Rosalind Adler gives away her secrets for generating character, themes and storyline in her play DAMAGED GOODS, a comedy about temptation featuring a deconsecrated church and a guru offering enlightenment. “What could possibly go wrong?”
Sometimes one idea or image sparks a new play but it’s only when you’re writing that the main theme reveals itself and you find out what’s at the play’s heart. It reminds me of the magic colouring books I used to love when I was little: you carefully painted water onto a thick blank page and the coloured picture hidden beneath was revealed. Ah, life’s simple pleasures!
The initial spark that started me writing this play was an image of a deconsecrated church in the middle of a London street a bit like Ladbroke Grove – a long street with a rich end and a poor end. I wondered what might fill a God-shaped hole in the heart of a community like that and who might be drawn in.
There are so many spaces that used to be sacred and are now secular – and so many ‘hubs’ springing up all over the place, designed to bring a sense of community where there is fragmentation and isolation.
I thought I’d enjoy writing about – and playing - three local women divided by very different backgrounds but who have in common loneliness, a need to worship and a driving fear of not being good enough: a deep-seated feeling that they are damaged goods. All three would be drawn to a self-designated ‘Spiritual Hub’ in the deconsecrated church.
I imagined an eccentric retired lecturer SALLY, alone at seventy, her only child dead, her husband fleeing her terrifying grief. I thought she might have moved back to the street she’d been born in – but back to a much less salubrious part of it and only able to afford a dark and poky little flat. The landscape would be achingly familiar to her and yet totally strange. I thought about her loneliness and her despair and her battle to overcome those feelings with her innate optimism, her love of learning and her very good heart.
At the other end of the street lives blond ANNIE, a trophy wife in her time, fluttering around in her (much older) husband’s huge icing-sugar-fronted house, a junior partner in the marriage, trying always to please her husband, desperate to ‘get a bit more interesting before I stop being pretty,’ beset by self-doubt and with no-one to talk to.
Then there is RHONA, her black beanie pulled low over her scowly face. She’s of indeterminate age, vaguely androgynous, from the rough end of the street, furious, abandoned, fiercely bright and in love with the father who left her. She’s struggling to make a life for herself as a poet. Some of her poems feature in the play. She comes to the Hub for counselling.
Needy and carrying their over-full pitchers of unspent love, I imagined the three of them drawn to this new centre, ready to be disciples – but of whom? Who sits at the core of this tempting new ‘family’ offering warmth, welcome, understanding, a place to belong?
It’ s JANESH, charismatic new leader of the Hub, young, good-looking, ruthless, with a Sanskrit name and bucket-loads of charm. We never see him in the play (immortal, invisible, God only wise?) With all these women powerfully drawn towards such a lovely chap, what could possibly go wrong?
As the three women took shape so too did the men in their lives.
For Sally it’s her ex-husband, DAVID, a sensitive, private man in love with Mathematics but uncomfortable with…you know…words. He was terrified by Sally’s need of him when their daughter died and left. But he still visits Sally once a week – she will die if he doesn’t – to have a ten-minute chat and pick up the weekly cake she insists on baking. Riven by guilt and plagued by uncertainty, he can’t believe his luck when it appears he may have found a second chance at happiness. Be careful what you wish for, David…
JAMES, husband of fading trophy wife Annie, is successful, vastly wealthy and full of himself, fond of his wife in an old-fashioned alpha male way. But his bravado masks a terror of ageing and he too is lonely and fearful, though he’ll be buggered if he’s going to tell anyone.
And finally, there’s KEVIN, shy, kind, unhappily-married counsellor of Rhona the poet, scared of her sharp tongue and laser-sharp perception but also responsive and compassionate in the face of Rhona’s struggle to maintain her ‘hard bitch’ carapace.
The six characters’ stories begin to interweave as they all zone in on the Hub and all – some sooner than others – become aware of the dangers Janesh poses. Growing enlightenment comes not from the self-styled guru but, on the contrary, from being burned by contact with him.
Helping each other to steer away, lasting harm is averted. All six people re-evaluate what is worthwhile both in themselves and in the people they’re closest too. Empathy is enlarged – I do like a happy ending! – and the characters move on from feeling they are damaged goods to a more optimistic, more fulfilling view of life and of themselves.
DAMAGED GOODS is a one-act two-hander in which the fabulous Richard Heap and I play all six characters. Kirsty Bennett directs. She’s directed tonnes of my stuff and I’m so pleased she’s on board again for DAMAGED GOODS. We showcased earlier drafts of this, when the play was called The Hub, at both Soho Theatre and Leicester Square Theatre.
DAMAGED GOODS by Rosalind Adler
16 – 18 July 2018 at 6.30 pm
Kings Head Theatre, 115 Upper St, Islington, N1 1QN
Part of Playmill Festival
“Needy and carrying their over-full pitchers of unspent love, I imagined the three of them drawn to this new centre, ready to be disciples – but of whom? Who sits at the core of this tempting new ‘family’ offering warmth, welcome, understanding, a place to belong?”