The pain, in two parts

Performed by Amber Sealey & Hannah Ringham at the Shunt Cabaret, Bethnal Green, London, 14 October 2001

Directed by Glen Neath

On stage a table, two chairs facing each other across the table.

    A enters and stands behind one of the chairs. She is well-groomed, wearing an office suit. She is wearing a lot of make-up and her hair is scraped back into a bun or a pony-tail. She prepares herself by doing warm-up exercises.

She pulls out the chair, sits.

After a moment she reaches out with her arm and practises a movement that will later be revealed as slapping the face of the person sitting opposite her. She readjusts her chair and repeats the movement.

When she is satisfied she relaxes, takes off her rings, takes a small tube of hand cream from her handbag and applies some to her hands. She places the tube on her side of the table.

She is still rubbing the cream in when B enters. B is dressed to look like A, suited, hair scraped back, in fact they are like twins (although they don’t have to look alike)..

B sits. She takes first a small bottle, then a medium sized bottle, emery boards and finally a very large bottle from her bag. A watches.

Both wear very long, varnished nails, a lot of make-up and jewels.

When B puts her hands on the table the sound of buzzing (like a fly) is heard.

A (to the sound-box, viciously). Not yet!

The buzzing stops. A puts her rings on. A and B glare at each other. After a long pause (10 seconds), during which A is increasingly (silently) agitated, the buzzing begins. It continues for 10 seconds, stops for a second and starts again for another 5 seconds. When it stops A slaps B across the face (we see it’s the movement she was practising earlier).

The slap causes the buzzing to start again (another 5 seconds).

When it stops A slaps B across the face again.

A.    Got it!

Silence for 2 seconds. The buzzing returns for 2 seconds and then stops.

B.   I can still hear it

A.   You look less up for it tonight

B.   Up for what?


B.   Okay

I would like at this juncture to make a statement an important statement just a few words

The buzzing, a single buzz (as short as possible).

B.   I feel that now, the time has come in the course of events-

She is interrupted by the buzzing, stops after a few seconds.

A (as if there had been no interruption). You know you have a remarkably fine temperament

B.   Do I?

A.   Oh yes. For this kind of thing

B.   For what kind of thing?

A.   Only this kind of thing. Otherwise I would say that your temperament stinks


A.   I’d like at this time to tell you about a friend of mine who once decided to make a statement, a great statement, to the effect that. . .


B.   What?

A (suddenly less sure of herself). Who felt that the time was right. Who readied herself. Who licked her lips in anticipation, at the thought of the words that were to come. Who-

A suddenly flinches and stops talking.

B.   What?

A.   I thought that. . . never mind

B.   What?

A.   Never mind

(returning. . . ). At this point I’d like to tell you about this old friend of mine who was in attendance when her friend, a friend of a friend of mine, was on the verge of making the great statement

(suddenly she is bored). And so on. A friend of a friend of a friend. Ad infinitum. A friend of a friend of a friend of a friend-

B (interrupts her). Yes

A.   Until we don’t really know if there was any truth to the story. Was the statement really as impressive as all that? And what about the speaker, the friend of a friend, the friend of a friend of a friend-

B (interrupts her). I see what you mean

Long pause.

B (she begins to speak very quietly but quickly her delivery becomes intense and heavy with emotion, until she is almost hysterical by the end of the speech. During the speech she takes off her rings and applies hand cream from the biggest bottle that has a pump dispenser). Once, when I was settled, I was called away, I was called away without reason or recourse and I. . . and I. . . I. . .

To a place, where no one knew me I knew no one. The streets were a number of blind alleys I did not know my way. I could not orientate myself. There were no road signs to guide me there were no stars in the sky. I was without map I was without compass I was there without reason I was almost without hope, until I thought, I shall only need to ask someone to show me the way. . . yes, and then I thought, The way to where? But nobody spoke my language anyway. I could not talk to anyone. And I could not communicate my discomfort. And then I thought, How can I begin to speak of my discomfort when I do not even understand it myself? When I cannot explain it. I only knew that I was consumed by irrational thoughts, that they had become cyclical, and although the thoughts were always the same, yet they grew more and more frightening. Every few seconds a tiny bomb went off inside me, that returned to the surface the involuntary bubble of anxiety: (she speaks now in an affected manner, this is the bomb speaking as it goes off. Throughout she applies cream to A’s hands). Once when you were settled you were called away without reason or recourse you were called away to a place where no one knew you you knew no one no one spoke your language you could not speak to anyone you could not. The streets was blind alleys there were no road signs there was no stars in the sky you was without map you was without compass was there without reason without rhyme or reason or recourse to the law or to the stars you was without hope and but nobody spoke my language you could talk to no one and you could not talk to anybody about your discomfort you could not begin to talk of your discomfort you could not explain it yourself you was consumed by irrational thoughts that they was cyclical that they the thoughts were always the same yet grew more and more frightening with every few seconds a tiny bomb went off

      A slaps B across the face. This time it seems unrehearsed. After a shocked silence, B puts on her rings and quickly puts all her belongings back in her bag. As she is about to leave A suddenly bursts into tears, a wail. B pulls a handkerchief from her sleeve, she gives it to A. After the tears have subsided.

B.   What’s the matter?

A.   I can’t go through this anymore

A blows her nose, wipes her face.

A.   I have a pain. Anyway. I can’t attribute this pain to any particular part of my body. It isn’t local. I haven’t got a headache or a belly ache. How is the best way to describe it? When I go to the doctors he tells me there’s nothing wrong with me

A glares at B, a look of utter incomprehension on her face. B opens her mouth to speak. A hangs on her every word. B closes her mouth. Repeat. Blackout.


      When the lights snap on A and B sit facing each other as at the end of the previous scene. Their lipstick is smudged, their hair is unkempt. B has scratch marks down her face. They both make movements with their hands, and suddenly A has her finger in her ear. She is happy with herself. Pause. She scratches her ear.

A.  I have an itchy ear. My ear is burning. What is that supposed to mean?

B.   It means that somebody is talking about you

A.   Who’s talking about me?

B.   Which ear was it?

A (showing her). This one

B.   That means the person who’s talking about you wants to keep their identity a secret

A.   Really?

B.   Yes

A.   What if it was this ear? (she indicates the other ear)

But B is already scratching her nose.

B.   I have an itchy nose. My nose is burning. What is that supposed to mean?

A.   It means that you are about to come into some money

B.   How much?

A.   Which side of your nose was it?

B (showing her). This one

A.   That means you must share it with me

(scratching her eye). I have an itchy eye. My eye is itching. What is that supposed to mean?

B.   That means that somebody is looking at you

A.   Who’s looking at me?

B.   Which eye was it?

A (showing her). This one

B.   That means I am looking at you

But A is already scratching her cheek.

A.   My cheek is itching, what is that supposed to mean?

B.   It’s my turn

A.   What?

B.   That means it’s my turn


A.   Go on then. What’s itching you?

B.   Hold on a minute

A looks disgruntled. Pause. Finally B scratches her head.

A.   That means/. . .

B.   Hold on!

My head is itching. What is that supposed to mean?

A.   It means you have a brain tumour

B.  It was this side (showing her)

A.   Yes. Any part of your head

(and she is already scratching her neck)   Now my neck is itching, what is that supposed to mean?

B.   It means you will be strangled in your sleep

B scratches her arm.

A.   That means/. . .

B.   Hold on!

I have an itchy arm

A.   That means/. . .

B.   Hold on will you! My arm is itching. What is that supposed to mean?

A.   It means you will be in a terrible accident involving a piece of machinery and you arm will be ripped clean off

B.   This one (showing her) 

A.   Either

B.   That isn’t true

A.   It is


B.   And?

A.   What?

B.   What’s itching?

A.   Nothing

B.   Nothing?

Silence. A raises her hand slightly, then quickly lowers it.

B.   What was that?

A.   Nothing

B.   An itch?

A.   No

B (banging the table) It was an itch

B scratches her tongue.

B.   My tongue’s itching

A.   That means/. . .

B.   Hold on!

B scratches her tongue.

B.   My tongue’s itching

A.   That means/. . .

B.   Hold on!

Repeat a few times as the lights fade

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