I'm off to Oxford shortly.
Twenty years ago this week I said the same thing to myself as I packed my copy of Dante's Vita Nuova into my case (come on, I was only 18), inscribed with the quote, considerate sempre la vostra semenza (trans, don't forget your roots - forgive me if the spelling's wonky). Having car-less parents I said goodbye in the kitchen and set off for the bus-stop, thence to Lime Street for the train, change at Birmingham.
Going 'up' to see Euripides' play Orestes, performed at the Playhouse in Greek, with surtitles. Will also renew my ticket for the Bodleian. The play is wild, fantastical, brutal, savagely funny, and downright weird. It was a big influence on The May Queen, the play I've just finished. I tried very hard to catch some of that Euripidean spark.
Here's the opening scene.
The play is set in Liverpool during the May blitz of 1941. It opens with a dream sequence, meant to start setting up parallels between my character ANGELA and the mythical husband-killer, CLYTEMNESTRA.
THE MAY QUEEN
A confessional grill is suspended in the space.
ANGELA enters, approaches the grill as if it were a furnace, it’s physically difficult for her.
She kneels before it.
ANGELA Forgive me father for I have sinned.
The voice of the PRIEST is heard
PRIEST Yes my child, yes. How long has it been since your last confession?
ANGELA It’s been quite a few months now father.
PRIEST And haven’t we all been tested sorely in the meantime, child. Plagued by evil vermin we are.
ANGELA We are, father.
PRIEST The Devil does his worst as always, now he has these Nazis to carry out his black designs.
ANGELA Yes, father.
PRIEST We mustn’t give him the satisfaction, must we.
ANGELA No, father.
PRIEST And we must try every day to be pure in heart and deed. May the Almighty and His blessed son watch over you every day of your life.
Tell me your sins, child. Be sure of His mercy.
ANGELA I’m too ashamed -
PRIEST Come now.
ANGELA I can’t, father.
PRIEST Come on. It’s only words now. Say the words.
the sound of a distant explosion
ANGELA If He can forgive me for this, what’s the point of Him?
PRIEST But you have to ask.
ANGELA Why do I have to?
PRIEST Because you will burn otherwise.
The pain of your first labour. Call it to mind.
ANGELA O Michael -
PRIEST You were only a girl.
ANGELA His head soaked in my blood -
PRIEST He fought to get out.
ANGELA I near died of him, father -
PRIEST Times that pain by a thousand. And it goes on forever.
ANGELA Forever doesn’t mean a thing to me.
PRIEST Just a moment. Are you ready now, child.
ANGELA I’m ready, father.
the whistle of a bomb falling, then a huge explosion. the sound of breaking glass, debris falling
PRIEST So you’re living in sin with the man that murdered your husband. You’re wanting to confess your part.
ANGELA Yes, father.
PRIEST Go on. They came to blows.
ANGELA They did.
PRIEST You wanted Vinnie to kill Frank. You egged him on.
ANGELA God forgive me.
PRIEST We’ll see about that.
ANGELA His head smashed on the fireplace -
PRIEST Poor Frank.
ANGELA He was looking up at me-
PRIEST Your arms round yer fancy man.
ANGELA Blood comin out of his eye. I’ll never forget it.
PRIEST You never will.
ANGELA He called me Jezebel.
PRIEST It gave you a good feeling, to see him done, the way he used to do you.
ANGELA No -
PRIEST “Hit him, Vinn! Hit him again!”
ANGELA God forgive us -
PRIEST So Vinnie, ey. The profiteer.
PRIEST He has you, now.
ANGELA He has.
PRIEST Now he wants your daughter -
ANGELA No -
PRIEST Oh yes - he wants her alright -
ANGELA She’s only a baby -
a burst of heavy machine-gun fire, and a teenage girl laughing
ANGELA The avenging angel is coming, eyes on fire -
in his hands the great golden spear -
he pushes the point home, here -
she indicates her breast
Here, where my children sucked me dry -
The love of God will push into my flesh -
Deep as it will fuckin well go -
PRIEST Christ Our Lord knows all, he sees all, and he knows your burden is very great. You need to put it down, my child. You could do with the rest now, could you not.
ANGELA I could, father.
PRIEST Ecce ancilla Dei.
THE VIRGIN appears, carrying a jar of ashes.
She approaches ANGELA, stands by her.
ANGELA is terrified, and when she speaks her voice is shaking.
PRIEST When your heart is cleansed, then will She intercede for you with her son, Jesus Christ.
ANGELA Ave - Maria -
THE VIRGIN The fruit of my womb is the Redeemer
THE VIRGIN approaches ANGELA, dips her fingers into the jar and raises her fingers in readiness, as if to give the Ash Wednesday blessing
THE VIRGIN I will be with you / at the hour
PRIEST At the hour/ of your death, shame and disgrace
THE VIRGIN Angela Marian Donohue
You once were dust
You will be dust again
PRIEST These are the ashes of him you killed.
(More Ash Wednesday text)
THE VIRGIN smears ANGELA’S forehead with ashes
ANGELA Mother of God,
Have mercy on me -
PRIEST Ask about Michael.
ANGELA He’s away at the war -
PRIEST Here it comes.
sound of a divebomber coming in to attack, machine gun fire. battle noises continue till the end of the scene
THE VIRGIN Your son has seen the fires of Hell -
PRIEST He will meet the demons of the down down down -
He will live among them
ANGELA Oh God...
ANGELA prostrates herself before the Virgin.
THE VIRGIN slowly blesses her, slowly turns and walks away.
ANGELA O please, I never meant for it to happen -
We never planned anythin -
He was the father of my children -
O God - Holy Mother -
My children -
THE VIRGIN turns to ANGELA and opens her mouth and arms wide as if to deliver an aria - only white noise comes out, a dreadful mix of battle sounds, feverish laughter, Nazi rallies and music hall nonsense. It builds to a crescendo, then stops abruptly, with blackout.