The Dramatics Group Presents
Production note: our play proceeds through the three orders of this place, that is to say through CLAY, VETCH and MOON. CLAY produces first seeds, then vessels, then figurines. VETCH produces first clinging, then gleaning, then dancing. MOON produces first dilation, then nyctinasty (in humans: slowing of breath), then dimming.
ACT 1. ORDER OF CLAY
ACTOR IN A BOLD STRIPED BLOUSE: Do you know they’ve cultured a strain of moss which you can pack in a sort of teabag and monitor air pollution with? I emailed them and they sent me some in a jiffy bag. I’ve hung them from the plane tree outside the primary school. Those bioaccumulators will surely tell me what’s in our daughter’s lungs!
ACTOR WITH A BROOCH: The swimming pool looks so deep because the apex of the peaked glass roof reflects perfectly in its surface. From the top of the diving board, if you ignore the warnings, you’d think you could dive into twenty feet of water, a perfect embrace. Only after you jumped would you realise they’ve filled it in and it’s barely ten inches that end.
ACTOR WITH A PENCIL MOUSTACHE: I’m gonna take this trowel and this blue kickfloat to the nearest quarry, which according to google is… a cement factory on the Greenwich peninsula. So I guess instead I’ll buy a bag of cement. I’ll bring it back here, onto the tennis court, and I’ll open the bag and I’ll pile up the cement in a nice cone. Then I’ll slice it with the trowel and place the float halfway in. The rain will do the rest.
ACT 2. ORDER OF VETCH
ACTOR WITH A CROP CUT: Find someone who looks at you the way swimming pool water looks at a stainless steel handrail. It’s a clingy look. Put that someone in a double lilo, the kind that’s oval with headrests at opposite ends, like the astrological sign of the crab. For kindness’ sake, put a counterweight in there with them, some bricks in a yellow flexitub. Then kick them out on a flat calm.
CROP CUT’S SISTER, SHE MUST BE, THEY HAVE SUCH SIMILAR FACES: It leaks down in the basement, it leaks badly. There’s flowstone, stalactites, cave popcorn. I put a can there to catch the drips. And when it’s full I throw it on the vine outside, it needs the alkaline. No-one picks the grapes so if I pass and see a bunch that’s ripe I cut them and put them in the tub. I’ve been meaning to do something with them before they rot. Trample them or something.
SPANIEL: I grab the yellow plastic handle, I wrestle it, I pit my weight against its weight. An arc of black wine jam and pawprints across the path. I made that.
ACT 3. ORDER OF MOON
I CAN’T SEE THEIR FACE I JUST KNOW THEY SHOULD HAVE CURLY HAIR: Plug the space heater into the extension cable. Wheel it over the night gravel, paying out the cable, until you’re in the middle of the tennis court, in the middle of a circle of backless pool chairs. Quarter-inflate the beachball and place it on top. In the lulls between the squeals of passing trains, the sounds of the ball uncrumpling.
DOG-SLATHERED NEWCOMER (OFFSTAGE): The enzymes in dog saliva act directly on the parasympathetic nervous system, did you know that? You’ve heard of the parasympathetic nervous system, right? It does ‘feeding and breeding’: your digestive muscles, saliva, tears, arousal, all that stuff. Slows your heart rate. And they’ve found these enzymes in dog drool that really get it going. So you want to be chill all the time, you need to get a dog to lick your face. You’re too stressed out for sex, you get a dog to lick your face. You haven’t managed to shit for a week, you get yourself a dog — serious, serious, I’m serious – or you get someone else’s dog — and get them to lick your face.
ACTOR IN A CHECKED JACKET: I’d never noticed till the lights stopped working but there are lights behind the lights. Or maybe just to the side of them, but they’re in the same like sealed unit. And they’re green, a really soft green. I suppose they must be emergency lights but I don’t know what use they’d be in an emergency. You’d probably have to wait till your eyes adjusted and by then it would be too late. Like it took me twenty minutes, and then I finished off my pasta. And by that time I found I could even read, just about, if I went and sat right underneath one, so I did that for a bit. And then after an hour they started to fade and go out, so I guess they must be battery powered. And when the light I was under went out I moved to another one. I chose the brightest I could see. Back and forth down the corridor, sinking deeper and deeper into the green. I’m under the last one now. It’s a glowworm more than it’s a light. I’ve closed my book.
James Wilkes writes poems, short fictions and texts for performance, some of which have appeared in The Stinging Fly, gorse, The White Review, Datableed, Apollo and Poetry Wales, and in the collection Weather A System (Penned in the Margins). He's edited the zines Writing from the Gut (Copenhagen: Medical Museion), Refracted Light: 20 Poets Respond to Jackson Mac Low's Light Poems, and Herbarium (Capsule Editions/Wayward Plants). ‘The Dramatics Group Presents’ is part of a work-in-progress of speculative fictions, scripts and prose poems based on the archives of the Pioneer Health Centre, also known as the Peckham Experiment, a health and social centre based in South London from the 1930s to 1950. The work is supported by the Wellcome Trust (206272/Z/17/Z).