The group reconvenes for the first time since reading the mysterious play, The Company of Man. Gathering at the re-opening of Miranda’s Fish Restaurant, romantic and professional tensions hang in the air as they try to make sense of what’s happening. An evening of planning is cut short as news of a terrible road accident comes in.
Monday 25 September 2017
It’s opening night for the refurbished MIRANDA’s fish restaurant in Lower Barton. With the pressure of a re-launch and the build-up to tonight, emotions are a bit frayed between proprietors JASON and MIRANDA RIGGS. The tension in the air is only eased as other members of the Amateur Dramatic Society start to arrive. The group – MARCO ‘MAC’ FUBINI, JEREMY GOOSE and NICHOLAS BROOKE, as well as JASON – catch up on the incidents that have affected them since a weird play reading a couple of weeks ago.
Besides them, it’s a quiet start to the evening in the restaurant. Aspiring starlet, NATASHA RINGHORN arrives first. She mocks JEREMY, her jilted ex, bragging about her new acting fame and the improved prospects she can look forward to in the capital, now that she isn’t held back by him. There’s a mildly charged exchange between them – both doing fine without the other, thanks – before she takes a seat to wait for her dinner date.
The restaurant door swings opens. RICHARD CAMPBELL, the drama group’s belittled playwright, stumbles inside. Lurching drunk towards the group’s table, he starts hurling abuse at “the Inner Circle of the Drama Society”. A sputtered rant follows declaiming the cabal for becoming obsessed about “Elizabethan dross” and ignoring the relevant contemporary issues that his cutting-edge plays are about.
JEREMY suggests CAMPBELL can persuade NATASHA to introduce him to some TV directors to get some proper coverage for his works. Inspired, he appears to build up some confidence. Puffing his chest out to ready his move, he staggers backwards into the imposing figure of BARRIEMORE CANONBURY, who enters the restaurant at that moment. Shaken and embarrassed, CAMPBELL flees the restaurant, cursing the group and the mockery he feels from them on his way out.
CANONBURY, a successful hospitality entrepreneur and recently elected chair of the local Chamber of Commerce, exchanges business small talk with JASON. Following his own takeover and makeover of the well-loved RAMPANT MARE tavern, he comments favourably on the refurb and enquires after the contractors used. He joins NATASHA for dinner, and while he wines and dines her, has more than a straying eye for MIRANDA. She seems to enjoy the attention, much to JASON’s anxiety. NATASHA seems unphased, and keeps throwing glances across to JEREMY, trying to stoke his jealousy.
* * *
Conversation at the table turns to the lost play. While NICHOLAS has been recovering from his assault, he has come across word in trade press, mailshots and the book collector grapevine about a potential sale of an original Elizabethan play. An auction is probably a couple of months away. There is still some suspicion about the provenance of the incomplete fragments, but interest is reportedly keen – an original manuscript (likely on cloth paper, rather than print edition) is rare. If authenticated, it’s likely to be pricey, even if incomplete.
While there are more details to establish about the auction, the group resolve to find the other lost fragments. JASON can follow up any leads with the contractors, who were employed for the refurb when his fragment got waylaid. JEREMY could put word out about who may be fencing literary fragments. NICHOLAS could report his robbery incident to the police, which may give them some further evidence to take the armed assault on MAC seriously. Without being melodramatic, the Lower Barton Amateur Dramatics Society certainly consider this an assassination attempt on their founder. NICHOLAS offers to securely keep MAC’s fragment in his collection.
* * *
MAC’S RESCUES have been busy on the roads around Lower Barton throughout the night. With only two staff on, MAC picks up a callout message and has to leave the gathering early to get across to a recovery situation by the Rollright Stones near the south of his realm.
JEREMY decides to accompany him. As he clears his seat in the truck cab, he spots a picture of his guru and adept teacher FRANK PETROVSKI in an out-of-date newspaper. FRANK was at a book signing and ‘ritual’ in Liverpool for 2023, a new “utopian costume drama” by the Discordian-influenced Justified Ancients of Mu-mu (also of the £1m burn stunt). That was a few weeks ago, and he has still not been seen locally.
The rain pours down as they make their way. The route out of Lower Barton is lined with banks of animals that appear to doff their heads in deference as MAC drives past them. He gets a strong sense of danger in the realm. The accident they are heading towards seems to be quite serious. MAC decides to put his foot down to make haste, just as JEREMY yells “Stag!” and pulls on the steering wheel, lurching the truck off road. They wrestle for control and eventually MAC gets the upper hand and brings the truck to a halt. After a moment to catch their breath, and a dressing down from MAC, they get back on the way. JEREMY seems recharged through the exhilaration.
* * *
As CANONBURY is leaving the restaurant, he and MIRANDA linger perhaps a bit too long when exchanging bill and payment. JASON notices the chemistry and flirting increasing between them throughout the night. Reassuring himself that there is nothing to fear, and in a gesture to stop their relationship degrading, he suggests a to MIRANDA that date might be pleasant – perhaps a trip to the theatre.
Abandoned by the rest of the group, NICHOLAS stays on to finish off the first substantive meal he’s had for a while. His phone beeps and he picks up a curt email from his rare book supplier JEROME WARREN, advising that unpaid invoices will be dealt with through formal proceedings, and that he will no longer be able to work with him. The message seems uncharacteristic of JEROME, but NICHOLAS bats a quick response back, explaining he has been taking some time off to recover from his recent assault and to reassure that payment is forthcoming. He settles up with MIRANDA, who encourages him to leave a 5-star TripAdvisor review.
* * *
Over the treeline alongside the Rollright Stones the sky is lit up with the flames from the car accident. Steeling himself against the raging fire, MAC navigates the emergency and recovery teams scattered across the scene to get his pickup instructions.
JEREMY hops out and looks around to offer assistance. He spots RICHARD CAMPBELL in a battered car close to a blaze being tended by what look to him to be a desperately slow recovery team. Leaping onto the bonnet he starts stomping his boot through the windshield, in an attempt to expedite the extraction. His heavy foot breaks through the glass and sinks into the headrest behind CAMPBELL just as the recovery team manage to haul JEREMY off the car to apprehend him.
MAC spots the commotion and rushes across to defend JEREMY by asserting his authority over the recovery operation and the accident realm. He’s talking sense – lives are at risk, and the priority seems clear. Everyone gets back to the pressing rescue matters at hand.
Under the direction of the emergency services, MAC and JEREMY winch up a battered red Hyundai and take it back to the yard. Looking for owner details in the glovebox, they find a fine quality folio with some loose leaves inside. On the top sheet is a list of names, including ‘Marco Fubini’ and ‘Nick Brock’.
* END *