Peter Wilson's drama script collection

Whitefly

Whitefly

A parable in one act by

Peter D. Wilson

Character notes (all but Pat’s extracted from the script of the internal play)

Pat

The producer of a festival play.

John

Thirtyish, single, amiable and rather naive.

Connie

Hotel owner; in her mid-fifties, rather absent-minded.

Anne

Connie’s daughter and business manager; wholesome and intelligent. She and John are on very friendly terms, but both diffident about presuming on them.

Brinsley

Owner and technical director of Brinsley Biotechnics. Capable, businesslike and straightforward. Described as "a big chap."

Gail

A television journalist, glamorous, ambitious and without scruple.

Two stage hands

briefly visible but silent.

The following characters, specified for the festival play, are played by other members of the depleted company. If necessary, Connie could likewise be doubled by Gail, after the appropriate request by Pat.

Bill

A colleague of John, older and wiser.

Harry

A younger colleague, something of a Lothario.

Mcleod

Brinsley’s engineering assistant, sound but unimaginative.

Scene

A rehearsal room during preparations for an entry in the local drama festival. Part of the stage represents an actual stage; another serves as a waiting area. Rules prohibit a box set, and the décor of free-standing items may be incomplete. Two panels are set up so that when normally front-lit, they appear blank, while back-lighting reveals scenes painted on the reverse, showing respectively a laboratory scene with benches and glove-boxes, and the beach in front of a seaside hotel. (Any other way of producing equivalent temporary backgrounds is acceptable.) A representation of a car, with practical doors, is in all remaining respects rather crude. Otherwise, set and stage properties may be as near to their intended final state as taste and circumstances suggest. Different locations are indicated by lighting changes.


Apart from the producer Pat (either gender) all characters are identified by their parts in the play under rehearsal. They have not been type-cast, so there is scope for some contrasting characterisation; for instance, Anne is a more experienced and competent actress than Gail need be, and less agreeable.


After Pat’s last interjection, the distinction between the rehearsal and the actual performance is progressively blurred. Any light on the waiting area is therefore dimmed out, and the whole emotional tone of the production darkens.

Peter D. Wilson
Seascale, January 1996
Copyright © 2001, 2016


The curtain opens on the cast, less Pat, waiting around in attitudes of irritated boredom, studying scripts or chatting inconsequentially, apart from Gail who is busily writing. One or two may be setting items on the stage. Pat enters hastily, taking off his coat as he comes.


PATSorry, folks. Got here as soon as I could.

ANNEAnd about time too. Where the devil is everyone? We can’t wait around all night.

PATHadn’t you heard? There’s a crisis about the Spring production, and they’ve had to go to a special meeting. Just escaped from it myself.

JOHNOh, marvellous. The festival’s only a week off, and we lose half the cast. Not to mention the time we’ve been kept waiting.

PATIt’s only for the one night.

ANNEIt really isn’t good enough. We all have other commitments, you know, but we turn up religiously. And then have to hang about for people who don’t.

GAILLook, does all this bickering really help? Can’t we get on with something useful now we’re here?

ANNEAll very well for you. You don’t have two children and an impatient husband to deal with.

GAILNo, but I’m getting behind with my course work. And I don’t have anyone to help with the chores.

ANNEIf you suppose ...

PATLadies, please! Gail’s quite right, we aren’t helping matters. And Anne, I understand about your difficulties, and I’m sorry. I’m sorry for all the problems. Now, can we get down to business? Try and do something constructive. OK? (General murmur of assent.) Right. We’re minus - let’s see - three principal members of the cast. But there’s plenty we can do without them, with a bit of doubling up, and I can read in the minor parts where necessary.

ANNEWell, don’t blame us if it puts us off our stroke.

PATAll right, I’ll make some allowance - but not much. Don’t forget, for the actual performance, you’ll be playing on an unfamiliar stage, where there’s always something that could put you off your stroke - if you let it. So don’t let it. And for goodness’ sake try to manage without your scripts tonight. As John said, we’ve only another week, we’ve got to get the mood right as well as the dialogue, and you can’t develop the effect if you’re still looking at the text instead of each other. Right. Let’s get started. John, I’m not too happy about the opening scene - remember, keep it light. Just casual banter between friends who are easy enough with each other for some fairly robust chaffing to cause no offence. I know Harry and Bill aren’t here, so will Brinsley read in for Bill and I’ll do Harry? Yes, of course we’ll have to use the script for that. Thanks. OK? (Out front, to an invisible lighting technician) Lights, please, Tim. Thanks. Right, let’s go.


John seats himself at whatever table serves to represent his office desk and busies himself with some paperwork. Bill and Harry saunter across to him.


HARRYDon’t stay all night.

JOHNJust finishing off. Otherwise I’ll never pick it up when I get back.

BILLOh, you’re off on holiday, aren’t you? Where to this time?

JOHNUsual place.

BILLYou ought to try somewhere else for a change.

JOHNI’m a creature of habit.

HARRYDo you ever get odd looks, booking in as John Smith?

BILLHe might if he took some glamorous bimbo with him.

HARRYHow do you know he doesn’t?

JOHN(amused) The chance’d be a fine thing!

BILLWell, enjoy yourself, bimbo or no.

JOHNI shall. Cheerio!

HARRYCheers!

BILLSee you.


Harry and Bill depart. John finishes his task, tidies the desk, locks it, picks up his briefcase, sets his chair neatly against the desk, checks the area, and exits.


PATThat’s better. Right, we’ll move to the hotel. Take it that John’s got his meal, his pint and his newspaper and is sitting in the bar. I’ll do McLeod this time. Tim, light on John’s table, please. That’s it.


John sits at the illuminated table and mimes eating, while reading from a newspaper overlapping the table edge. Brinsley and McLeod enter, crossing the lit area, deep in an evidently technical conversation.


BRINSLEYWe’ve got to get that extract fixed before anything else.

McLEODBut the secondary fan should cope, barring accidents.

BRINSLEYNo, we’re not taking any chances. I’ve given my word, and I intend to keep it - if only because there’s too much risk of being found out if I don’t. (He accidentally knocks John’s paper off the table, stops and picks it up.) Sorry, that was very clumsy of me.

JOHNNothing to worry about.

BRINSLEY(to McLeod) How long to fix the primary?

McLEODDepends whether it’s the motor itself or the control gear. We could ...


They pass out of the pool of light. Anne approaches John’s table.


ANNEIs everything all right?

JOHNOf course - as always. Care for a drink?

ANNENo, thanks. Too tired.

JOHNWell, sit down for a moment. (After hesitating a second, she does so.) Not like you to admit fatigue. Busy time?

ANNEActually it’s a bit slack this year. Perhaps as well.

JOHNOh? Why?

ANNEWell, with Daddy’s death in January -

JOHNWhat? I’d no idea. I’m terribly sorry ...

ANNEYes, it was a blow. No sign of anything wrong, then just went out like a light one day. Heart, of course.

JOHNWell, that’s the way to go. Dreadful for you, though.

ANNEYes, it was a pretty awful shock. Hit Mummy badly.

JOHNNaturally. They always struck me as a fond couple.

ANNEThey were. But not just that. You see, Daddy had always looked after the business side of things, and Mummy gets dreadfully flustered over it. In the end I just had to tell her to forget about it and leave everything to me.

JOHNGood job you’ve your head firmly screwed on.

ANNEIt sometimes doesn’t feel it.

JOHNCouldn’t you get a manager in, or something?

ANNECan’t afford it. Daddy wasn’t really all that good at running the show, and we found there were some outstanding bills that he hadn’t mentioned - perhaps forgotten himself. We’re only just keeping our heads above water. (Brightening) Still, we’re not actually going under. And I shouldn’t be bothering you with our troubles.

JOHNIf an old friend can’t share them, who can?

ANNEIt’s nice of you to take it like that.


John tentatively squeezes her hand. She smiles at him.


JOHNBy the way, who are those two that just came in?

ANNEI didn’t notice. Which two?

JOHNOver there at the bar. Big chap and a wiry Scot.

ANNEOh, that’ll be Dr. Brinsley and his assistant. Dr. B.’s staying here while his own place is done up. Mr. McLeod’s lodging in the village, but often comes in for dinner.

JOHNBrinsley - now where have I come across that name recently? Oh yes, as I passed the Manor, I noticed some building work and a new sign at the gate. Brinsley something or other - I didn’t catch the rest.

ANNEOh, that’s rather interesting. It’s a biotechnology firm belonging to Dr. B. He’s bought the place to convert into laboratories.

JOHNWhat on earth for?

ANNEApparently they specialise in pest control, and want somewhere to work up production methods for a new system.

JOHNBut why here, of all places?

ANNEThe council wanted to get some light industry down here, and went out of their way to be helpful over things like planning permission. And rumour has it that Dr. Brinsley likes sea fishing.

JOHNWhat’s that got to do with it?

ANNEWell, Ron Jenkins - no, it’s just gossip. Rather scandalous gossip, too.

JOHNYou intrigue me.

ANNEJust a bit of local politics. Better forget I mentioned it. Look, I really am whacked; will you please excuse me?

JOHNOf course. Selfish of me to keep you.

ANNENot at all. Good night.


Exit Anne. The light on John fades and he moves to the waiting area.


PATRight, that’s fine. You’ve got that suggestion of not-quite-intimacy very well. Now, lighting change for next morning, please, Tim.


John is seated in the lounge with a coffee and the day’s newspaper. Anne enters briskly with a vase of flowers which she arranges on a side table.


ANNEGood morning, Mr. Smith. Did you have a good night?

JOHNYes, thanks. Slept like a log - more tired than I realised after the journey. How are you now?

ANNEOh, fine, thanks. I was just exhausted last night for some reason. Possibly with poring over some papers I have to take to the accountant this morning. Oh, damn!

JOHNWhat’s the matter?

ANNEJust remembered - I forgot to tax the car. And the police are having a purge at the moment. I’ll have to catch the bus.

JOHNWhere to?

ANNETaunton. I can get the tax disc while I’m at it.

JOHNCan I run you over there? I’m going that way.

ANNEYou’re not just saying that?

JOHN"Just" or not, I’m saying it. And I mean it.

ANNEI don’t like imposing ...

JOHNNo imposition. I’ll be glad of the company.


Connie, Anne’s mother, enters rather vaguely carrying a music record, but becomes more purposeful on seeing John.


CONNIEOh, good morning, Mr. Smith. I’m sorry I wasn’t around to greet you yesterday.

JOHNGood morning, Mrs. Anderson. Don’t worry, Anne did the honours perfectly well.

CONNIEI’m so glad. Anne, did you say you were going into Taunton this morning?

ANNEYes, Mr. Smith has very kindly offered me a lift.

CONNIEBut why ...?

ANNEThe tax disc. I forgot to renew it. Remember?

CONNIEOh yes. You really shouldn’t put yourself out, Mr. Smith.

JOHNI’ve already explained that I’m going that way in any case.

ANNEWill you excuse me while I get the papers? Er - when were you planning to leave?

JOHNWhen it suits you.

ANNETen minutes?

JOHNFine.

Exit Anne.

CONNIEIt’s very good of you to take Anne into town. (Accusingly) You weren’t really planning to go there today, were you?

JOHN(amused) You wouldn’t call a guest a liar, would you?

CONNIE(relaxing) No, of course not. But thanks, anyway.

JOHNIt’s a pleasure. Anne’s a grand girl.

CONNIEYes, she is. And I don’t know what I’d have done without her since Arthur died.

JOHNOh, yes. I was shattered to hear about that. It’s a bit late to offer condolences, but -

CONNIEThank you. It comes to us all, of course, but that makes it no less a shock when it does come. And Arthur always looked after the business side of things. I’ve no head for it at all.

JOHNAnne seems very capable.

CONNIEYes, she is. But it wears her down, poor girl.

JOHNShe was exhausted last night.

CONNIEI’m not surprised. Things have been difficult.

JOHNOh?

CONNIEYes. Bookings have been down this year, and we’ve had to economise on help. If it weren’t for the new lot up at the Manor we might have been in real trouble.

JOHNGood customers?

CONNIEYes. They’ve brought quite a lot of business. But even that’s a bit worrying.

JOHNHow?

CONNIEThis biotechnology they’re on about. I don’t know much about it, but it sounds rather alarming. A lot of people are rather scared. (In broad Mummerset) Meddlin’ wi’ Nature - b’aint right, y’know.

JOHNI can understand that. But one way or another, we’ve been meddling with Nature since the first man threw a stone at a woolly rhinoceros or whatever.

CONNIEI dare say, but this is different.

JOHNJust what are they doing?

CONNIEI don’t really understand it. That’s what’s worrying people. Perhaps Anne can explain it to you - she did study biology.

JOHNDid she? I didn’t know that.

CONNIEOh, yes, she took a degree in it. Couldn’t get a job, though. Luckily for me. (Anne enters.) Oh, Anne, Mr. Smith was asking about the Brinsley firm. It’s Greek to me - can you explain it?

ANNEI’ll try - as far as I know myself. But I mustn’t delay you.

JOHNTell me on the way, if you like.

ANNERight. Was there something you wanted, Mum?

CONNIEEr - oh, yes. This record - the label says it’s Chausson, but it sounds like Stravinsky. Could you take it back and change it for me?

ANNERight-oh. Anything else?

CONNIEI don’t think so, thanks.

ANNEWell, if anything occurs to you after we’ve gone, write it down. ’Bye.


John escorts Anne to some representation of a car.


JOHNIs it my imagination, or is your mother a bit vaguer than usual?

ANNEI’ve been wondering that myself. It’s difficult to be sure when you’re with someone all the time, but I’m afraid you may be right.

JOHNShe said something about being worried by this Brinsley fellow’s set-up. Well, actually, she tried to make light of it and say it was other people who were bothered, but I got the impression she was none too happy herself.

ANNEYou’re definitely right there.

JOHNWhy?

ANNEPartly, I suppose, because it simply isn’t the sort of thing we’re used to in these parts.

JOHNAnd the rest? Connie had something on her mind about "meddling with nature," but couldn’t explain what. She thought you would. By the way, I never knew you were a biologist yourself.

ANNENot the sort of thing to brag about down here. Most of the men still think that woman’s place is at the sink - except on a Saturday night - and the women are inclined to agree, at least where other women are concerned.

JOHNBut how do you feel yourself about giving up a career?

ANNECareer? What sort of career?

JOHNWell, I’d have thought something scientific -

ANNEHuh! The nearest I was offered was deputy sub-assistant dogsbody in a library - a dreary industrial hole. No thank you. I’d rather do something useful in a place I like.

JOHNI see. Well, what about this Brinsley Biotechnics, then? You said something about pest control.

ANNEOh, yes. I think for a start they’re working on aphids - a genetically-engineered microbe of some kind, specially bred to attack the pests and leave everything else alone.

JOHNI’d have thought everyone was in favour of that.

ANNEYes, but then they ask, if it’s been altered once to attack pests, what happens if at alters again and becomes dangerous to humans?

JOHNCould that happen?

ANNEI suppose in theory; I don’t know how likely in practice. Not my field - and things have developed enormously since my student days. Anyway, I’m only too glad of the extra business. We’d be in a sorry state without it.

JOHNTalking of business - how long are you likely to be with the accountant?

ANNEHalf an hour, perhaps - why?

JOHNI wondered if you’d like to go on somewhere afterwards - have lunch perhaps ...

ANNEIt’s really very sweet of you, but no, I must get straight back. Mother will be panicking otherwise.

JOHNWe could ring and tell her ...

ANNEIt isn’t just that; there are things to be organised, and she tends either to forget them or get into a flap. Thank you, all the same.

JOHNAnother time, then?

ANNEI’ll see. If I can.


The lights come off the car; Anne and John emerge from it.


ANNEPat, we really must do something about that car. It looks like a left-over from some shoddy production of "Toad of Toad Hall." And if I ladder my tights again on the splinters ...

PATYes, I take your point. You may be right about where it comes from, too; I’ll see Fred about it tomorrow. Now, the pub scene. Brinsley, we’ll be Bill and Harry again. Ready, Gail? Gail! Leave that essay, please, you’re on in a moment.

GAILSorry, Pat. It’s due in tomorrow. Just let me finish the sentence -

ANNEOh, really!

GAILThere.


John and Bill sit at a bar table. Harry and Gail enter and work their way towards the same table.


BILLNo bimbo, then?

JOHNNow where would I find one? One that would look twice at me, that is.

HARRYI reckon he’s got a bit of fluff set up down there.

JOHNHarry! I didn’t see you come in. What’s all this then?

HARRYGail, meet my friends John and Bill. We work together - at least, for the same firm.

BILLPleased to meet you. What’ll you have?

HARRYNo, this is on me.

BILLSure?

HARRYSure. John, your glass is nearly empty.

JOHNWell, if you insist, I dare say I could use another pint.

BILLMe too.

HARRYSo I assumed. Gail?

GAILG and T, please. Excuse me - back in a moment. (She disappears loo-wards.)

HARRYKeep the places. (He heads for the bar.)

BILL(Gazing after Gail) Now where did he pick that up, I wonder?

JOHNBit above his usual class, isn’t she?

BILLWhat is his usual class? Anything from a bar-maid to a company secretary, from what I’ve seen. So long as it’s female and more or less human.

JOHNDid I tell you about the absolute fright I saw him with three weeks ago?

BILLNo?

JOHNHair waist-length, a tangled mess - make-up half an inch thick - plum-coloured tights on legs that looked as though they’d been ten times over-inflated - behind like a cart-horse - dress so short it didn’t quite reach the seat when she sat down, at least if she leaned forward -

BILLSounds ghastly. But she may have had a very sweet nature - you just can’t tell from appearances. What was she like to talk to?

JOHNI didn’t risk that. Fortunately he didn’t spot me. And then he turns up with one that wouldn’t disgrace Vogue.

BILLI never knew you read it.

JOHNI’ve seen the cover on magazine stands. And Gail would fit quite happily.

BILLHow does she compare with your holiday piece?

JOHN(laughing) You don’t catch me that way!

BILLCome on, you can tell Uncle William.

JOHNNothing to tell.

BILL"When cautioned, the accused declined to make a statement."

JOHNSome caution!


Harry returns with the beers, deposits them, collects Gail’s drink, puts it on the table and seats himself. The other two shuffle round to make room.


HARRYWhat was that about precautions? Don’t worry, I’m well prepared.

BILLYou’ve got a one-track mind.

HARRYI deny it! (Lifting his glass) Who suggested this round?

JOHNCome on, Harry, where did you find her?

HARRYGail? She’s just moved into the flat opposite mine. I gave her a hand with her luggage.

BILLAnd are now cashing in.

HARRYStrike while the iron is hot, say I.

JOHNBut who is she? What’s she doing here?

HARRYWell, I don’t know all that much about her. But I follow that old children’s motto.

BILLWhich one?

HARRYIt’s fun finding out. Meanwhile I’m quite happy admiring her figure.

BILLThat, I admit, gives her a ten-mile start on anything else I’ve seen you with. Far too good for you. It won’t last, you know.

HARRYDon’t expect it to. "Sufficient unto the day," and all that.


Gail returns to the table and seats herself.


GAILIs this mine? Thanks.

HARRYThe boys were asking what you’re doing here.

GAILJust transferred from Sheffield.

BILLAs what?

GAILOh, sorry, didn’t I explain? I’m a TV reporter.

BILLDon’t remember seeing you on the box. And I doubt if I should forget it.

GAILIt was only local stuff. And I don’t do the actual presenting. At least, not yet - just ferret out the background. But I live in hope.

JOHNYou’re not the only one, I gather. Ouch!

HARRYSorry, did I kick you?

JOHNYes, you damn well did. Sorry, Gail.

BILLYour own fault. You should be more careful where you’re putting your feet.

JOHNWhat sort of background?

GAILOh, just little things. Misleading advertisements. Confidence tricksters and the like.

HARRYFound anything interesting?

GAILMildly. More depressing than interesting.

BILLIn what way?

GAILTo see how gullible people can be. You’d think they’d smell a rat straight away.

JOHNHow do you mean?

GAILWell, suppose you saw an advertisement that offered a useful income for a few hundred quid invested and a little easy work, wouldn’t you be suspicious?

JOHNSuspicious? I wouldn’t touch it with a barge-pole.

GAILExactly. But it’s amazing how many people fall for it.

BILLYou’ll always find people who believe that the big boys have only got there through luck.

GAILI don’t say that isn’t important. I could do with a bit of luck myself.

HARRYOh, how?

GAILJust to find some interesting stories.

BILLDon’t tell me there’s a shortage of con-men here!

GAILI’d like to get my teeth into something a bit meatier. One of these environmental issues, for instance.

JOHNAh!

BILLSomething in mind, John?

JOHNIt’s probably nothing.

HARRYWhat is?

JOHNSomething I came across on holiday. A new biotechnology lab.

GAILWhat sort?

JOHNI’m not quite sure what’s going on there, but the local people are worried. Some of them, at any rate.

BILLSome folks worry about anything. There are always precautions. For a start, that sort of thing would need to satisfy the planning committee, wouldn’t it?

JOHNThere’s a suggestion of a bit of fiddling there.

GAIL(interested) Anything tangible?

JOHNA few curious coincidences -

BILLI’d be damned careful about that. One slip and the libel lawyers will have a field-day.

GAILYes, that’s something we do have to watch. But the technical characters are easier game.

HARRYHow’s that?

BILLOut!

HARRYBe serious.

GAILWell, the dodgy councillors - I presume that’s what you’re on about?

JOHNSomething like that.

GAILThey know they’re on thin ice, so they watch their step very carefully. Anything that would stand up against them in court is well hidden. But the technical types, who think everything they do is wonderful, expect only applause. So they’re only too glad to give us everything we want.

BILLSounds a bit unsporting.

GAILDon’t waste your sympathy. There’s nothing sporting about the things they get up to.

BILLIsn’t that rather a wide generalisation?

GAILMaybe. A fairly valid one, though. Now, what’s this business you were talking about?

JOHNIt’s called Brinsley Biotechnics -

GAILMind if I make a note of this?

JOHNNot at all. It’s down near Taunton - I’ll give you the address - and it’s developing a new strain of bacteria to use in pest control.

GAILAha!

JOHNAnd the locals are worried in case the bugs get loose and prove nasty.

GAILSounds just the sort of thing I wanted. Probably worth going down to take a look. Know anywhere reasonably priced to stay near there?

HARRYI thought you were on expenses on these trips.

GAILSo we are. But I’m very new in this post and I don’t want to start by getting a reputation as an expenses shark.

JOHNTry the place I stay. It’s -

HARRYHey, look at the time. We’ll miss the start if we’re not careful.

GAILSorry - John, isn’t it? Can I get the details another time?

JOHNOf course -

HARRYI’ll give you his office number. Come on. Excuse us, chaps.

GAILCheers!

JOHNEnjoy yourselves!

HARRYWe shall.


Gail and Harry exit. Bill looks after them thoughtfully, John admiringly.


JOHNSome girl!

BILLMmm.

JOHNWhat?

BILLThat’s a very dangerous young woman.

JOHNDangerous? How?

BILLYou’re quite friendly with these hotel folk in Somerset, aren’t you?

JOHNYes, I’ve been staying there for years, but what -

BILLAre you sure they’d welcome a stranger sniffing around their local concerns?

JOHNI imagine so. And they could do with the custom at the hotel.

BILLWill a room occupied for a couple of nights and a few meals really make all that difference to them?

JOHNIt’ll help. And after all, it’ll give them a chance to air their worries.

BILLIn front of several million people if the idea comes to anything. And not just their worries - a few other things they’d rather keep to themselves, more than likely. You thought all that out before you started splashing information about?

JOHNWell, not exactly ...

BILLSee what I mean? I’m not blaming you. Any normal man likes to make an impression on a pretty girl. And not all pretty girls take advantage of it. But that one will. Now, your round, I think ...


Lighting change. John moves to a telephone and calls Anne.


JOHNAnne - about that Brinsley Biotechnics business.

ANNEYes?

JOHNIs your mother still worried over it?

ANNEI think so. Why?

JOHNThe other day I met a journalist who works on that kind of thing, and would like to see if there’s anything interesting in it.

ANNEInteresting? In what way?

JOHNA hidden threat to the public, or malpractice of some kind, that would make a good story.

ANNEI don’t like the sound of that.

JOHNWhy? Isn’t that what Connie’s worried about? If there really is malpractice, it ought to be exposed.

ANNEMaybe. But even if there isn’t anything worth mentioning - particularly if there isn’t anything worth mentioning - this journalist may still blow it up out of all proportion, just for the sake of a story.

JOHNIsn’t that rather cynical?

ANNEDon’t tell me it never happens. And some of these types - when they get a bee in their bonnet ...

JOHNWell, won’t you at least talk to this girl?

ANNEOh, it’s a girl, is it?

JOHNDoes that make any difference?

ANNEI don’t know. She may be out to prove something, just because she is a woman in a man’s world.

JOHNShe didn’t strike me as that kind.

ANNEJust how well do you know her?

JOHNHardly at all. I’ve only met her once. One of my colleagues introduced her.

ANNESo you can’t really be sure of anything about her.

JOHNI suppose that’s true. But why not meet her and form your own opinion?

ANNEI can’t get away from the hotel just like that.

JOHNBut she’s quite willing to come down, I gather, just on spec. At least you’d have her custom for a night or two.

ANNEWhy are you pushing this so hard?

JOHNI’m not - I just thought it would help you, and help her at the same time.

ANNEAnd which of those is the more important? I’m sorry, I’ve no right to ask you that.

JOHNYes, you have. It’s a perfectly reasonable question. I’m mostly anxious for you and Connie.

ANNEWell, it’s very kind of you ...

JOHNNot at all.

ANNEAll right, let her come. Though I don’t promise any co-operation until I’ve formed my own opinion.

JOHNFair enough. Let me know how it goes.

ANNEI shall. ’Bye.

PATGood. You got that hint of jealousy just right, Anne. Very nicely done. Now, the laboratory interview. All set, Tim?


Exeunt. Complete lighting change. A translucent panel that had previously appeared blank is back-lit to show the laboratory scene painted on the reverse. Brinsley and Gail enter.


GAILSo the actual work is done in these boxes?

BRINSLEYThat’s right. The gloves are arranged so that the operator can reach any part without physical contact.

GAILIsn’t that rather awkward?

BRINSLEYA little. But people soon get used to working in them. It isn’t really necessary with organisms as harmless as these, of course, but I promised to take every possible precaution, and the facility could be useful if ever we have to deal with anything more dangerous.

GAILBut how can you guarantee that nothing will get out?

BRINSLEYThe boxes are always kept slightly below atmospheric pressure - you see how the gloves tend to be sucked in - so that if there is any leak it can only be inwards.

GAILFascinating. Well, Dr. Brinsley, you’ve shown us the mechanics; would you like to tell us something of what is behind the work going on here?

BRINSLEYCertainly. You probably know that with concern about pesticide residues in crops, and the effect on beneficial creatures as well as the pests they are intended to kill, biological control is becoming increasingly important.

GAILPerhaps you would explain that.

BRINSLEYWell, if you use a poison to wipe out, say, the greenfly on your roses, you’re just as likely to kill the ladybirds that would otherwise keep down other people’s greenfly. If, on the other hand, you encourage the ladybirds, everyone benefits and there are no residues of poison to harm the bees.

GAILBut you aren’t working on ladybirds.

BRINSLEYNo, because by the time the ladybirds have caught up, the greenfly have done their damage. In any case, it isn’t so much greenfly that we’re concerned about. In commercial greenhouses, whitefly are more important. And natural predators have less chance to get at them.

GAILSo what are you planning to feed on those?

BRINSLEYIt isn’t exactly a matter of eating them. But there’s a certain kind of bacterium that infects them.

GAILI see. Then you’re going to breed these bacteria for sale?

BRINSLEYNot exactly. You see, the original bacteria are quite benign; they don’t actually do much harm to the fly. We’ve gone one better than that, and developed a variant that kills them.

GAILMay it then kill other creatures besides whitefly? Other insects, or birds that eat the insects, or even human beings?

BRINSLEYI don’t think so.

GAILIs "not thinking so" really enough? Have you checked?

BRINSLEYOh yes, we’ve tested it. And there are good grounds for believing that it can’t harm anything but whitefly. In any case, as an added precaution, we’ve made sure that it can’t survive in the natural environment. Not for long, anyway.

GAILAnd how long is "long?"

BRINSLEYA few days, perhaps. Certainly no more than a week.

GAILA lot can happen in a week.

BRINSLEYI wish that were true of the development programme! But to be serious, the bacteria are harmless to anything but the whitefly even if they do get loose - I’ve already told you that.

GAILYes. Would you describe your precautions again, for the viewers?

BRINSLEYCertainly. These bacteria are basically of a kind that are already common in the soil. But they’ve been modified in two ways. Firstly, they’ve been infected with a virus that causes them to produce a particular kind of molecule in large quantities. That molecule can enter the cells of the whitefly, bind to a sequence of its genetic material during cell division, and stop it from replicating properly. That means that the cells can’t reproduce themselves, the flies are sterile, and once enough cells are affected, the flies themselves can’t survive.

GAILThat’s how your pest control works.

BRINSLEYYes.

GAILBut how is that a protection for the public?

BRINSLEYWell, I told you that the special molecule binds to a sequence of the fly’s genetic material. That sequence is peculiar to the whitefly - no other creature can be affected. That’s the first precaution.

GAILAnd the second?

BRINSLEYBy a quirk of metabolism, the modified bacteria depend on an unusually high concentration of vanadium. They’ll be distributed in a culture laced with vanadyl sulphate - once released, they’ll survive for a few days on what they carry with them, but after that, they need fresh supplies. Which they won’t find in the normal environment.

GAILSo the bacteria as you supply them will be harmless except to whitefly, and would themselves be doomed outside the greenhouse.

BRINSLEYExactly.

GAILBut bacteria can mutate, can’t they?

BRINSLEYCertainly. But to make them dangerous, they’d need at least two independent and highly specific mutations - one to transform the virus into something nasty, and another to overcome the vanadium dependency. The chances of either happening at all are slim, and for them to happen together - well, it’s practically unimaginable. After all, most mutations with any significant effect are lethal.

GAILLethal?

BRINSLEYYes. Any living cell is a very finely balanced mechanism; all sorts of things have to happen in the right way and in the right order. Change one step at random - which is the essence of mutation - and by far the most likely effect is to wreck the whole sequence.

GAILThen how do people survive when mutations can happen at any time?

BRINSLEYIt’s only the mutated cell itself that dies. You can afford to lose an awful lot without much harm - scrape your finger, it heals in a matter of days. It’s only when a mutated cell doesn’t die but turns hostile that there’s any ill effect.

GAILWhat about radiation sickness?

BRINSLEYThat’s another matter. It only happens with such massive doses that cells are killed off wholesale, and there aren’t enough left to perform their necessary functions. Even then, if the patient survives, the chances are that the remaining cells will be normal and healthy.

GAILReally? That’s fascinating. Well, thank you, Dr. Brinsley, for a very interesting description of your project.

BRINSLEYYou’re welcome.

GAILBut there’s one other thing.

BRINSLEYOh?

GAILI’m told you were overheard saying that you’d given your word about something and intended to keep it.

BRINSLEYWell, what’s so remarkable about that?

GAIL"If only because there was too much risk of being found out otherwise," or words to that effect.

BRINSLEYMaybe. It’s a good, practical reason, isn’t it? In any case, honesty is the best policy. I’ve never been a very convincing liar.

GAILWhat did you fear might be found out?

BRINSLEYThat I hadn’t kept my word, of course.

GAILAre you sure it was just that? Not that there was some aspect of your operation that you had to keep secret?

BRINSLEYLook, Miss Fletcher, from the very start I’ve made it absolutely clear that we had nothing to hide.

GAILNothing?

BRINSLEYWell, apart from specific details of the process. Naturally there are commercial secrets - that’s standard practice. And I shouldn’t be discussing those in a public place where they might be overheard.

GAILSo everything that concerns the public is open for examination and discussion?

BRINSLEYJust so.

GAILI’m sure our viewers will be greatly reassured. Well, thank you again, Dr. Brinsley, and goodbye.

PATGood, that’s coming along nicely. Just one thing, Brinsley - can you show more surprise when Gail brings up the overheard conversation? Take it that the rest of the interview had been planned beforehand with her, but that’s something she’s sprung on you out of the blue. We don’t need to do it again just now, though. On to the beach scene.


The "laboratory" panel fades and another, similarly representing the hotel as seen from the beach, lights up. Gail directs a couple of stage hands setting up "BEACH CLOSED" signs. Anne accosts her.


GAILJust over there, Bert. Sign in the foreground - deserted beach in middle distance - hotel behind, a little off centre -

ANNEWhat the devil’s going on?

GAILOh, hello. Just getting a few background sequences.

ANNEBut these signs - why’s the beach closed?

GAILWe want a clear shot - not too many people getting in the way.

ANNEIs that all? How did you get the beach closed just for that?

GAILThere was a mine washed up in the West Bay - I borrowed a couple of the signs after it was cleared.

ANNEBut surely, that’s not allowed?

GAILWho’s to bother about it? Don’t worry, we’ll return them in half an hour or so.


The stage is darkened and a box representing a television set, back to the audience, lights up. Gail is heard introducing a heavily-edited version of the Brinsley interview (pre-recorded).


GAILSo we go from this once-popular beach to the laboratories of Brinsley Biotechnics to find out just what is happening. Dr. Brinsley is himself our guide and explains the nature of his operations. (To Brinsley) So the actual work is done in these boxes?

BRINSLEYThat’s right. The gloves are arranged so that the operator can reach any part without physical contact.

GAILIsn’t that rather awkward?

BRINSLEYA little. But people soon get used to working in them.

GAILBut how can you guarantee that nothing will get out?

BRINSLEYThe boxes are always kept slightly below atmospheric pressure - you see how the gloves tend to be sucked in - so that if there is any leak it can only be inwards.

GAILFascinating. Now perhaps you’d explain why biological control is so important.

BRINSLEYWell, if you use a poison to wipe out, say, the greenfly on your roses, you’re just as likely to kill the ladybirds that would otherwise keep down other people’s greenfly. In commercial greenhouses, whitefly are more important. And natural predators have less chance to get at them. But there’s a certain kind of bacterium that infects them.

GAILI see. Then you’re going to breed these bacteria for sale?

BRINSLEYNot exactly. You see, the original bacteria are quite benign; they don’t actually do much harm to the fly. We’ve gone one better than that, and developed a variant that kills them. Most mutations with any significant effect are lethal. (End of quotation).

GAILSo we have the prospect of bacteria with lethal mutations being produced in large quantities close to this apparently idyllic spot. Is it any wonder that the local people are worried?


Recorded conversation, played in darkness.


MOTHERAre you there, Fred? Did you hear all that?

FATHERAll what?

MOTHERAbout bacteria with lethal mutations being produced near our hotel.

CHILDWhat are lethal mutations?

MOTHERChanges that will kill you.

FATHERSounds like a load of nonsense to me.

MOTHERWhat’s nonsense about it?

FATHERWell, you know how these people blow things up - making a mountain out of a molehill.

MOTHERBloody big molehill!

FATHERI don’t suppose there’s anything in it at all.

MOTHERWell, maybe not. But I think we should find somewhere else for our holiday, at least this year.

FATHERBut we’ve paid the deposit!

MOTHERWhat does that matter? It’s too big a risk.


Lights come up on Connie, opening a letter, and Anne.


CONNIEAnother cancellation. That’s fifteen so far, isn’t it?

ANNESixteen. Just about wipes out our operating profit. Let alone the bank charges.

CONNIEWhat are we going to do?

ANNEWhat can we do? We can’t compel people to come. And with Brinsley shifting his whole operation to Russia -

CONNIEYes, why did he do that? My memory’s a bit confused.

ANNEWell, with all the stink that lying TV programme kicked up, the council revoked his planning permission. And he’s supposed to have decided nowhere else in Britain would be any healthier for him.

CONNIEBut if the programme was all lies, couldn’t he challenge it?

ANNEI gather he did, but it didn’t get him anywhere. He told me they’d very cleverly taken some of his own words and rearranged them to mean the exact opposite of what he actually said, so however he protested afterwards, he was damned out of his own mouth.

CONNIEBut they can’t do that sort of thing, can they?

ANNEEvidently they can.

CONNIEI mean legally. Couldn’t he sue for libel or something?

ANNEApparently he was going to, but the solicitor told him it was too risky. A jury would never understand the technicalities, and however the case turned out, it would simply give more publicity to the original lie. Remember that front-page headline - "Killer bugs on holiday beach" - and the retraction in small print buried somewhere inside. Which made the greater impression?

CONNIEI didn’t know there’d been a retraction.

ANNEExactly. Anyway, whatever the ins and outs of it, we’ve lost Brinsley’s custom, and a lot more besides. Which we couldn’t afford to lose.

CONNIELook, all this will blow over - it’s bound to.

ANNESome time, maybe. Not soon. Not this year, even. Meanwhile we have to find the interest on the bank loan.

CONNIEI suppose we could get on to the manager, explain the situation and ask him to - what’s the word? - re-schedule the loan.

ANNEIt might work. Though it’s clutching at a straw.

CONNIEIt’s worth a try. Will you do it, dear? I really can’t face it.

ANNEAll right, I’ll try. But I’m none too hopeful.


A brief darkening, with a change in positions, indicates the passage of some time.


ANNENo good. All the hotels in the area have been hit. Other businesses, too. The bank decided to cut its losses. No extensions of loans - it was only as a special favour that he didn’t call in the capital straight away.

CONNIEBut there’s no way we can even keep up the payments with all the cancellations we’ve had. He might just as well have called in the loan. It means bankruptcy anyway.

ANNEI know, but apparently he doesn’t have any choice. Specific instructions from Head Office. (Connie starts with pain) What’s the matter?

CONNIEI don’t feel too well. I think I’ll go and lie down for a bit.

ANNEShall I call the doctor?

CONNIENo, it’s probably nothing. Just let me rest a while.

ANNEAre you sure?

CONNIEI’ll see how I feel in an hour or so.

ANNERight. I’ll see what I can retrieve from the wreckage.


Anne works through sheaves of paper. She is startled by a sound from off stage, and goes to investigate.

After a lighting change, Anne enters with a letter, which she opens and reads.


JOHN(off stage) Dear Anne, I was more sorry than I can say to hear about your mother’s death, on top of all your other troubles. What more can I add? Only that if there’s anything I can do, please don’t hesitate to ask.

ANNEDo! As if he hadn’t done enough damage already! Bringing that blasted woman here ...


She crumples the letter and flings it impatiently into the waste basket, mooches around for a while, then listlessly switches on a radio.


RADIO VOICE ... award for the best documentary goes to Gail Fletcher for her programme, "Germ of an Idea," about the dangers of certain innovations in biotechnology. After the ceremony, Miss Fletcher spoke to our reporter and said ...


Anne listens in astonishment, then angrily switches off the radio.


ANNEDamn the woman! Damn her ... damn her ... damn her ...


She collapses into a chair and bursts into uncontrollable sobbing, which continues as the lighting dims down to a single spot on her, and gradually subsides as this too slowly fades out.

CURTAIN.