Previously: you witnessed a conversation in a car between Zeppo and Ollie, accompanied by someone in a mask of Cthulhu who obsessively solves Rubik’s Cubes. You learnt about Pomona, a hole in the heart of Manchester, and a missing sister who may or may not be linked to it. The scene ended.
The lights return. Zeppo and Ollie will now be gone.
(Except, you’ll perhaps notice, they aren’t. One of the select few suggestions McDowall gives to theatre-makers in the information page of the script is, [The actors enter the space with the audience and remain on stage throughout.] The company isn’t obliged to obey this, but different productions might choose to engage with this suggestion in different ways. So it may be entirely possible that Zeppo and Ollie have simply moved out of the way, and are still visible. It could be that they’re sat at the side or stood at the back, watching the action in a metatheatrical sense. The actors portraying them may still be in-character, or they may be sitting motionless in a kind of limbo, becoming set furniture. Regardless – the effect is one of entrapment. You might be used to actors vanishing into the wings when their scenes finish; having them remain locked in the room with you increases the sense that you are in an inescapable environment, or a pressure cooker. Remember, we are viewing from outside – everything is already here at once, and always has been. Speaking of which…)
You can now instead see a frightened woman, and you quickly deduce that she is inside a phone booth.
(Regarding the photo containing a bathtub – DISK’s production, to infer from the photographs, continues the strong and laudable European tradition of discarding whatever aesthetic goals the English-language text may be harbouring in favour of pursing new and idiosyncratic ones. They appear to have set every scene inside or on top of a bathtub.)
You’ll also notice the laptop in her arms, although you’re safe to shelve that for a bit as no exposition on its meaning is forthcoming. Before any words are uttered, note the sequence of actions she performs:
- She picks up the receiver and puts it back down.
- She picks it up again.
- She dials the same key three times. (Spectators from the UK will understand this as 999, the emergency number.)
- She puts the receiver down again.
- She suddenly ducks and shields her face. (You may hear the sound of a car passing at this point.)
- She picks the receiver up again.
- She dials a different number.
Free of the outer ring, and plunged into the unclear morass within, you’ll need to start picking up on any clues that locate this woman and what she’s doing. Your image of her builds – she’s distressed. She wants to call the emergency services, but for some reason, she can’t. She doesn’t want to be seen by any passing cars – she’s at risk, possibly someone is out to get her. Perhaps it’s [“these people”], as Zeppo put it earlier; the nebulous, shadowy force operating within the city.
Which would seemingly bring us to two separate female figures in danger – her, and Ollie’s sister. Assuming they aren’t one and the same, though casting decisions may point you away from that possibility. The question of ‘who is the girl’ is going to float, in a hallucinatory way, around and around.
She starts talking. Short, clipped sentences, requests. Long pauses for response inbetween. The woman on the other end is called Stacy. As the actress portraying Laptop Woman transmits brief fragments of this conversation across to you, you start filing her into a separate box of the plot, as it emerges she has a home here; she’s going to be home late; Stacy babysits her daughter (seems to be a regular occurrence – she is a working woman); she needs Stacy to stay overtime, and: [
Don’t answer the phone tonight.
Not for anyone–
Because I told you–
Because I’m telling you–
And don’t answer the door.
Don’t answer the door to anyone who knocks, whoever knocks, don’t–
] The sense of a nebulous, all-encompassing Them increases. As the uncomprehending Stacy presumably puts up increasingly annoying protestations, Laptop Woman’s patience is tested until the point of outburst. It’s unclear where this scene will progress, but it seems unwise to argue further with such force. It will be partway through this, just as you anticipate it erupting into another flow of barked dialogue, that something Weird happens. You may hear the gentle knocking of a fist on glass.
A small girl suddenly appears, startling Laptop Woman.
She doesn’t say anything. She stares.
[“What do you want?
What do you want?!“]
Who is the girl?
The scene will be over by the time you ask this question. The lights will (perhaps) die. You’ll be left with nothing to make of this addition to the group of mysterious feminine figures, save that her behaviour is unusual and intimidating in its stillness and silence. You might have expected Laptop Woman to be carted off by shadowy men in masks, but clearly that’s not the language in operation here.
For reasons that won’t become clear until we go deeper, it’s a good idea to file the confrontation between Laptop Woman and Small Girl as Event X. The scene is over. We don’t know what happens next.
Another frustrated woman on the phone. The structural mirroring here is clear: we’ve jumped somewhere else in space and time, but the pattern is echoing.
This woman, you’ll see, is [pouring bottles of pills into her mouth].
Cast adrift yet again, and in the same way, we can resort to the same clue-gathering technique as the scene starts to play out.
- She intends to overdose.
- She seems in a hurry.
- She is being put on hold.
- When she is eventually connected to the person on the other end, they continue to obstruct her from getting to the point. There is a password that she knows and has told them at some point.
- Through an angry storm of repetitions and nervous hesitations, we eventually extract that she has the following demand of this person:
[take] [all the money] [from my account] [pile it up in the street] [and burn it]
[“And if you can do that in front of a, a, food bank, or a homeless shelter, or, or something–“]
- Rich. Unpleasantly so.
The structural mirroring will be waved in front of your face as you pass this point – Pills Woman quite literally repeats Laptop Woman’s [“Because I’m telling you–“] – but try to see past its girth for just a moment. [
“Because I hired the fucking Marx Brothers–
Because you cannot trust anyone to do anything and everyone is a fucking moron and they won’t take me down there–
They won’t take me!
I fucked up and she told me, I saw her and she told me if I fucked up and I fucked up so they’re coming and they’re here and no one gets out, no one gets out from down there but they won’t, they won’t take me, no one takes me, you can’t take a corpse, you can’t take me if I took myself already […]“
] There may be a bit too much new information in that brief flurry to even sift through in one go. Certainly your fellow audience members will probably have to make an effort to retain most of them, but certain concepts will have been floated out, ready to be set off later.
The invocation of the Marx Brothers would be jarringly amusing if it wasn’t sped over so quickly. We’ve already met a character named Zeppo, so it has an odd ring, but it’s certainly not referring to him. Irrespective of whether we’ll meet the duo in question deeper in, we’ve already registered McDowall’s consciousness of a certain cinematic realm where human bodies can be pushed to elastic, snappy extremes, and this is perhaps sending us advance waves of what we might be working with later.
That aside, we’re given multiple things. An unspeakable space – “down there”. An unspeakable person – “her” (yet another elusive woman, blending into the mix). An unspeakable fate, suggested to be less preferable than death.
The notion of a fate worse than death is one worth handling with sensitivity when your M.O. partially involves fetishising alien modes of consciousness. The one thing we’re given clearly is that it involves being “taken” – it is the will of another, imposed with no consent of any kind, and that alone is enough prompting for us to take arms against whatever it is. (The only thing we let ourselves be taken by is the natural progression of time.)
Whoever “she” is, “she” is one of Them, and Pills Woman’s superior. Naturally we try to slot pieces together; it won’t seem obvious that she could be any of the females you’ve met between here and the entrance – probably not Ollie, probably not Laptop Woman, unlikely to be a small girl, and we have no clue about Ollie’s sister – but she’s allied with the Unknown. And with this omnipresent sense of a destructive force from the beyond, you’ll perhaps think back to that odd Cthulhu-masked figure in the introductory sequence – but not for long, lest you become distracted, since there are more plot-relevant things going on.
A skeleton of a plot will be beginning to ghost into your awareness. There was a plan, a job, that has gone awry thanks to the Marx Brothers. You have a basic idea of what we can expect from here on out – you expect to find out what the job was, what went wrong and why, and somehow connect it to all of our other characters. And in particular, everyone in the room will have a certain expectation that the unspeakable will be spoken – that Unknown will become Known. The only other question is, what’s to become of Pills Woman?
Continuing to furiously insist her account manager (name of Craig – intriguing that we learn the names of these useless side characters before we learn those of our real targets) burn the money, and continuing to consume pills, she gives us a sense of someone who is used to being in control and flipping off the world, and this appears to be her final act of defiance – exposing the fantasy system of currency to a fiery real-world inconvenience. Speaking of fire, it’s a particularly warm motif for a journey that has (so far) been fairly cold and wet, even [rainsoaked and muddied]. You should make a mental log of it at this point in case it returns.
But you’ll be suddenly interrupted by [Screams and noise outside. Shouting.] [Hammering on the door.]
It appears to be Them. Your awareness of the mirroring effect will be linking this to Laptop Woman’s interruption earlier – does this imply a connection? – and on some subconscious level, you’ll be aware the scene is about to end again. She responds: [
] And as you’re yet again shoved out of linear time, file whatever may be about to happen here as Event Y.
The scene is over. Presumably the mirroring is also over and we aren’t about to see another woman on the phone, but with each of these scenes’ reluctance to tip over into action, be aware of a nagging intuition that we aren’t out of the dark, threatening wilderness just yet. The quiet sound of multiple actors darting to their positions will cue it in – whatever scene is about to materialise in the space before you, it’s not going to be pretty–