Samuel French: a lament, in playscript form.




A back room of a 187 year old theatre bookshop on the last day of trading. Cardboard boxes being filled with scripts.

S                              So here we are.

F                              Here we are.

S                              Not even 200 years.

F                              Come on, be fair. 187 years is pretty impressive. And it’s not like we’re going out of business.

S                              That is true. It’s not going anywhere, is it?

F                              Although. I will admit. It doesn’t matter if all the sales are online. People want to be able to pick up the scripts, flick through the pages.

S                              Yeah, people always say that when new media comes out. If they were so in love with the feel of books, the smell of books, then they’d carry on buying the books.

F                              Well, that’s what I’m saying. It’s not that people stopped buying the scripts. It’s just that the rental prices got too high.

S                              It’s always the rental prices, isn’t it? Everything gets too expensive, and all the independent shops get priced out. This place will probably become another coffee shop.

F                              Not that there’s anything wrong with coffee –

S                              Oh, absolutely nothing wrong with coffee. I love coffee. Some of my best plot ideas have come about when I’ve had too much coffee.

F                              Do you think this place would have survived longer if we’d had a coffee shop?

S                              What do you mean?

F                              Foyles has a coffee shop.

S                              So? We’ve got a very nice kettle and half a packet of Twinings going spare.

F                              It’s not the same.

S                              No.

F                              So, we never had a chance. If the rental prices kept on going up, there’s no way we could have ever hung on.

S                              Oh, you know it. We saw this coming for years. I mean, we could have done more fundraisers. Had more short play nights in between the book stacks where there were duolouges read by – oh, I don’t know, Ian McKellen and Tamsin Grieg –

F                              Oh, that would’ve been awesome.

S                              Yes, that would have been awesome. But it wouldn’t have made the slightest bit of difference. Because things move on.

F                              But that’s .. that’s sad, isn’t it?

S                              Yes. Of course it is. But what can you do? The landlords aren’t exactly going to ask for less money, are they? Even if they are a big fan of Harold Pinter.

F                              You know, I knew a Sam French once.

S                              Really? They weren’t a playwright, were they?

F                              No. They were an actor.

S                              Seriously? Where did you meet him?

F                              Her.

S                              Oh, her. Sorry. When you said ‘actor’, I just thought –

F                              Let’s not have that conversation again.

S                              No. Sorry. Where did you meet her?

F                              We were both in a production of The Crucible.

S                              Oh, that’s a great play. Do you act, then?

F                              From time to time. You don’t spend too long in here without wanting to do a bit of acting. Or directing. Or imagining how you want the lighting to look. Or even thinking about writing your own.

S                              Do you remember the first script you picked up in here?

F                              Actually, I do. I was looking for a speech for an audition. And I didn’t want to go for any of the obvious ones. And that’s the thing. It’s not like online. Here, you can get lost in the books. Read the middle few pages. Suck it and see. I ended up buying more than I’d intended. I got Journey’s End. And there was also Twelve Angry Men. And – because I wanted a modern classic – Glengary Glen Ross.

S                              Those are good plays.

F                              Yes.

S                              Can’t help noticing that there’s not one female role in any of them.

F                              That .. that is a coincidence.

S                              First play I picked up in here was The Pillowman. I’d never seen a production of it. But everyone was going on about it. And, you know. Maybe you can’t afford thirty quid for a theatre ticket. But for ten pounds, to get an actual transcript of every word in the play. To keep. To take home. And that you were allowed to come in here, and pick them up. Compare and contrast. See the words on the page. That’s important, I think. You don’t get that when you’re buying online. To see the spaces between the words. I remember picking up The Pillowman, and not putting it down for a hour. If I’d seen a copy online. I might not have bought it.

F                              I felt the same way with Fleabag. I read it through twice in one lunchbreak. I didn’t buy it. But I kept thinking about it. I had to come back the next day and get it.

S                              It’s OK, though, isn’t it? There’s still the National Theatre bookshop. Foyles.

F                              Oh, yeah. They’re great. But .. Samuel French. 187 years.

S                              They might bring it back. On the 200th anniversary. When the landlord realises what a mistake they’ve made.

F                              Yeah. That might not happen.

S                              I know.


F                              It is a shame, though. I mean, yes. They’ll still hit 200 years. Most of their sales are online anyway. But. Here. The building. That’s what’s important. Buildings matter. It’s where we meet. It’s why theatres are important. I mean, film, movies – don’t get me wrong, films are fantastic, films do things that theatre can never and should never do –

S                              You’re still annoyed about that Spiderman musical, aren’t you?

F                              Film, you can take anywhere. On your laptop, on your mobile. You can literally transport film anywhere. But theatre? Theatre transports you. Takes you and the rest of the audience out of the four walls, beyond the roof. It’s the same here. Plays will always exist. Stories will always be told. But buildings like this. We lose them. If we’re not careful, they end up only being built in our memories. And it’s one less way to connect. One less space where we can look up and know – really know – that everyone else in the room knows exactly how we feel. People who understand that this –

(long pause)

F                              Is a joke about Harold Pinter. People who didn’t get to see a Sarah Kane production when she was still alive. People who want to pull every script apart to see how it works and they want to be the next Abi Morgan. People who have read more than the first chapter of The Empty Space. People who still dream of having a meet-cute while reaching for the last copy of Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf?

S                              Not the best play for a meet-cute, to be fair.

F                             We’re packed, then?

S                              Pretty much, yeah. This is .. well, it’s the end, isn’t it?

F                              Not, really, no. This is just the interval.

S                            What happens in the interval?

F                              Well, Act 1 is all about the set up. Putting everyone in place. Working up to the surprise cliffhanger. The interval? We join with everyone else and try to buy as much alcohol as humanly possible within twelve minutes.

S                             And we’ve still got Act 2 to look forward to.

F                              Exactly. Time to go, then. You finished packing your box?

S                              Yep. You?

F                              Yeah. What are you going to do with so many playscripts?

S                              Oh, I don’t know. I though maybe open a book store.

F                              Will it have a coffee shop?

Out, out brief candle – and blackout.


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