Disclaimer: this one's rubbish. Most of them will be, I expect. This definitely is, although – as usual with what is effectively a first draft – I like some of the ideas that pop up in it.
The prompt this time was to take something from the day – something you see, or hear, about you, like a building, a conversation in the street, some snippet of news... And use that as inspiration.
I cheated and used things I'd come across in recent days, not actually this day. (It's not really cheating, there's no stipulation that you have to follow the prompts.) In fact, I used two things.
Yesterday morning, walking to the station, I passed a gaggle of schoolboys, and one of them cried above the rest: 'It's all corrupt! It's all corrupt!' Like some pint-sized prophet.
I liked the idea of using that, but didn't immediately have a situation to attach it to. Then I remembered a story a friend told me the other day. She's just started in a big new job, and on day one a man in the office made a big fuss about the fact she was sitting at 'his desk'.
This childish outburst connected to the schoolboys: I imagined this man as an immature dolt convinced that the system is against him: 'It's all corrupt’. So I tried to write a play around that.
I like the idea of an office as analogous to a school. They often are, of course. And the men one sees on commuter trains – with their scuffed black shoes and rumpled jackets – often look exactly like overgrown schoolboys. (They often act like it too.) It's all a bit Blue Remembered Hills.
But this play is very much not Blue Remembered Hills. It's an improvised ramble, and the pay-off doesn't work. I just needed it to end. With time and work, there might be something in it, but not much. If I was going to pursue it, I'd try to make it way more OTT and grotesque.
Still, I got it done in the time, and that's all that's required for this challenge.
ACT 1 – THE DESK
A London office: anonymous, businesslike. A row of desks centre stage, facing us, with a large, bright window in the wall at one end, stage left. One desk is set a little way apart from the others, closer to the window and out of the main line.
A large analogue clock on the back wall tells us it’s 8.15. There’s a cabinet against the back wall with a coffee machine, kettle and a few mugs on it.
Stage right, there’s a door, with a row of coat pegs next to it. A long red woman’s coat hangs on the end peg: the brightest thing in the space.
JAN, a professional woman in her mind-40s, is standing at the desk nearest the window. She has a large bag on the desk, and is pulling out notebooks, files, a small photo frame that she props next to the PC.
Jan empties the bag, does a little more sorting of her desk, and sits in the swivel chair. She straightens her shoulders and looks around at the empty office.
JAN: Here we go then.
She takes hold of her mouse and watches the screen as she gets the PC fired up. A few moments of peace while she clicks and taps.
The door opposite her opens and in comes RICHARD, briskly. He’s around 40, wearing a short black camping-style waterproof over a slightly rumpled cheap suit. He carries a satchel-style briefcase.
He puts his case down, shrugs off his coat and goes to hang it up on the end peg. He spots the red coat and recoils a little. Stares at it, then carefully, as if handling something dangerous, he plucks the red coat from the peg and moves it a few pegs along, hangs it back up and lets go as if relieved to do so. Absently, he rubs the hand that held the coat on his jacket.
Richard hangs his own coat on the end peg, picks up his satchel and turns to the desks, take a couple of long strides and then halts. He stares at Jan, who is still too engrossed in her PC to notice him.
He stares at her for a few beats. Looks around at the empty office. Seems unsure of what to do. Then clears his throat.
Jan gives a start and looks over.
JAN: Oh! Morning! Sorry, I didn’t see you come in.
She gets up. Big smile.
How are you? I’m Jan. I just started this morning.
Richard goes over to her and shakes hands rather stiffly.
RICHARD: Oh yes. I remember they said. Richard Wentworth. Nice to meet you.
JAN: Nice to meet you too Richard. You’re an early bird too eh?
RICHARD: Always ahead of the curve. Best place to be.
JAN: Right. Well, ahead of the school run in my case! They’ve let me start and finish early so I can manage my kids. Which is brilliant. It’s a lifesaver, to be honest.
RICHARD: Yes, I see. I… Well, I’m sure it’s just a mistake, obviously nothing to worry about. But you are actually at my desk actually.
RICHARD: No, it’s just, that’s actually my desk.That you’re sitting at.
JAN: Your desk? Oh. Really?
RICHARD: The window desk. Always been mine. It’s just a mix-up.
JAN: Oh. They told me to sit here, sorry. I’ve just set everything up…
RICHARD: Yes, well you’ll have to un-set it up I’m afraid.
A beat. She regards him.
JAN: I’m really sorry, but Annabel definitely told me to take this one.
RICHARD: I think you’re mistaken.
JAN: … I don’t think I am, Richard. It’s because I’m HR? So I have to have quite sensitive chats with people on the phone sometimes. So it’s better I’m tucked away here.
RICHARD: I would have thought confidential conversations were best held in one of the meeting rooms, wouldn’t you?
JAN: Well, we seem to be doing quite well right here.
As they’re speaking, the door opens and in comes Jo: 26, bright, sharply dressed. Jan and Richard don’t notice her, but she spots them. She hangs her coat on a peg, glancing over at the two of them as she does so, listening.
RICHARD: Jan. Let’s not get off on the wrong foot. I don’t want to be difficult, it’s just that this is my desk and has been for five years.
JAN: I’m sorry, but Annabel—
RICHARD: I appreciate you’ve been misinformed.
JAN: I haven’t been misinfomed —
Jo walks briskly over, extends her hand towards Jan, dividing the space between her and Richard. She speaks breezily.
JO: Morning! You must be Jan.
JAN: Oh, hi, yes, I’m Jan, hi.
JO: I’m Jo, I’m on Sales.
JAN: Nice to meet you.
JO: Morning Richard.
RICHARD: Sorry Jo, we’re actually just having a private chat here.
JO: Oh right. It’s just I could hear your private chat from the other side of the
office. [Big smile to Jan] Everything okay?
JAN: Yes, it’s —
RICHARD: There’s been a mix-up that’s all, Jan is at my desk and I was explaining—
JO: That’s Jan’s desk.
RICHARD: No, as you know it’s always been—
JO: No, I know, but Annabel decided Jan should go there. For privacy.
RICHARD: That’s why I sit here.
JO: Why do you need privacy Richard?
JAN: Look, it’s—
JO: No, it’s okay Jan, I’m just asking.
RICHARD: I just… Well, it wouldn’t be private if I told you would it?
JO: You’re a sales agent, Richard. We’re all sales agents. What do you do that’s so private?
JAN: I really don’t want to create any—
JO: Jan, sorry, I just want to hear what Richard means.
Jan gives up and starts pulling her stuff together.
JO: What are you doing Jan? Don’t let him—
JAN: Sorry, look, I’m moving, I really don’t want to get in the middle of… [she gestures to suggest ‘all this’]
JO: Don’t be daft, you stay where you are.
JAN: I really don’t think you need to—
RICHARD: Thank you Jan.
JO: No, no, hold your horses.
JAN: I’ll speak to Annabel—
JO: We’re all going to speak to Annabel, I’m sick of this shit.
RICHARD: There’s no need for that sort of language.
JO: No? Seriously? You fucking toad.
RICHARD: [puce] I shall be taking this up at the highest level.
JO: IT’S A DESK.
RICHARD: It’s a principle!
JAN: It’s a fucking madhouse is what it is.
She gathers stuff up in her arms.
I’m moving. Keep your desk, Richard.
RICHARD: [over Jo] Thank you Jan.
Richard and Jo watch Jan haul her armfuls of stuff along to a free desk, and start setting up again. Richard gloats, Jo fumes.
JO: This is not the end, Dick.
RICHARD: Don’t call me Dick.
ACT 2 – THE OTHER DESK
The same office. Jan is at the central desk in the line. Richard is at ‘his’ desk by the window. The clock reads 11.25.
Jo is at the centre-right end desk, wearing a headset and nodding. Next to Jan is Carla, a sales agent in her early 30s. At the centre-left end desk is Ollie, a member of the graduate training programme.
The team work in silence. Ollie looks round occasionally, a little lost but uncertain about breaking the silence.
JO: [Into headset] That’s no problem Mrs Kelly. Yes, he’ll meet you there at 4.30. Okay? Thanks very much, bye now, bye.
Jo taps a key and slips off her headset. The door opens and a tall, determined looking woman enters: Annabel. Early 50s, a little imperious.
ANNABEL: Hello all.
Everyone looks over. A chorus of greetings. ‘Hi Annabel’, ‘Morning Annabel’
Ah, Jan. Welcome. I thought we put you by the window. Didn’t you like it?
Richard starts to rise, a little anxiously.
JAN: It’s not that, I—
JO: Richard chucked her off that desk.
Everyone else is suddenly staring at Jan, then Richard, then Annabel.
ANNABEL: I beg your pardon? [To Richard] What’s this?
RICHARD: That’s not exactly right…
ANNABEL: Why is Jan not where I asked her to be?
JAN: Annabel, I—
Annabel raises a silencing hand.
ANNABEL: Richard? Shall we speak in my office?
She waits. He gets up sheepishly, picks up his case, puts it down again. Hesitates.
She turns and marches back out through the door. He hurries after her, trying not to look like he’s hurrying. He shuts the door after him.
JO: [Thrilled] Oh. My god.
JAN: Is it always like this?
JO: No, sometimes it’s quite dramatic! [Giggling uncontrollably]
OLLIE: Can I make anyone a tea or coffee? Jan?
JAN: Oh. Er, sure, thanks Ollie. Black coffee thanks.
JO: Tea please babe.
CARLA: Could I have a peppermint tea? Thanks Ollie.
Ollie goes to the back and sets about the order. The door opens and Richard comes back in, his head low. Annabel behind him
ANNABEL: Off you go.
Richard approaches Jan. He lifts his head and squares his shoulders.
RICHARD: I owe you an apology.
JAN: Listen, it’s—
She indicates for Richard to continue. Everyone is staring.
RICHARD: My behaviour was selfish, immature and unprofessional. I am ashamed.
RICHARD: I wish to…
He stares at Jan, then turns sharply back to Annabel.
RICHARD: No. I won’t do it. [To Jan] I appreciate this was not your fault Jan, but I refuse to apologise. I refuse!
ANNABEL: RICHARD WENTWORTH.
RICHARD: No! It’s not right! That is my desk!
Jo is laughing openly. Carla is stricken. Ollie is pouring coffee onto the floor as he stares.
I know what goes on. I know how you’ve all been waiting. Waiting for a chance to do me in, get me away from that desk. Well, no. I refuse! I refuse!
Jan starts packing her bag, unnoticed.
This whole place is rotten! You band together, you unite against me! It’s all corrupt!
Jan closes her bag.
JAN: Right, I’m off.
ANNABEL: Jan! What do you mean?
JAN: I’ll find another desk. In another building. With less lunatics in it. Thanks very much.
She goes over to the pegs and grabs her coat, struggles into it. So emotional it’s hard to do. She gets there, with them all staring, then opens the door and marches out, slamming it behind her.
A long pause.
ANNABEL: You see Richard? Easy.