Act III from Flaw, A Play in Five Acts
by Neil Hughes
DRAMATIS PERSONAE of Act III
ARCHBISHOP OF YORK
SOLOMON WISE, Liberal Democrat Prime Minister
JOHN HUTCHINSON, a Liberal Democrat Lord
JOHNSON, Solomon’s Parliamentary private secretary
SMITHERS, an architect
ZIGI, Solomon’s wife
DOREEN, a London East End prostitute
MAGGIE, another East End woman
HANS, Zigi’s father
ROBERT, a Londoner
JO, a Londoner
Background to Act III: Solomon Wise, Prime Minister and leader of the Liberal Democrats for ten years, opens the new parliament building in his district whilst his marriage to Zigi, his German émigré wife, begins to falter and political dissent begins to strengthen.
Act III, Scene i
Westminster. The opening of the new Parliament building.
SOLOMON, SMITHERS, JOHNSON, ARCHBISHOP, LEADER OF OPP. (CONSERVATIVE) and LABOUR LEADER (LL).
ARCH: [Stepping forward.] And now O great God, Father of the Universe, we give you our thanks, because you, in your greatness, have remembered your people in their wretched humbleness. We give thanks for your tender mercy towards your people. We listened, you instructed. And now—this great extension to our seat of government we see today completed—ready to be opened for the better good of the public and to the glory of Your Name, and for Your servants, our members of Parliament. Let us pray:
Father of all, we know that we are all weak and small creatures only in your sight. Keep us humble and keep us close to the true purposes of Your Word, but give us grace to man these your organs of government which You have given to us for your very own worth—capably and with the deference that becomes people who have submitted and bowed their allegiance to your divine will. And we ask particularly that You will bless Solomon, our Prime Minister, in all the tasks that lie before him, and keep him in the wisdom of your divine government and your holy ways, for we ask this in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
ALL: [With varying degrees of confidence.] Amen.
ARCH: And now let us say together part of the litany of the Holy Name of Jesus [Gestures to audience also; others respond about half a dozen times, ‘Lord have mercy’.]
And now the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all, Amen.
[Goes to Solomon.] Thank you. [Others relax and talk among themselves.]
SOLOMON: My privilege. Our privilege. “Lord of the Universe”—I like that.
ARCH: I try to make the liturgy interesting.
SOLOMON: Yes, and it’s very representative of what we believe about God. The unity of the church.
ARCH: Care, though, lest we treat God too much as an object—taken-for-granted. He is our Heavenly Father, our “Divine Lawmaker,” if you like.
ARCH: I must go and — have a wash. I’m stifling hot in this outfit, you know.
SOLOMON: Thank you, again, my Lord. We’ll see you shortly.
ARCH: Indeed. Certainly. [SMITHERS and JOHNSON come forward, one each side of SOLOMON.]
SMITH: A lovely service, don’t you think? [Pause.] Here some people have perhaps a living example that we still have some religion in all of our hearts. Don’t you think?
SOLOMON: [JOHNSON?] Well, the banquet is being served in the refectory now. Shall we go?
SOLOMON: Yes—Mr. Smithers—Clive. [Exit JOHNSON.]
SOLOMON: Do you have any religious leanings yourself?
SMITH: Yes, I’m a practicing Anglican, myself.
SOLOMON: So what did you think of all this?
SMITH: A little artificial; pleasing, but a little artificial.
SOLOMON: You must tell me why you think that. I’d be interested to know.
SMITH: Oh, it’s of no great importance. I thought—
SOLOMON: I’d like to hear, though.
SMITH: [As they exeunt.] I’m somewhat more Low Church than the Archbishop. A little more evangelical. [After they exit.] “Lord of the Universe,” for example—I don’t like that phrase; makes me think of Islam, or something like that.
SOLOMON: Well, we have to be broad-minded. Don’t you think?
SMITH: Even when we’re Christians?
Act III, Scene ii
SOLOMON and ZIGI.
SOLOMON: I assure you that it’s always worth having a go at something first before it becomes too much of a challenge. It saves a lot of problems afterwards.
ZIGI: What about the things that are too much of a challenge?
SOLOMON: Well, there are always going to be challenges—the fewer the better, perhaps. Yet I suppose challenges, that we do have to and which we can overcome successfully, do tend to make us better people. They have to be faced.
ZIGI: And so, what about all these people today? What are you going to do?
SOLOMON: I’m not absolutely certain, to tell you the truth. I’m lucky in that I’ve seen them all before—but I’m not sure what’s been happening in the meantime.
ZIGI: They will want to see you. You must see them all.
SOLOMON: Of course.
ZIGI: So I’ll wait for you here, shall I?
SOLOMON: All right. I’ll see you later. [Kisses her.] These people who come to beg for understanding—why don’t they put their own lives in order first? I can only pray for them and then try to sort out their needs and their situations. I’m not a superman. [Exit ZIGI.]
Enter JOHNSON with DOREEN and MAGGIE, arguing.
JOHNSON: Two ladies to see you, Solomon.
DOREEN: ‘Ere listen — it’s ’er — she’s after me property again. This time she wants me to give ’er everything, me ’ouse an’ all.
MAGGIE: Ah, shut your trap, baggage.
SOLOMON: Well, ladies, please—
MAGGIE: No, I don’t—
DOREEN: ’Ey, and listen—don’t come round my way with that whinin’ dog of yours any more and those two whinin’ kids, and the cat that goes through the rubbish at night. Starved like a skeleton, she must be and the dog and the kids, for that matter.
MAGGIE: Oh, F.O.!
SOLOMON: [interrupting] Well, ladies! [Slight pause.] Now, who’s first? —ladies!
MAGGIE: [to DOREEN] I can decide what ’appens to me own bloody kids, can’t I?
DOREEN: Stop shouting! Christ’s sake! You’re like a hyena! Yap, yap yap—all yer ever do is “Yap, yap, yap!” Shut up!
Mr. Wise, I ‘ope you don’t mind us comin’ to you again an’ talkin’ to yer, but this cock-sucking woman, as I was saying, ’as tried to get ’er own young ones sold off to gypsies to beg, yeh—now she’s put our own ’ouses on tick to the council; both of them, yeh; to Hackney council!
SOLOMON: I see; and whose are the houses?
DOREEN: Well, we’re temporary residents, at the moment, like. It’s a kind of half-way house abode, you know, so to speak, in Dalston Lane. Sheltered, like—
SOLOMON: Sheltered from what?
MAGGIE: Fuck all!
DOREEN: Ain’t no business of ’er’s what I do with my property and my lifestyle. Me life’s me own.
SOLOMON: [Racking brains.] You mean you’re squatting?
DOREEN: Well, if that’s the way you want to put it, yeh. [Slight pause.] She wants to give our ’ouses back to the council —
MAGGIE: So do you, y’old bitch—
SOLOMON: Wait a minute! Wait a minute! Who do the houses belong to, anyway?
DOREEN: [To MAGGIE.] There now, answer that, if you can, you madam!
MAGGIE: Excuse me—if we’re there—no-one—and that includes Hackney council’s — got any right to move us —
SOLOMON: Yes, but who do the houses belong to — ?
DOREEN: Anyway, I think we’re made our point quite clear — If that’s all right with you, Mr. Wise.
MAGGIE: Yeh. [They both begin to bolt.]
DOREEN: We’ll ’ave to get going.
SOLOMON: Yes, but as you’re squatters you do have legal rights—
DOREEN: That’s what they tell us, but we don’t want no social workers snoopin’ round.
MAGGIE: No. Yet, I suppose, as the houses are the council’s, we’ve got no chance, anyway.
SOLOMON: I’ll still help if I can.
DOREEN: I thought you were bloody going to! [Pause; they turn and exeunt, slamming the door.]
SOLOMON: I did something wrong there. What was it? Maybe I don’t keep my own constituency, which is like my own house, in order, after all. [Pause.] I’ve still got division in the party, too, since John Adrian left and joined the Tories. It would be nice to see John Hutchinson again. I wonder what he’s doing now. Perhaps he could tell me where I’m going wrong. [Pause; sits.] He always seemed close to the public eye. Close to God, you might say. Holy! He always seemed very lively, too.
Act III, Scene iii
ZIGI and HANS
HANS: But what is the real problem? Surely you can tell me—I am your father.
ZIGI: I don’t know. I think there are always problems with him, but I don’t know how to talk about them.
HANS: And the job? That’s going all right, isn’t it? [Silence.] He seems to be running the country satisfactorily. I know that’s not everything, but—
ZIGI: Ja! But that is no sign that he loves and cares for me. And the job—that is all right. Sometimes I think he has no love.
HANS: I will ask him why he has made it possible for you to think like this.
ZIGI: No, no—don’t stir up trouble where it is not necessary. I’m glad you care—let’s leave it at that.
HANS: You told me not long ago you did love him a great deal. Is that not true now?
ZIGI: Then, I was a young girl. Now, I am a bit more cautious. That wasn’t recently, anyway. Let’s not worry about it. Let’s go and have some tea.
HANS: I hear he’s produced a book also. What do you think about that, this book, if I can ask?
ZIGI: I haven’t read it. I’ve only read a few of the separate pages he passed over to me and — I didn’t understand much.
HANS: Is it theology he’s written?
ZIGI: I think so, yes—theology and philosophy.
HANS: And what is the subject of this book?
ZIGI: Many different subjects. In fact, I don’t ever think I will understand them all. How to be wise, how to be honest, how to be obedient, and so on.
HANS: He’s wise already. [Laughs.] But—that’s something every man and every woman must learn for himself.—And can he dare to be so bold? Also, then we must wait to see what he has to say about it himself.
[They are about to exeunt.
Enter SOLOMON downstage. He is dressed impeccably.]
SOLOMON: Wait. No, wait a minute.
ZIGI: We thought you were going to meet us in the dining room.
SOLOMON: Well, I’ve decided to meet you here.
HANS: So we eat now?
SOLOMON: Yes, yes—let’s go through. Did you want to ask me anything about my book, Hans?
HANS: No—we thought maybe you would tell us something about it over lunch.
SOLOMON: Certainly. [All three go to exit.] How much has Zigi told you?
HANS: Not very much.
SOLOMON: [As they exeunt.] That surprises me, because the other day she was very interested in leafing through the pages. She said she thought some parts of it were quite good, when I asked her.
ZIGI: Come! We must eat.
Act III, Scene iv
SOLOMON and HUTCHINSON. In the garden of Chequers.
SOLOMON: You see, the lilac that’ll soon come up too. Then in these borders we’ve got chrysanthemums, pansies, a rose here and there—laburnum, of course—plots of bright colour. To keep the place looking nice right through the summer. What do you think?
HU: I remember it when David was Prime Minister: by golly he looked after it well.
SOLOMON: They keep the grounds impeccable. Michael’s quite the expert gardener. [Slight pause.] Well, what do you think about the election? You’re keeping very quiet. It’s not that long off, is it?
HU: Is it? I haven’t quite kept an exact record.
SOLOMON: We do have to make some plans, provisional though they may be. I thought I might call you in to speak something about it.
HU: Mm. And is the party all prepared for the event, do you think?
SOLOMON: I think we will be, by then. I’ve had some ideas for publicity, too. Tell me what you think.
HU: Go on.
SOLOMON: You remember that Miss South-East person from the TV?—I think perhaps you won’t. It’s just that I thought perhaps she might be interested in helping to lead our campaign. She said on the TV when she was interviewed—that she was very interested in theology and she also said, actually, that she’d be very fascinated in getting to know me, the Prime Minister. Well, I thought I’d let you know what I think—let me know your opinion—maybe we should bring her into the campaign in some way. She is a notable status symbol, after all. Millions of people know—or think they know—who she is.
HU: Yeh — how much do you know about her background? She’s probably a soft Tory. Where does she live—Basildon?
SOLOMON: I don’t even know what party she supports or where she lives. But perhaps we can find such things out. She’s only one string in the bow, in any case.
HU: We’ll see. Here’s somebody coming.
JOHNSON: [To SOLOMON.] Sir, there’s a deputation at the gate to see you. I don’t know how they knew you were here.
SOLOMON: Who are they—from?
JOHNSON: “Feminism Now.” Some of them obviously aren’t wearing any bras, either.
SOLOMON: And others are very flat-chested, no doubt? They’re the ones who want to be allowed to be called ‘Mister’ and to own their husbands’ property as well as their own. I can see them for a few minutes, if that’s what they want. How many are there of them?
JOHNSON: About six.
SOLOMON: [To HUTCHINSON.] Looks as if I spoke too soon. Die-hard feminists here to see me. Sorry about that.
HU: You could ask them if any of them would like to be Liberal Democrat status symbols in the coming election.
SOLOMON: Ha, ha! You always were a wit, weren’t you? Excuse me a moment. [Has turned to exit.]
HU: Solomon, wait — one minute. You’re going to give women a say in the country, aren’t you?
SOLOMON: Yes, why shouldn’t I?
HU: No, nothing much, really — I’ll tell you later about something. [Exeunt SOLOMON and JOHNSON; & HUTCHINSON partly himself. Pause.] Interesting fellow. He hates women, virtually all women, I’d say, and yet he wants one to be his campaign generalissimo. Mm—nice roses—might not be around to use them in the spring.
Act III, Scene v
[Enter ROBERT and JO.]
ROBERT: If you ask me, it’s agoraphobia.
JO: She always keeps so much to herself, doesn’t she? Maybe it is—nerves. Maybe he is—getting on top of her.
ROBERT: I’m sure they’ve split up. She spent all day, one day last week, locked in her office—I think it was Tuesday. They said she wouldn’t answer the phone and wouldn’t let anyone in.
JO: So I heard. Maybe you’re right. I haven’t seen him round here for a while, that’s true.
ROBERT: Here she comes now.
[Exeunt ROBERT and JO. Enter ZIGI.]
ZIGI: But he’s a wide patron of the arts, and especially the theatre. And yet it’s weeks since I’ve seen him in here. I wonder why that can be? I do hope it’s not just because of me—we have our small arguments.
This is the book. I’ve been reading it.
One thing they always say about my husband is that he’s a clever man. I wonder if it’s true or not? Let’s see what he’s written here—
“I searched for wisdom day in, day out, but I did not find it.”
“Everything is a waste of time. The rich have all the power and they exploit the poor always. They always exploit the poor. But who is better off in the eyes of God?”
Hm. He’s wise but he doesn’t know that what we think is always refracted and altered by what happens to us. He always thinks in isolation; he’s got no common consciousness, even though he works among the people, he’s too self-incriminating and self-aware. I don’t want to read any more of his books. [Puts book down.] They make me feel as though there’s a mode of thinking in this life that I’ve missed out on, somehow. All right, I set out to be wise in a way, too, but what about just dealing with the day-to-day problems as they arise, and learning wisdom that way? Why does he have such a false idea of what wisdom is? I suppose it’s not much point thinking any more about this just at the moment. But what about God? Where does God come in? Is God an entity who really needs to be worshipped? Or is He just an experience, a sensation, in Solomon’s mind which needs to be dealt with? Oh, I believe in God, too—but not in the same way he does. Something perhaps Freud or Jung would know more about. Are you there, God? What do you think? Do you want me to talk to you?
Ah, I must think in more practical terms. Solomon will be what he will be. There is a kind of fate in this world which none of us can do very much either to encourage or to block. Well, I must do my best only to love him.
— INTERVAL —