A Basement Too Far by Liz Turner


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A BASEMENT TOO FAR

A basement, no windows

A staircase leads down into the room from downstage Right, so that the
lowest step is upstage right. It should seem that this flight leads to a further
flight upward off-stage, with a door at the top

There are three or four shelving stacks, seven or eight feet high, containing
old dusty hard back books, off to Stage Left, to about a sixth of the width of
the stage, and assumed to be stretching out for many yards offstage

At the back, a basic brick or concrete wall, with a few large silver-clad pipes to
indicate heating and plumbing and mysterious general entrails of a building

A stack of rather shabby and broken chairs under the staircase

A very worn grubby looking industrial sisal type carpet on what should be a concrete
floor

The light is a strip light, or a single bulb hanging from the centre of the room, with an
institutional shade

Enter MAGGIE down the stairs, briskly

Immediately followed by MIRANDA

Then WOLF

MAGGIE: Now I wonder if this is going to be

(At the bottom, she stops abruptly and they all cannon into each other)

Sorry, sorry, my fault. No, I really don't think this will do.

(MAGGIE moves away from the steps to allow the others to reach ground
level. They start investigating the immediate area.)

MIRANDA: Look, there are chairs, anyway!

(MAGGIE goes to them and starts unstacking them, looking at them
critically)

MAGGIE: They may not be in the best condition….

WOLF: Don't worry on my account. I'm quite happy sitting on the
floor.

MIRANDA: Well, I 'm not!

MAGGIE: No, no, and I don't really think our book-club members would
be either. Some of them tend to be a little on the mature side.

WOLF: Seems odd to have a book club in a library.

MAGGIE: Does it?

(MAGGIE scouts around, inspecting chairs, seeing what else is
available (nothing much) then starts setting out chairs, at least a
couple of rows and twelve chairs). She sets out the first chair near
to the stacks. MIRANDA promptly sits on it. WOLF picks up a
chair,looking as if he might help, but puts it down C in the same row
as MIRANDA's and sits on it. MAGGIE continues to set out the rest of
the chairs five chairs, spaced out, on each row, and two or three
rows.)

WOLF: What else would you come to a library for? I mean, what else do
expect to find in a library? Why would you have to have a special
group?

(MAGGIE stops for a moment to speak with enthusiasm, then continues to
set out chairs)

MAGGIE: These are people who want to meet and have a chat about books,
not just read them, you see. Meet the authors like today and
get a more in-depth understanding of the book or talk to other
like-minded people who've read the book or both.

WOLF: Right.

MAGGIE: And of course nowadays, a library isn't just about books.
You can use the computers as well as our actual books, for research,
homework, job seeking, family history all sorts of things. Sorry
lecture over it's rather a hobby horse of mine, I'm
afraid. The library in the community, and so on.

MIRANDA: Very commendable, I'm sure. All the better for us authors,
anyway.

MAGGIE: So what do we think? It's not ideal, is it?

WOLF: Is there any choice?

MAGGIE: This does seem to be the only space we can use today, what
with all the building works in the main building.

MIRANDA: It's different, anyway I don't think I've ever been
in a sub-sub-basement before.

MAGGIE: Just a sub-basement. Still, I suppose it is about sixty feet
below ground level.

MIRANDA:Practically the bowels of the earth, as far as I'm
concerned! I don't think I've ever been so deep into the earth's
crust!

(WOLF gets up, goes down C, speaking to MAGGIE as she moves the
chairs))

WOLF: Oh, it's not that deep. I remember when we were filming in
Cusca, in Peru, some of those caves were 1300 feet deep. There was one
tunnel I had to crawl through about 30 centimetres wide in some
places, and half submerged in water.

MAGGIE: Gosh! You wouldn't catch me down there! Weren't you
terrified, Mr Torrent?

WOLF: Wolf. Call me Wolf, please! No, no, you have to know what
you're doing, of course. Wouldn't suit everyone.

(MIRANDA has been listening sceptically, gets up and moves to him C,
while MAGGIE finishes the chairs, which will all face the audience and
fill roughly from the centre to the back of the stage)

MIRANDA: It certainly wouldn't suit me! Wolf that's an unusual
name. Wolf Torrent..

WOLF: (rather smugly) Yes, it is, isn't it. And your name

MIRANDA: Miranda. Bowers.

WOLF: Miranda, of course, I'm sorry, I'm very bad at names
love your books, though.

MIRANDA: You've read my books! That's very flattering!

WOLF: Oh, you know lying by the campfire halfway up Mount Puncak
Jaya in Indonesia you like to relax with something undemanding.
Very good to unwind with.

MIRANDA: (frostily) Really? You must tell me which ones you like
best.

WOLF: (he hasn't actually read any) Oh well if you tell me
some of the titles I have got a dreadful memory.

(MAGGIE has joined them C. WOLF moves upstage)

MAGGIE: Sorry to interrupt but do we think we can manage here? As
it's only for an hour?

MIRANDA: (looking at her watch) Are you sure we're going to get an
audience at all? It's already 5.25, and we're supposed to start at
5.30.

MAGGIE: Yes they are certainly cutting it fine. But they're
probably still trying to find the room, that's if they haven't
been put off by seeing the scaffolding and the building works and
decided it's all off…

MIRANDA: But it was advertised, wasn't it?

MAGGIE: Oh yes. Absolutely. An announcement on the website, posters
everywhere and an email to the Friends of the library and all those
who usually come to these events.

MIRANDA: And they'll know to come down here?

MAGGIE: Oh yes. Colin the security man he's the one who's
waiting to lock up after us when we need to leave tonight he's
all set, up there, to shepherd people in this direction.

MIRANDA: (sitting front row L) Well.it would have been nice to be
somewhere near a tea urn.. I wouldn't like to be down here for
longer than a couple of hours. But I suppose we'll manage, just for
the evening.

WOLF: (coming back down C, then sitting front row C) I remember when I
was in the Sahara I was on a two week survival trek for National
Geographic the team was meeting me at the end of the route. I
managed to lose my way, and by the time I got back on track, I'd
added two days to my journey. And then, of course, I found that my
water canister had been leaking. No water at all for the last fifty
miles.

MIRANDA: So dare one ask how you survived?

WOLF: (directly to Miranda) Had to trek the last three days with
nothing to drink but my own urine.

(A slight pause. MIRANDA turns away, not shocked, but knows she walked
into that one)

MIRANDA: I had a feeling it was a stupid question.

MAGGIE: (laughing) Gosh! I hope it won't come to that here, anyway!
If it comes to the worst we'll have to go and get a cup of tea from
the kitchen upstairs. Anyone need anything now?

WOLF: I'm fine. Never travel without a bottle of water.

MIRANDA: That's one thing we have in common, then! But if it does
run out, I think I'll go for the tea option, if you don't mind.

(She takes out her phone and moves aside. Enter SIMONE down the
stairs, hesitantly. She is dressed for cycling in a high vis jacket
over a colourful shapeless long cardigan, and wears a cycling helmet)


MAGGIE: Come on down! Are you here for "Meet the Authors"?

SIMONE: Is this the right place? Only it's normally in the
Councillor Fairfax Memorial room.

MAGGIE: It should have been, yes. But with the scaffolding-

SIMONE: Was the room falling down then? Were there safety issues?

MAGGIE: No, no. Purely routine maintenance, nothing to worry about.

MIRANDA: (upstage L, to herself) No signal. Damn.

SIMONE: Am I the only one?

(She sits in the second row, R, and takes off her cycle helmet)

MAGGIE: Well um, it's beginning to look like it. Maybe it's
the weather. A lot of people won't come out if it's raining.

MIRANDA: I came out. All the way from London.

MAGGIE: Yes, and we're terribly grateful

MIRANDA: (rather impatiently, moving downstage) It's a bit
disappointing, I must say. Not really what I was expecting.

(She sits again, front L)

MAGGIE: To be honest, I'm really quite surprised myself. We normally
get at least twenty or thirty for this sort of thing.

(WOLF moves L to behind MIRANDA, to address the next speeches to her
from behind her left shoulder)

WOLF: So what do you think, Melissa-?

MIRANDA: Miranda.

WOLF: Miranda, of course, of course, so sorry is it my fault or
yours? One of us must be extremely unpopular!

MAGGIE: No, no!

SIMONE: I only came down because the security guard told me it was on.
I didn't realise there was an event this week. I'm trying to be a
writer myself, you see.

MIRANDA: So you're not particularly a devotee of crime fiction?

WOLF: Or survival travelogues?

SIMONE: Um, no, not as such. Although of course I have seen some of
your programmes on TV, Mr Torrent. The ones in the Amazon, and the
Australian bush. But if anything I would probably be more interested
in science fiction. Aliens. Robots. That sort of thing.

WOLF: (bored) Really. How interesting.

MIRANDA: Sweet.

(MAGGIE has sat down front C, to check her file, and has been looking
at one of the flyers which was in her file.)

MAGGIE: Oh dear.

MIRANDA: What?

MAGGIE: . (as brightly as she can in the circumstances) Um I'm
afraid there seems to have been a muddle!

(WOLF comes and looks at it over her shoulder)

WOLF: This says that our event's next week.

MAGGIE: Yes. It does seem

WOLF: Not today.

MAGGIE: No. No, I'm sorry. I don't know how that's happened!

MIRANDA: Oh, for heavens sake! So there isn't likely to be anyone
coming, in that case!

(Enter COLIN, the security man, calling before he actually enters)

COLIN: (off) Hello! Maggie?

MAGGIE: (relieved to change the subject.) Colin! Hello! Have you come
to join the group?

COLIN: (appearing at the top of the stairs) Maggie, I'm just popping
down to let you know that the rest of the staff are off home.

MAGGIE: Oh, yes, righto.

WOLF: They won't be joining us for the discussion, then?

MAGGIE: They do tend to rush off at the end of the day, I'm afraid.
We shut at 5.30, you see. Except when there's an event on.

WOLF: Or not.

COLIN: So. I'll just be waiting upstairs by the main door to let you
out and lock up.

(COLIN sets off up the steps and disappears. WOLF sits front row C)

MAGGIE: Right. Thanks, Colin.

WOLF: Is there really any point? It's the wrong day-

MAGGIE: To be fair, it's the right day. It's just the wrong day on
the poster… And possibly on the website.

MIRANDA: (standing, ready to go) That's rather beside the point! And
Wolf and I have turned up in good faith, so we've really fulfilled
our part of the contract

SIMONE: I'm here!

MIRANDA: What?

SIMONE: I'm here for the discussion. So we can still have it.

MIRANDA: But you haven't read our books!

SIMONE: No, but we could still talk about how you write them. Where
you get all your ideas. Your daily routine. How much research you do.
I've got loads of questions.

WOLF: Dear God.

MAGGIE: I don't really know what to do. I mean there may be people
there will be people who will turn up next week instead now.

(During this COLIN reappears at the head of the steps and makes his
way down to stand downstage R)

MIRANDA: I'm really not happy about trekking out here all over
again.

WOLF: I agree with Melanie.

MIRANDA: Miranda!

WOLF: Sorry, of course, Miranda.

MIRANDA: I mean, I don't want to appear awkward or ungracious…..

WOLF: No-one could possibly accuse you of being either.

SIMONE: Are we not going to do it then? I mean, I'm not happy with
it being down here, to be honest, I would rather have gone to the
Councillor Fairfax Memorial room, but since we are here

MAGGIE: I think maybe we should call it a day. I'm sorry but with
just one member of the audience-

SIMONE: No, no there's me, and you and Colin! Colin could
stay, couldn't you Colin?

COLIN: Actually, yes, I certainly could.

MAGGIE: Really? I didn't think you were much of a reader Colin.

COLIN: (on his dignity) I read a book, once.

MAGGIE: Oh! Good, well done!.....and did you like it?

COLIN: I don't know. I never finished it.

MIRANDA: (kindly, as to a five year old) What was it called, Colin?

COLIN: I forget.

MAGGIE: Well, I'm delighted that you're interested enough to join
in tonight

WOLF: (aside) Oh yes. Wonderful timing, Colin.

MAGGIE: You don't have to be polite, you know, Colin. Just to make
up the numbers.

COLIN: No, no. I'm not being polite.

MIRANDA: (warmly, in "charming author" mode) I think it's very
polite of you, Colin, but I think we've decided just to call it a
day and go home.

COLIN: I can't let you do that, I'm afraid.

MAGGIE: What?

COLIN: (with finality) The door's shut.

MAGGIE: Well can you open it please? Miranda has decided she wants to
go, and anyway there's no other ventilation down here. It can get a
bit airless.

COLIN: That's true, it can.

MAGGIE: So….?

COLIN: This is a bit embarrassing.

MAGGIE: Colin. What on earth is the problem? Please open the door and
let us out.

COLIN: (evasively) It's locked at present.

MAGGIE: Well, you're the security man, Colin! Unlock it!

COLIN: Well, that's the problem, you see. Right there.

MAGGIE: (shutting her eyes, quietly) Oh no…

COLIN: It swung shut when I came down to tell you that everyone had
left. Um - I seem to have left my keys on the counter upstairs.

(A horrified pause. WOLF moves up to him DR)

WOLF: So just let me recap the staff have all left the
building for the night. You, the security man, the man with the keys,
have left them on the counter on the other side of a self-locking
door.

COLIN: It doesn't make me look very good, does it?

MIRANDA: Maggie you must have a set of keys, surely?

MAGGIE: Yes , of course I have!..............But I left them in my bag
in the staffroom. On the ground floor.

SIMONE: Are we locked in? Seriously? Really, properly locked in? Oh,
look this isn't funny!
Are you serious? Can we phone someone Maggie?

MAGGIE: I've left my phone upstairs has anyone got one?

MIRANDA: There's no point. I've just tried. There's no signal.

WOLF: Well, surely there must be something A landline?

SIMONE: Look! There, on the wall! There's a phone!

(She rushes to it during this and lifts the handset)

MAGGIE: It's just an internal phone, I'm afraid. No outside line.
And anyway there's no-one else in the building.

MIRANDA: It's worth a try, at least! On the off-chance!

MAGGIE: Yes, of course!

(she goes to take the handset off SIMONE, who goes to sit down front
row R, obviously becoming agitated. MAGGIE dials, and they wait.
Eventually she gives up)

Nothing. I'm sorry.

MIRANDA: So when might we reasonably expect to be rescued? Not till
tomorrow morning?

COLIN: Tomorrow's Sunday.

MAGGIE: And Monday's a bank holiday.

(There is a long horrified silence)

SIMONE: Two days? Two days and three nights? Down here? With no no
fresh air, and nothing to eat or drink no air no air

(she starts hyperventilating)

Oh, god, no air

WOLF: Well, leave some for the rest of us!

(MAGGIE sits next to SIMONE and puts an arm round her shoulders)

MAGGIE: Calm down, try to calm down now, what's your name?

SIMONE: Si - Simone my name's Simone

(she continues to gasp for breath)

MAGGIE: Alright, Simone, now try to calm down, just relax. Take a deep
breath. Don't
worry, we're all here.

SIMONE: (controlling her breathing better) Right. Right. I'm fine.
Fine. I'm fine.

MIRANDA: That's a brave soldier.

MAGGIE: I don't think sarcasm is going to help.

(MIRANDA remembers she is addressing her public, moves down to
MAGGIE RC, then across the downstage area as she thinks aloud)

MIRANDA: Not at all! No, no, I'm absolutely serious. Poor girl.
She's obviously in distress. I suppose it's a sort of
claustrophobia. Doesn't really affect me, actually, but I believe a
lot of people have problems being in enclosed spaces. Like this. I
suppose this would be a classic situation if you were that sort of
person. You know an environment you have no control over. No
doors, or at any rate none that will open, thanks to Mr

(She gestures towards COLIN; he gets up and holds out his hand which
she ignores as she continues to paint the scene, he then sits back
down, abashed)

COLIN: Murdoch

MIRANDA: Thanks to Mr Murdoch here; no windows, no access to the
outside world completely cut off

(SIMONE is looking increasingly uneasy)

[end of extract]



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