Peter Wilson's drama script collection

THEME AND VARIATIONS

A collection of plays by Peter D. Wilson

Preface

This collection did not start out with any idea of a common theme, nor for that matter of being a collection. It was only after several plays had accumulated, written at irregular intervals as inspiration struck, that a linking thread emerged - the necessity of coming to terms with a wounded past if the future is to have any peace.


Some wounds, of course, cannot be healed on this side of the grave. There is no honest way of coming to terms with the unscrupulous ‘investigative’ journalism represented in "Whitefly," a parable of what has actually happened to the West Cumbrian coast though set in a quite different context. This play, alone of the set, was written with polemic intent and initially for television as the most suitable medium, though not accepted for performance. The television version is given in the "Other fiction" section.


The rest were mostly intended from the start for a village dramatic society restricted in opportunities for casting and stage effects. Taking them in roughly chronological order, "Good Intentions" was prompted by trying to find a suitable script to perform in the county Drama Festival, an experience suggesting that there should be no great difficulty in writing something just as weird, less offensive and more entertaining than those the selection committee was considering.  I am satisfied on the first two qualities, the third is a matter of opinion.


"Sonata in B Flat" was an exercise in more extended writing, though a strand of weirdness persists. The chief point of interest to me is the way in which the initially peripheral character Sylvia developed a will of her own and became crucial to the later stages of the plot.


"Back to Bethulia" had a long history before the first words were written. The Book of Judith, a novella from the apocrypha of the Bible, has always annoyed me. During a fictional war, its heroine pretends desertion to a besieging army, receives every consideration from the commander, and repays hospitality by murdering him in his sleep. To get the indignation out of my system, I had to re-write the story in my own way, incidentally bringing it up to date and giving rein to a few other hobby-horses in the manner of Shaw’s "The Man of Destiny." Although I see only one minor character as totally unsympathetic, and the setting could be in any politically unstable time and place, the general use of Biblical names for people and places might conceivably create a quite unintended impression of anti-Semitism; if this is felt to be a danger, those apart from Judith herself, Holofernes and Bagoas could be changed at discretion.


"Danube Moon" grew out of a river cruise of the kind described in the setting, just before the break-up of Yugoslavia, when the tensions were apparent but with no hint to an outsider of how nasty the conflict was to become. The political situation is essential to the background; however, to anyone who may feel that the play trivialises a human tragedy now seen to be desperate, I offer unconditional apologies.


"Exit, pursued by a Bear" was inspired by an affable Russian met many years ago at a technical conference, and generally supposed to be the KGB minder for the actual author of the paper he presented. There is, of course, no suggestion that the original would behave in the manner portrayed. The piece started out as a one-acter (and the bulk of the first act could still be presented independently) with an ambiguous but apparently tragic ending. Only later did I realise that the situation could be resolved in a sequel that would make up a full-length play with a happier conclusion; hence the allusion to "The Winter’s Tale" with the same structural feature, although the bear also has its customary political significance.
The choice of the protagonist's surname was not, so far as I remember, a conscious allusion to Tom Stoppard's "Professional Foul" - but it might easily have been.


There was no convincing way of avoiding tragedy in "Whitefly," and in any case to do so would be incompatible with the intention. I was anxious if possible to adapt the television version for the stage, but the task of reducing the original numbers of minor characters and scene changes to manageable levels defeated me for a time. The familiar device of the play within a play suggested itself as the solution on waking one morning long after I had abandoned the early attempts.


"Independence Day" was written for a couple who wanted to present a short piece together with a junior as part of an entertainment that happened to be on the fourth of July. So long as the sense is maintained, the lines for Bob may be freely translated into whatever argot is currently favoured among teenagers.


"Nemesis" - first performed on the same occasion - again embodies a long-standing basic idea. I first met this one (the failure of characters to realise that they have passed to the afterlife) decades ago in the radio series "The Stars in their Choices" - unfortunately I don’t remember what the particular play was called or who wrote it, but the then relatively young Ralph Richardson was the star in question. The title, chosen as a mere temporary label before the plot was fully worked out, may now be unduly ominous since the fates are eventually appeased, but I can’t think of any better. Despite a common belief that Americans don't understand British humour, the play has reportedly been well received at drama festivals in the USA.


The remaining pieces do not altogether fit the general theme of reconciliation, although having more or less tenuous connections with it.


"The Jester's Daughter," described as "almost a fairy tale," is an extended re-working of the short story "Ernscar" in the "Other fiction" section, itself prompted by the rather silly line "The castle had stood for five hundred years on the same spot" that came unbidden into my head and demanded attention. I hope that readers, and if possible performers and audiences, may share the sheer delight that I found in writing it.


"Perils of Travel," "Crash" and "Inn Memory" were written for a pair of students to present in some kind of competition, the second to meet certain restrictive conditions not mentioned in the original request. "Perils" is a straightforward conversation piece related to contemporary issues of widespread concern. "Crash" lacks topical references and is more fanciful, to be taken either as a dream sequence or a ghost story. "Inn Memory," written to meet a repeat request the following year, explores a confusion between dream and recollection.


"Coincidence" was written as an entry in a writing competition. Now that judging is over, anonymity can be relaxed.


The film script "All for the best ...", shot in the summer of 2005, was written at the request of a student contact in Pennsylvania who specified the crucial incident and a "feel-good" conclusion. Most of the effort went into devising a credible (I hope!) build-up to this rather improbable scenario. The title comes from the allusions to Voltaire's "Candide" in the final scene.


"Green Eyes" puts rather similar ideas into a less bizarre situation. The long first scene draws heavily on an episode in my own professional experience, although in an unrelated field while the Press interest is pure fantasy. The twist in the plot during Scene 4 came to me as a complete surprise.

"Fish out of Water" was written by request of a Young Farmers group in Wales, for a cast of 26 - quite a challenge, if the opposite to that facing most dramatic societies! I started with no idea of the plot and simply put a few characters together to see what would develop; the ending occurred to me only when the script was 80% complete.


"Waiting" is the response to another request, this time from a church group in Nigeria, wanting a mere 20 parts. In the absence of more appropriate inspiration it is derived from ancient European mythology, although it would surprise me if African tradition lacked a corresponding legend.

Peter D. Wilson

Seascale, January 2000
Extended at various times up to September 2006

April 2016

This text from the original website has remained unedited. © Copyright 2016 Peter D. Wilson

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