We are in a flat. It is not a particularly remarkable setting. One might imagine a sofa, a desk and a bed strewn around the room. It is NUALA’s bedroom.
NUALA is aimless. Eventually she makes a phonecall.
NUALA: Hey Kit, how’s it going?
Yeah, good thanks. Listen, Kit, you know Dickens, right? I’ve got to write a piece about him.
For a scratch night like. Got any ideas?
Okay, I’ll have a look. Have a think and get back to me, right?
NUALA puts the phone down. She begins poking around her room, looking at things. Eventually she fires up her laptop.
NUALA: Dickens, Dickens…
She pauses, picks up the phone and dials…
NUALA: Kit, what the fuck is this? “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times”
Yeah, I know that, what does it mean?
Well there’s a lot of it, I’m not sure I have time to read all this. Can you give me the condensed version?
I’m not reading a whole bloody book, I don’t have a copy.
Where am I going to buy a copy of the entire written works of Dickens on a Sunday?
I need it now. Just do it over the phone?
Well come round and do it in person then.
Yeah, come round.
Alright, see you then.
She puts the phone down and begins mooching again when there is a knock at the door. She answers the door – it is a TRAVELLING BOOK SALESMAN.
TRAVELLING BOOK SALESMAN: Hello, good morning, how are you doing this fine morning?
NUALA: I’m good thanks. Can I help you?
TRAVELLING BOOK SALESMAN: As a matter of fact I think you can. I am a travelling book salesman. I travel the length and breadth of this country selling books to any and all who would have them. I have a passion for books you see, and it consumes me. For as long as I can remember all I have wanted to do is travel around meeting people and selling books. This makes my vocation as a travelling book salesman the perfect job for me. If you can lend me an ear to listen, perhaps you can be of help.
NUALA: Sure, just-
TRAVELLING BOOK SALESMAN: Excellent! I have a wide range of books available for sale. You see this large, leather-bound trunk that I am carrying?
He gestures to a large, leather-bound trunk.
TRAVELLING BOOK SALESMAN: It contains a huge number and wide variety of different books, all in pristine condition and available at an attractive and affordable price. Perhaps you are looking to buy a book yourself, or know someone who is? If so, it is likely that I have a copy which I would be glad to give to you for the right price. Are there any titles or volumes I could recommend?
NUALA: Well, yes, actually –
TRAVELLING BOOK SALESMAN: Splendid, what would you like me to recommend to you?
NUALA: Do you have any Dickens?
TRAVELLING BOOK SALESMAN: Of course, Charles Dickens is regarded as one of the finest writers the English language has ever produced. A great and prolific writer, his novels captured the desperate ridiculousness of a nation living under the yoke of industrialisation, which brought an incredible wealth and opportunity to the country, but which – like all such advancements – did not affect the many in the same way as it did the few. Indeed, it is a peculiar feature common to all human advancement that while all citizens eventually benefits from an increase in wealth, it is the poorest who advance the slowest, so that to their eyes their own progress seems like regression by comparison to the speedy advancement of the relatively wealthy and few.
TRAVELLING BOOK SALESMAN: It is also a peculiar fact that the poor – being typically and unfortunately less educated than the rich – tend to be the least able to chronicle their experiences in writing. Dickens, of course, bucked that trend – a rich and well-educated man who cared deeply about all humankind, he was able to and felt compelled to put the experiences of all Victorian society into writing, giving his works the universal, human quality which they will forever bear as their hallmark.
NUALA: Right. Can I buy one?
TRAVELLING BOOK SALESMAN: Of course! I wouldn’t be much of a travelling book salesman otherwise. Otherwise I would simply be a travelling man.
NUALA: How much?
TRAVELLING BOOK SALESMAN: For you madam? Since I can clearly see that you are a woman of taste and distinction, and since you’ve listened so patiently to my musings on Dickens and the nature of his writings, I would like to offer you this volume for free as a token of my appreciation.
TRAVELLING BOOK SALESMAN: Yes, really. The life of a travelling book salesman is a difficult one and I take whatever small satisfaction I can whenever I find it. In this case, you have leant me a listening ear and done me the service of bearing an interested countenance throughout. It would indeed be my honour to present you with this copy of the entire written works of Charles Dickens for you to peruse at your leisure. If you have any questions or if you ever need anything else, simply whistle into the wind and I will be there, ready to provide you with a book or with books for your reading pleasure and delight.
NUALA: Thank you.
TRAVELLING BOOK SALESMAN: No madam, thank you. And with that I must depart.
The TRAVELLING BOOK SALESMAN abruptly departs. There is a pause, after which there is another knock at the door. It is Nuala’s friend CHRISTOPHER.
NUALA: Hey Kit
CHRISTOPHER: Hey, how’re you doing?
NUALA: Yeah, not too bad thanks, come on in.
He does so.
NUALA: Oh, err, hold this…
He does so. She immediately begins preparing a joint.
NUALA: So you know Dickens, right
CHRISTOPHER: Well yeah
NUALA: If you had to write a 15 minute four-hander play inspired by or in response to the works of Charles Dickens, what would you do?
CHRISTOPHER: A Christmas tale…
With a modern twist. However since it’s not Christmas, I suppose that’s off the cards.
NUALA: Yeah, I guess so…
But, you know, we can work something out…
CHRISTOPHER: Great expectations could be fun
NUALA: What would you do if not that? / Do you have any papers?
CHRISTOPHER: /modern update. What?
CHRISTOPHER: Oh. No, sorry.
NUALA: That’s alright, I’ll just… pass me the… That, pass me that?
CHRISTOPHER passes her the entire written works of Charles Dickens.
NUALA: Thanks. Sorry, you were saying?
She pulls a page from the written works of Charles Dickens and begins using it to roll a joint.
CHRISTOPHER: Great Expectations with a modern twist. Pip is accosted by a gangsta rapper…
In an east end graveyard- you know that’s not going to work/ right?
NUALA: /Pritt Stick.
NUALA: So what was Dickens’, like, point?
CHRISTOPHER: (CHRISTOPHER is still thinking about the modern Great Expectations) “Mad Witch MC”- Sorry, what?
NUALA: What was he trying to get at? With his writing shit?
CHRISTOPHER: His point was social commentary
NUALA: Does he have a, like a thing?
Like Shakespeare always had crossdressing?
CHRISTOPHER: Yeah he’s massively sentimental.
CHRISTOPHER: His characters were massively exaggerated
And he often puts exaggerated characters in grimly realistic settings, so that the characters’ exaggerated reactions make his points of social commentary more clear.
CHRISTOPHER: He’s also a joker. Many subtle jokes alluding to earlier parts of the books that you only catch if you’re paying attention.
I couldn’t give you more than that.
But his point was largely exposing the ills of victorian society and the cruelty visited by those with power on those without.
NUALA: Right. Okay. Cheers.
CHRISTOPHER: You’re welcome.
NUALA: That’s a bit… heady, you know? I’m not sure that’s going to work.
CHRISTOPHER: You’ve got a copy of his works right there, why don’t you just… you know, read it.
Have you got a lighter?
CHRISTOPHER: No, sorry. just…
NUALA: Fuck it, I’ll light it on the stove, sit tight.
NUALA leaves the room. CHRISTOPHER is left alone for an uncomfortably long time before she returns.
NUALA: Sorry about that, landlady just… you know, in the kitchen
CHRISTOPHER: Doesn’t she mind you smoking in here?
NUALA: No, she’s got anosmia, you know, so she doesn’t know.
NUALA: Like lack of smell
CHRISTOPHER: Yeah, I know.
There is a pause.
CHRISTOPHER: Didn’t she see you?
NUALA: No, she’s blind.
NUALA: Lucky I guess.
CHRISTOPHER: Yeah, I guess.
By this point they’ll be smoking the joint. NUALA passes it to CHRISTOPHER.
CHRISTOPHER: Thanks. This is a good roll.
CHRISTOPHER: So have you got any ideas where you’re taking this script?
NUALA: Not really.
CHRISTOPHER: Oh. When does it have to be done by?
NUALA: Like 2 hours’ time
CHRISTOPHER: What? That’s nothing, you’re better of leaving it.
NUALA: No, I need to get this done, there’s a developmental grant attached to it, I need that to make rent this month.
CHRISTOPHER: Get writing then, there’s no time to fuck around.
NUALA: I can’t just-
CHRISTOPHER: Like literally you need get this done now. Fuck, I’ll write it now if you need me to. What’s the best idea you’ve got?
NUALA: Oh Christ.
CHRISTOPHER: What have you got? The Gangsta Rapper kidnapping modern-day Pip!
NUALA: No man, that’s… that’s awful.
NUALA: It’s an awful idea.
CHRISTOPHER: Get fucked
NUALA: Come on man.
CHRISTOPHER: No, fuck you, I’ve come over here to help you and you’re trying to shit on my ideas.
NUALA: It’s just… no one’s going to believe that, it’s too contrived. Write about what you know, you know?
NUALA: Write about what you know.
CHRISTOPHER: That’s a thought
NUALA: What is?
CHRISTOPHER: Write about what you know! Write a play about writing a play
Without knowing anything about Dickens, you know?
NUALA: Holy shit!
CHRISTOPHER grabs the laptop and begins typing.
CHRISTOPHER: What do you want to call it?
NUALA looks around. She sees the entire written works of Charles Dickens and opens it on the contents page.
NUALA: ‘A Tale of Two Cities’
CHRISTOPHER: What does it have to do with cities?
NUALA: Give one of the characters an accent or something.
CHRISTOPHER begins talking with an accent.
CHRISTOPHER: And get them looking for a copy of Charles Dickens, that can be their… quest, you know.
NUALA: No, no, let Dickens come to them.
CHRISTOPHER: As a zombie?
NUALA: No, as a travelling book salesman. With a Dickens book.
CHRISTOPHER: Yes, that’s brilliant! It writes itself
NUALA: Have the travelling book salesman… be an assassin! On the run from the law!
CHRISTOPHER: Yes, that’s it!
NUALA: And have him hide the murder weapon inside the book that he sells them! So it’s like modern day Pip is caught up with a convict running from the law.
CHRISTOPHER: It flows off the page like water off rock.
NUALA: And his suspicions are first aroused because… the book is given to him for free! What sort of book salesman would give a book away for free.
NUALA opens the Entire Written Works of Charles Dickens. There is a gun inside. She holds the gun close to her.
CHRISTOPHER: What happens next?
NUALA: It’s a four-hander. We need a fourth hand?
CHRISTOPHER: What about the landlady?
NUALA: No. There is someone else.
There is a knock at the door. CHRISTOPHER and NUALA look at each other and then at the door.
There is a pause.
The piece abruptly ends.