. The lines come too fast for him to digest. He is watching and remembering at the same time as trying to rationalise his experience but there is no rational explanation to be found. He looks about him. Searching for reason, a friendly face. Everyone else is watching the stage, lost in the plot. They have been transported to somewhere else having escaped the reality of their own lives and thoughts for a while, a brief rest bite from themselves. He wipes his brow of the sweat that has collected there. With shaking hands he rubs his chin. The actors keep on saying things from his life they deliver lines that only a short time ago had come from his mouth. But that is not possible. Someone behind him ‘tuts’ and he whirls around as if a pistol had fired to meet their glare. The person to his left exhales loudly, pointedly and shifts away from him. He turns back to the stage but he does not want to see any more. Looking at her, he leans over to speak. She waves him away and sits forward. The actors keep saying their lines, his lines. Are they mocking him? Getting to his feet, bent low at the waist he edges one apology at a time towards the end of the row until he can stand upright against the far wall. Breathing heavily he looks back to the stage as the play on the second stage comes to a dramatic climax. The actor leaves the set and there is the sound of a car breaking before a crash and a scream played over the PA. Spinning away from the stage he pushes through the exit into the calm, empty light of the foyer.

*****

The pattern on the carpet moves in front of him as gentle music blandly tinkles a soft nothingness into the stale air. With a dry throat and feeling unable to talk to anyone at the bar he heads for the toilets.

Disinfectant and urine greet his nostrils. He splashes cold water onto his face. The icy water shocking his skin. A shake of the head to alleviate shivers running up and down his spine. A pasty white face looks back from the mirror, eyes wide open, cheeks flushed it takes him a moment to recognise himself. He pinches his noes at the bridge and rubs his eyes. ‘Common, get a grip of yourself’. Pacing back and forth he adds a bounce to his stride. ‘Common, what’s wrong with you?’. He leans on the sink, leaning forward looking into his own eyes and rubs the back of his neck. The smell from the toilets is making him feel ill. He wills himself to return to the play but does not move. A deep breath and once more he makes to move but his body does not respond. Dilated black holes look back at him and for a moment his mind is quiet. The door creaks, he jumps out of his skin and grabbing the towel he hangs on whilst an old man shuffles past. Avoiding the intruders gaze he keeps his back towards him and sidesteps out through the door into the foyer. The stage door in front of him stands closed, foreboding. Not yet he thinks and heads for the bar.

Whiskey warms the back of his throat he feels it ooze through him adding a little comfort to his fragile state. He contemplates leaving the theatre, running off but he could not leave her alone. He could feel the staff’s eyes on him. Discomfort catches hold as he sees himself through their eyes, a strange man bursting from the play to stand in the foyer. Were they all watching him? Act normal, fit in. He bit his lip and although he wanted to order another whiskey to enjoy in the sanctuary of benign music and flat, safe light he took the first step back to the stage door, his seat and the play. The second step followed and despite himself he knew that he would return to see what remained. Part of him needed to see what happened in the hope that whatever it was that was going on had stopped.

There was more grumbling, muttering and tutting as we squeezed back down the row to sit next to her quizzical expression.

ACT II Scene 8

The couple meet in a cafe.

WOMAN: (to herself) He’s such a scruff. All those crumbs around his mouth.

On stage petty arguments follow embarrassing drunken evenings from the couples life. ‘This is too weird’ he says out loud and is hushed by a pinched lipped and snooty looking, wrinkle old woman sitting in front of him. Trying to relax he releases his grip from the arm of the chair and sits back letting out a breath that he was unaware of holding in. The audience is still rapt by the performance and on the whole fully engaged with the play. Someone opens a sweet, the wrapper crackles and squeaks an intrusion into the spell woven by the play. A man stifles a coughing fit and attempts to ignore the persistent tickle at back of his throat. Someone whispers into their friends ear and a couple giggle from up in the rafters.

*****

Act II Scene 10

At a party the couple have a drunken argument. The woman leaves. The man prowls though each room, broodily. He bumps into people, grinning and eventually falling into the embrace of a woman. They kiss.

He looks at his watch and shifts the weight from one buttock to the other. Felling a sense of relief now that the play has moved passed his experience and into the future. ‘The future’, his future perhaps? What was he thinking, bloody paranoid idiot? mocking himself he glances up at the dark boxes and cables clamped onto the scaffold of the lighting rig and shakes his head. Frowning he allows the corners of his mouth to turn up a little, amused by the ridiculousness of his own thoughts.

*****

Act II Scene 13

It is the final scene of the Play and he is looking forward to getting out onto the street into the cool night air. His legs are stiff from being bent and crammed into the small gap between rows. Fear sits in the pit of his stomach, his head full of broken thoughts. He suddenly feels very tired and wants to be away from the play, there is a need for distance to put things into perspective, find some rational explanation for what has happened.

The couple argue at a cafe. The man storms off-stage in one direction the woman in the another.

Soundtrack: Screeching tyres then impact, breaking glass and a scream.

CURTAIN

The lights go down and there is a collective gasp from the audience. Shocked by the sudden noise he stares at the empty stage his body angled forward, ridged. He grips the arms of his chair, fingernails digging in to dusty fabric. The main lights come up and for a moment everyone is too shocked to move. Then there is applause. He looks around at the audience. There must be more, they cannot leave it like that. Is one of them dead? Who died? He feels a lump in his throat and a weight across his chest. He sniffs and blinks as he feels his eyes moisten.

The cast return to the stage but they have transformed into themselves no longer the characters that he has been watching for the past two hours. They smile and wave at the audience then bow and walk off stage. He rubs his face, it feels cold to his touch. A trickle of sweat runs from his furrowed brow. He rocks in his seat like a child comforting him self. She nudges him, her coat already in her hands and nods towards the exit. He stares back at her looking at her nose, into her eyes, her lips and back to her eyes again. She moves her head back slightly, adjusting her view. The blood is drained from his face. Eyes are wide open staring back at her. She widens her eyes a little and parts her lips ready to speak. He turns back to the stage his hands still gripping the arms of his chair. ‘Are you all right?’ she asks.

He snaps his head back around and looks at her, his eyes moist. There is a tiny shake of his head as he mutters ‘Yep, yeah’. Then he looks up at the roof before diving between his legs to grab his coat and bag. He stands and moves off before he has a proper grip and nearly drops everything. Stooping he catches his belongings, turns with a forced smile and hurries towards the exit.

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