1
A BASEMENT TOO FAR
CAST LIST
3F 2M, 2F 3M or 1F 4M
MAGGIEa librarian, thirties to sixties, sensible, enthusiastic, bustling, kindly,
probably not as organised as she thinks
WOLF TORRENTa writer of survival travelogues. 30 to 60. Could be a Crocodile
Dundee Aussie, or an Oxbridge drop-out. Charismatic. Confident and superior
manner. Probably not as competent as he pretends
*MIRANDA BOWERS writer of crime fiction. 30 - 50 –elegant, waspish, detached,
cynical (*can be played by male, in which case “MORRIS” (mis-remembered by
Wolf as Norris, Wallace etc)
*SIMONE – member of audience and would-be writer. Teens to 60s but probably in
the younger range. Prey to a host of anxieties and neuroses including
claustrophobia and fear of the dark (*can be played by male as SIMON.)
COLINsecurity man. 30s to 60s. Nowhere near as secure as he’s supposed to be.
(* = Can be M/F)
2
A BASEMENT TOO FAR
(A basement, no windows. A staircase leads down into the room from
downstage Right, so that the lowest step is upstage right. It should seem that
this flight leads to a further flight upward off-stage, with a door at the top. There
are three or four shelving stacks, seven or eight feet high, containing old dusty
hard back books, off to Stage Left, to about a sixth of the width of the stage,
and assumed to be stretching out for many yards offstage. At the back, a basic
brick or concrete wall, with a few large silver-clad pipes to indicate heating and
plumbing and mysterious general entrails of a building. A stack of rather shabby
and broken chairs under the staircase. A very worn grubby looking industrial
sisal type carpet on what should be a concrete floor. The light is a strip light, or
a single bulb hanging from the centre of the room, with an institutional shade)
(Enter MAGGIE down the stairs, briskly, immediately followed by MIRANDA,
then WOLF)
MAGGIE: Now – I wonder if this is going to be –
(At the bottom, she stops abruptly and they all cannon into each other)
Sorry, sorry, my fault. No, I really don’t think this will do.
(MAGGIE moves away from the steps to allow the others to reach ground
level. They start investigating the immediate area.)
MIRANDA: Look, there are chairs, anyway!
(MAGGIE goes to them and starts unstacking them, looking at them critically)
MAGGIE: They may not be in the best condition....
WOLF: Don’t worry on my account. I’m quite happy sitting on the floor.
MIRANDA: Well, I ‘m not!
MAGGIE: No, no, and I don’t really think our book-club members would be either.
Some of them tend to be a little on the mature side.
WOLF: Seems odd to have a book club in a library.
MAGGIE: Does it?
(MAGGIE scouts around, inspecting chairs, seeing what else is available
(nothing much) then starts setting out chairs, at least a couple of rows and
twelve chairs). She sets out the first chair near to the stacks. MIRANDA
promptly sits on it. WOLF picks up a chair,looking as if he might help, but puts
it down C in the same row as MIRANDA’s and sits on it. MAGGIE continues to
set out the rest of the chairs – five chairs, spaced out, on each row, and two
or three rows.)
3
WOLF: What else would you come to a library for? I mean, what else do expect to
find in a library? Why would you have to have a special group?
(MAGGIE stops for a moment to speak with enthusiasm, then continues to set
out chairs)
MAGGIE: These are people who want to meet and have a chat about books, not just
read them, you see. Meet the authors – like today – and get a more in-depth
understanding of the book – or talk to other like-minded people who’ve read the book
– or both.
WOLF: Right.
MAGGIE: And of course nowadays, a library isn’t just about books. You can use the
computers as well as our actual books, for research, homework, job seeking, family
history – all sorts of things. Sorry – lecture over – it’s rather a hobby horse of mine,
I’m afraid. The library in the community, and so on.
MIRANDA: Very commendable, I’m sure. All the better for us authors, anyway.
MAGGIE: So – what do we think? It’s not ideal, is it?
WOLF: Is there any choice?
MAGGIE: This does seem to be the only space we can use today, what with all the
building works in the main building.
MIRANDA: It’s different, anyway – I don’t think I’ve ever been in a sub-sub-basement
before.
MAGGIE: Just a sub-basement. Still, I suppose it is about sixty feet below ground
level.
MIRANDA:Practically the bowels of the earth, as far as I’m concerned! I don’t think
I’ve ever been so deep into the earth’s crust!
(WOLF gets up, goes down C, speaking to MAGGIE as she moves the
chairs))
WOLF: Oh, it’s not that deep. I remember when we were filming in Cusca, in Peru,
some of those caves were 1300 feet deep. There was one tunnel I had to crawl
through – about 30 centimetres wide in some places, and half submerged in water.
MAGGIE: Gosh! You wouldn’t catch me down there! Weren’t you terrified, Mr
Torrent?
WOLF: Wolf. Call me Wolf, please! No, no, you have to know what you’re doing, of
course. Wouldn’t suit everyone.
4
(MIRANDA has been listening sceptically, gets up and moves to him C, while
MAGGIE finishes the chairs, which will all face the audience and fill roughly
from the centre to the back of the stage)
MIRANDA: It certainly wouldn’t suit me! Wolf – that’s an unusual name. Wolf
Torrent..
WOLF: (rather smugly) Yes, it is, isn’t it. And your name –
MIRANDA: Miranda. Bowers.
WOLF: Miranda, of course, I’m sorry, I’m very bad at names – love your books,
though.
MIRANDA: You’ve read my books! That’s very flattering!
WOLF: Oh, you know – lying by the campfire halfway up Mount Puncak Jaya in
Indonesia – you like to relax with something undemanding. Very good to unwind
with.
MIRANDA: (frostily) Really? You must tell me which ones you like best.
WOLF: (he hasn’t actually read any) Oh – well – if you tell me some of the titles – I
have got a dreadful memory.
(MAGGIE has joined them C. WOLF moves upstage)
MAGGIE: Sorry to interrupt – but do we think we can manage here? As it’s only for
an hour?
MIRANDA: (looking at her watch) Are you sure we’re going to get an audience at all?
It’s already 5.25, and we’re supposed to start at 5.30.
MAGGIE: Yes – they are certainly cutting it fine. But they’re probably still trying to
find the room, that’s if they haven’t been put off by seeing the scaffolding and the
building works and decided it’s all off...
MIRANDA: But it was advertised, wasn’t it?
MAGGIE: Oh yes. Absolutely. An announcement on the website, posters everywhere
and an email to the Friends of the library and all those who usually come to these
events.
MIRANDA: And they’ll know to come down here?
MAGGIE: Oh yes. Colin – the security man – he’s the one who’s waiting to lock up
after us when we need to leave tonight – he’s all set, up there, to shepherd people
in this direction.
5
MIRANDA: (sitting front row L) Well….it would have been nice to be somewhere
near a tea urn….. I wouldn’t like to be down here for longer than a couple of hours.
But I suppose we’ll manage, just for the evening.
WOLF: (coming back down C, then sitting front row C) I remember when I was in the
Sahara – I was on a two week survival trek for National Geographic – the team was
meeting me at the end of the route. I managed to lose my way, and by the time I got
back on track, I’d added two days to my journey. And then, of course, I found that my
water canister had been leaking. No water at all for the last fifty miles.
MIRANDA: So – dare one ask how you survived?
WOLF: (directly to Miranda) Had to trek the last three days with nothing to drink but
my own urine.
(A slight pause. MIRANDA turns away, not shocked, but knows she walked
into that one)
MIRANDA: I had a feeling it was a stupid question.
MAGGIE: (laughing) Gosh! I hope it won’t come to that here, anyway!
If it comes to the worst we’ll have to go and get a cup of tea from the kitchen
upstairs. Anyone need anything now?
WOLF: I’m fine. Never travel without a bottle of water.
MIRANDA: That’s one thing we have in common, then! But if it does run out, I think
I’ll go for the tea option, if you don’t mind.
(She takes out her phone and moves aside. Enter SIMONE down the stairs,
hesitantly. She is dressed for cycling in a high vis jacket over a colourful
shapeless long cardigan, and wears a cycling helmet)
MAGGIE: Come on down! Are you here for “Meet the Authors”?
SIMONE: Is this the right place? Only it’s normally in the Councillor Fairfax Memorial
room.
MAGGIE: It should have been, yes. But with the scaffolding-
SIMONE: Was the room falling down then? Were there safety issues?
MAGGIE: No, no. Purely routine maintenance, nothing to worry about.
MIRANDA: (upstage L, to herself) No signal. Damn.
SIMONE: Am I the only one?
(She sits in the second row, R, and takes off her cycle helmet)
6
MAGGIE: Well – um, it’s beginning to look like it. Maybe it’s the weather. A lot of
people won’t come out if it’s raining.
MIRANDA: I came out. All the way from London.
MAGGIE: Yes, and we’re terribly grateful –
MIRANDA: (rather impatiently, moving downstage) It’s a bit disappointing, I must
say. Not really what I was expecting.
(She sits again, front L)
MAGGIE: To be honest, I’m really quite surprised myself. We normally get at least
twenty or thirty for this sort of thing.
(WOLF moves L to behind MIRANDA, to address the next speeches to her
from behind her left shoulder)
WOLF: So – what do you think, Melissa-?
MIRANDA: Miranda.
WOLF: Miranda, of course, of course, so sorry – is it my fault or yours? One of us
must be extremely unpopular!
MAGGIE: No, no!
SIMONE: I only came down because the security guard told me it was on. I didn’t
realise there was an event this week. I’m trying to be a writer myself, you see.
MIRANDA: So you’re not particularly a devotee of crime fiction?
WOLF: Or survival travelogues?
SIMONE: Um, no, not as such. Although of course I have seen some of your
programmes on TV, Mr Torrent. The ones in the Amazon, and the Australian bush.
But if anything I would probably be more interested in science fiction. Aliens. Robots.
That sort of thing.
WOLF: (bored) Really. How interesting.
MIRANDA: Sweet.
(MAGGIE has sat down front C, to check her file, and has been looking at one
of the flyers which was in her file.)
MAGGIE: Oh dear.
MIRANDA: What?
7
MAGGIE: . (as brightly as she can in the circumstances) Um – I’m afraid there
seems to have been a muddle!
(WOLF comes and looks at it over her shoulder)
WOLF: This says that our event’s next week.
MAGGIE: Yes. It does seem –
WOLF: Not today.
MAGGIE: No. No, I’m sorry. I don’t know how that’s happened!
MIRANDA: Oh, for heavens sake! So there isn’t likely to be anyone coming, in that
case!
(Enter COLIN, the security man, calling before he actually enters)
COLIN: (off) Hello! Maggie?
MAGGIE: (relieved to change the subject.) Colin! Hello! Have you come to join the
group?
COLIN: (appearing at the top of the stairs) Maggie, I’m just popping down to let you
know that the rest of the staff are off home.
MAGGIE: Oh, yes, righto.
WOLF: They won’t be joining us for the discussion, then?
MAGGIE: They do tend to rush off at the end of the day, I’m afraid. We shut at 5.30,
you see. Except when there’s an event on.
WOLF: Or not.
COLIN: So. I’ll just be waiting upstairs by the main door to let you out and lock up.
(COLIN sets off up the steps and disappears. WOLF sits front row C)
MAGGIE: Right. Thanks, Colin.
WOLF: Is there really any point? It’s the wrong day-
MAGGIE: To be fair, it’s the right day. It’s just the wrong day on the poster... And
possibly on the website….
MIRANDA: (standing, ready to go) That’s rather beside the point! And Wolf and I
have turned up in good faith, so we’ve really fulfilled our part of the contract –
8
SIMONE: I’m here!
MIRANDA: What?
SIMONE: I’m here for the discussion. So we can still have it.
MIRANDA: But you haven’t read our books!
SIMONE: No, but we could still talk about how you write them. Where you get all
your ideas. Your daily routine. How much research you do. I’ve got loads of
questions.
WOLF: Dear God.
MAGGIE: I don’t really know what to do. I mean there may be people – there will be
people – who will turn up next week instead now.
(During this COLIN reappears at the head of the steps and makes his way
down to stand downstage R)
MIRANDA: I’m really not happy about trekking out here all over again.
WOLF: I agree with Melanie.
MIRANDA: Miranda!
WOLF: Sorry, of course, Miranda.
MIRANDA: I mean, I don’t want to appear awkward or ungracious.....
WOLF: No-one could possibly accuse you of being either.
SIMONE: Are we not going to do it then? I mean, I’m not happy with it being down
here, to be honest, I would rather have gone to the Councillor Fairfax Memorial
room, but since we are here –
MAGGIE: I think maybe we should call it a day. I’m sorry but with just one member of
the audience-
SIMONE: No, no – there’s me, and you – and Colin! Colin could stay, couldn’t you
Colin?
COLIN: Actually, yes, I certainly could.
MAGGIE: Really? I didn’t think you were much of a reader Colin.
COLIN: (on his dignity) I read a book, once.
MAGGIE: Oh! Good, well done!.....and did you like it?
9
COLIN: I don’t know. I never finished it.
MIRANDA: (kindly, as to a five year old) What was it called, Colin?
COLIN: I forget.
MAGGIE: Well, I’m delighted that you’re interested enough to join in tonight
WOLF: (aside) Oh yes. Wonderful timing, Colin.
MAGGIE: You don’t have to be polite, you know, Colin. Just to make up the
numbers.
COLIN: No, no. I’m not being polite.
MIRANDA: (warmly, in “charming author” mode) I think it’s very polite of you, Colin,
but I think we’ve decided just to call it a day and go home.
COLIN: I can’t let you do that, I’m afraid.
MAGGIE: What?
COLIN: (with finality) The door’s shut.
MAGGIE: Well can you open it please? Miranda has decided she wants to go, and
anyway there’s no other ventilation down here. It can get a bit airless.
COLIN: That’s true, it can.
MAGGIE: So....?
COLIN: This is a bit embarrassing.
MAGGIE: Colin. What on earth is the problem? Please open the door and let us out.
COLIN: (evasively) It’s locked at present.
MAGGIE: Well, you’re the security man, Colin! Unlock it!
COLIN: Well, that’s the problem, you see. Right there.
MAGGIE: (shutting her eyes, quietly) Oh no...
COLIN: It swung shut when I came down to tell you that everyone had left. Um - I
seem to have left my keys on the counter upstairs.
(A horrified pause. WOLF moves up to him DR)
10
WOLF: So – just let me recap – the staff have all left the building for the night. You,
the security man, the man with the keys, have left them on the counter on the other
side of a self-locking door.
COLIN: It doesn’t make me look very good, does it?
MIRANDA: Maggie – you must have a set of keys, surely?
MAGGIE: Yes , of course I have!..............But I left them in my bag in the staffroom.
On the ground floor.
SIMONE: Are we locked in? Seriously? Really, properly locked in? Oh, look this isn’t
funny!
Are you serious? Can we phone someone – Maggie?
MAGGIE: I’ve left my phone upstairs – has anyone got one?
MIRANDA: There’s no point. I’ve just tried. There’s no signal.
WOLF: Well, surely there must be something – A landline?
SIMONE: Look! There, on the wall! There’s a phone!
(She rushes to it during this and lifts the handset)
MAGGIE: It’s just an internal phone, I’m afraid. No outside line. And anyway there’s
no-one else in the building.
MIRANDA: It’s worth a try, at least! On the off-chance!
MAGGIE: Yes, of course!
(she goes to take the handset off SIMONE, who goes to sit down front row R,
obviously becoming agitated. MAGGIE dials, and they wait. Eventually she
gives up)
Nothing. I’m sorry.
MIRANDA: So when might we reasonably expect to be rescued? Not till tomorrow
morning?
COLIN: Tomorrow’s Sunday.
MAGGIE: And Monday’s a bank holiday.
(There is a long horrified silence)
SIMONE: Two days? Two days and three nights? Down here? With no – no fresh
air, and nothing to eat or drink – no air – no air –
11
(she starts hyperventilating)
Oh, god, no air –
WOLF: Well, leave some for the rest of us!
(MAGGIE sits next to SIMONE and puts an arm round her shoulders)
MAGGIE: Calm down, try to calm down – now, what’s your name?
SIMONE: Si - Simone – my name’s Simone –
(she continues to gasp for breath)
MAGGIE: Alright, Simone, now try to calm down, just relax. Take a deep breath.
Don’t
worry, we’re all here.
SIMONE: (controlling her breathing better) Right. Right. I’m fine. Fine. I’m fine.
MIRANDA: That’s a brave soldier.
MAGGIE: I don’t think sarcasm is going to help.
(MIRANDA remembers she is addressing her public, moves down to
MAGGIE RC, then across the downstage area as she thinks aloud)
Miranda
MIRANDA: Not at all! No, no, I’m absolutely serious. Poor girl. She’s obviously in
distress. I suppose it’s a sort of claustrophobia. Doesn’t really affect me, actually, but
I believe a lot of people have problems being in enclosed spaces. Like this. I
suppose this would be a classic situation if you were that sort of person. You know –
an environment you have no control over. No doors, or at any rate none that will
open, thanks to Mr –
(She gestures towards COLIN; he gets up and holds out his hand which she
ignores as she continues to paint the scene, he then sits back down, abashed)
COLIN: Murdoch –
MIRANDA: Thanks to Mr Murdoch here; no windows, no access to the outside world
– completely cut off –
(SIMONE is looking increasingly uneasy)
MAGGIE: Miranda –
MIRANDA: (really warming to her subject) -and of course being underground – quite
a long way underground – would make it twice as bad, I should think. And then the
problem of the air supply –
12
SIMONE: (panicking again) Sorry – can you please – stop –
MIRANDA: (in a world of her own) Sorry?
SIMONE: Can you just stop talking about it? For a minute at least?
MIRANDA: Talking about it? Oh, you mean, about being a prisoner in a confined/
underground space with no-
SIMONE: /YES! YES, yes, yes! Please! Stop!
MIRANDA: Oh, right! Sorry, I’m sure. You only had to say.
COLIN: No need to panic though, is there?
SIMONE: Easy for you to say.
COLIN: Ah, now, fair do’s. I know it’s one thing to say “don’t panic” and quite
another to put it into practice.
SIMONE: Thanks. Very insightful.
COLIN: No, no, I’m just saying – I am fully trained, should the occasion arise, in
emergency first aid. Just to put your minds at rest.
MIRANDA: Now why doesn’t that reassure me?
WOLF moves downstage)
WOLF: (heartily) There you are, you see! And I’ve been in plenty of tight spots –
sorry, Simone – myself. And here I am to tell the tale! Quite literally, in fact!
(He holds up a copy of his book)
Got stuck down a lift shaft in a mine, once. Three hundred feet down. Nine of us
crammed into the lift, there were. Bloody hot down there, of course. Then the lift
starts going up, and after about ten seconds the damn thing judders to a halt. Sat
there for three hours, all nine of us squeezed in together – shoulder to shoulder, no
room to move -
SIMONE: I think I’m going to be sick -
MAGGIE: Oh, no! I’d die! What happened?
MIRANDA: Yes – do tell – how did you escape?
WOLF: Climbed on to the roof of the lift. Had to shut the trap door after me, to stand
on. There was a ladder on the side of the shaft – climbed up two hundred and fifty
feet and gave the alarm. They just got to them. Before the air ran out.
13
COLIN: Well, thank God for that, at least.
WOLF: Yes. Of course, when the same thing happened the following week, those
guys weren’t so lucky. I wasn’t there that time, unfortunately. They died of
suffocation.
(There is a thud as SIMONE keels over. WOLF is unmoved)
WOLF: Oh dear. She seems to have passed out.
MAGGEI: Perhaps a few less horror stories might help.
WOLF: Oh, well, if she’s going to be so sensitive….!
MAGGIE: Have you got any water, Wolf?
WOLF: Yes, thank you. Don’t worry about me.
MAGGIE: I meant for Simone.
WOLF: Oh, right.
(WOLF fishes in his cargo pants pockets for his bottle)
….I suppose she hasn’t got any transmittable diseases? - no, of course, just kidding.
Here-
(MAGGIE takes the offered water bottle, and gives some to Simone, who
chokes on it and wakes up, and struggles to sit up)
SIMONE: Oh..thank god! I dreamt I was trapped in an underground room in the
library..
(she takes in her surroundings)
Oh!
COLIN: Keep calm, love. Try to think of something reassuring, something calming.
WOLF: Like the sound of a key turning in a lock?
COLIN: Well-
MIRANDA: Or the voice of a security man shouting that he’s got a spare set of keys
and hasn’t left them on the other side of a locked door?
COLIN: Actually, I was thinking more on the lines of a summer meadow, with a
gentle breeze just rippling through the long grass.
14
MIRANDA: Were you? Why on earth?
COLIN: Bear with me now – just for an exercise in relaxation, you see, for Simone.
To avoid anxiety attacks. I’ve done training.
MIRANDA: Be my guest. If no-one can think of anything more useful.
COLIN: So – if you just close your eyes, Simone – and imagine a summer meadow –
or a peaceful seaside scene, with the waves breaking gently on the shore.
(Simone shuts her eyes and assumes a position of relaxation)
Imagine you’re lying on some deserted Mediterranean beach. Listen to the gentle
swish of the sea through the pebbles-
Simone (still with shut eyes)
SIMONE: Pebbles? I was thinking more of a sandy beach.
Colin
COLIN: No, no. Shingle. You get a much more relaxing sound on shingle, with the
waves coming in and out.
Simone.
SIMONE: Well…ok. It’s not as comfortable, though.
(She wriggles her bottom)
I can feel every pebble.
COLIN: (impatiently) Well, just imagine that you’re sitting on a very thick piece of
foam rubber. Or a sun-lounger, that would work.
SIMONE: Ok – yes, that’s much better-
COLIN: Perhaps everyone would like to join in? It’s very relaxing –you don’t need to
lie down; just sit with your back straight, head up, feet flat on the floor, about twenty
centimeters apart –
(MIRANDA: – reluctantly - , MAGGIE and SIMONE follow these instructions.
WOLF sits apart and doesn’t join in))
COLIN: That’s right – hands flat on your knees - now, shut your eyes, and breathe
in through your nose, very slowly…. in….then breathe out, slowly –
(SIMONE’s eyes snap open)
SIMONE: What was that?
MAGGIE: What?
SIMONE: What was that noise?
MIRANDA: Is it the door? Is someone coming to let us out?
15
(COLIN lumbers up the staircase and offstage to check)
SIMONE; No, I don’t think it came from over there. It was more – I think it was from
over beyond those stacks….
(she indicates the bookshelves. They all listen)
MIRANDA: I can’t hear anything. Probably the waterpipes or something.
SIMONE; No, no, it was more – like a footstep.
(they all look round towards where he indicated and listen again)
MAGGIE: Well, as far as I’m aware, the basement isn’t haunted.
MIRANDA: Thanks for that!
MAGGIE: I expect it was the heating going off. Makes things creak a bit. Or a
mouse.
(COLIN comes back down the stairs)
COLIN: Nothing up there, I’m afraid.
WOLF: (with heavy sarcasm) Keys still on the other side of the door, are they
Colin?
COLIN: (pointedly ignoring him)So we might as well continue with the relaxation
excercises…sitting with backs straight, feet slightly apart, eyes shut – now breathe
…. In…. in….. in…. and out, very slowly…..slow as you can..and
again...in....in....in....in.... all the way ......
(MAGGIE, MIRANDA and SIMONE are all doing this. The last in – in –in
leaves them all gasping as COLIN forgets to say “out”. WOLF stands up
impatiently)
WOLF: This is a complete waste of time. It’s not going to get us out of here, is it?
Maggie
MAGGIE: Well, it does help to relax, you actually, I’ve always found this sort of
exercise very useful.
Wolf (impatiently)
WOLF: Oh, I’ve no doubt it would help you sleep through your mind-numbingly
boring job-
(There is a shocked pause)
Maggie
MAGGIE: My job is very stimulating!
Colin
16
COLIN: I don’t think your attitude is very helpful, Mr Wolf!
Wolf (with an effort)
WOLF: No, you’re right. I apologise. That was very rude. I suppose we’re all getting
a bit wound up.
Colin
COLIN: Well, that was exactly why-
Wolf
WOLF: Yes, yes, I understand. Feel free. Float away on a fluffy pink cloud of new
age tranquillity, if that’s what you want.
Miranda
MIRANDA: At least it was a positive suggestion.
Wolf
WOLF: I disagree, actually. I thought it was a very negative suggestion. Basically, as
I see it, Colin’s plan, if you can call it that, is to try to sleep through the next two and
a half days until someone opens up the library on Tuesday morning.
Miranda
MIRANDA: Well if you’ve got a better plan, I’m sure we’d all love to hear it!
(SIMONE bursts out laughing with relief and jumps to her feet)
Simone
SIMONE: Yes! Of course! Why didn’t we think of that before! Here we’ve all been,
worrying about how to get out of here – and we’ve had a professional here all the
time! Wolf’s a survivor! A specialist in this sort of thing!
(She addresses WOLF confidently)
I expect you’ve already thought of a way out, haven’t you? Someone who can swarm
up a three hundred foot-
Wolf (nervously, he doesn’t like where this is going )
WOLF: Two hundred and fifty/ foot-
Simone
SIMONE: /two hundred and fifty foot deep mineshaft, and survive a tramp through
the desert with no
food or water, must be able to get us out of here!
Maggie
MAGGIE: Of course! I’ve read your book, of course, and there were so many
anecdotes of incredible near misses, and of how you survived in the wilds of Borneo
on just the leaves and insects you found and so on, oh, and that time you escaped
from a sinking ship in the South China sea and helped hundreds of passengers to
safety-
MIRANDA: (cynically)Oh, yes. I remember reading that one as well.
SIMONE: (to Wolf, expectantly) So!
WOLF: So…. What?
SIMONE: So – what’s your plan?
17
WOLF: (playing for time) Well – er – it’s not a simple situation, of course. There are
various obstacles. Mainly caused by our friend Colin... Just as a matter of interest,
how do people normally get out when they have become trapped down here? It must
have happened before?
MAGGIE: (apologetically )Well, no, because it’s a new door. Fire regulations. Then
there was some problem with the handle on this side when they put it in – Colin was
going to put a new one on next week.
(All eyes swivel to look at COLIN)
The old door didn’t shut properly, you see, so…
WOLF: Well, you’ve certainly solved that problem, haven’t you? That old “door not
shutting properly” problem! You librarians don’t do things by halves!.... Anyway, let’s
consider our options. It seems unlikely we can get through a locked door like that –
quite a solid door, I’d say, wouldn’t you Colin?
COLIN: (unhappily) Yes.
WOLF: Solid metal, wasn’t it? Just from memory?
COLIN: Yes. It’s a fire-proof door.
WOLF: And about – what sort of thickness would you say?...... Colin?
COLIN: (reluctantly) About three or four inches.
WOLF: About three or four inches, yes, I thought so. Now I’d say, if I were asked,
that that is the sort of door it’s probably best not to have to try to get through without
a key once it’s locked behind you. The sort of door, in fact, for which it’s best to make
sure the key is available at all times.
(COLIN leaps to his feet, stung into defending himself)
COLIN: Yes! I’m aware that I have made a very stupid mistake! I have already
acknowledged that! In fact – I would like to tender my resignation here and now.
WOLF: Oh, well, that’s alright then! Everything’s fine! Off you go to the boss and
resign - oh, no, hang on, you can’t – the door’s still locked, isn’t it Colin!
MAGGIE: He’s said he’s sorry. I don’t think it’s going to help going on about it.
Anyway – I thought you had a plan to get us out of here?
MIRANDA: (provocatively) Yes – come on, Wolf, we have every confidence in you.
SIMONE: Don’t rush him. He needs to think.
WOLF: That’s right! I need to think.
(SIMONE hears a noise again)
18
SIMONE: What’s that?
(they all listen for a few seconds)
MIRANDA: I can’t hear anything. What sort of –
SIMONE: There! Did you hear?
(they all listen again but can’t hear anything)
WOLF: Well, let’s assume for the moment that it’s not John Mills and Alec Guinness
tunnelling through to us, and that we’re on our own.
SIMONE: No, it was more of a buzzing, humming sound-
MAGGIE: It could be the central heating boiler,/ I suppose, if it’s still on-
WOLF: (ignoring SIMONE and addressing MAGGIE) /What’s behind these stacks?
MAGGIE: I’m not sure really. There are some very old sets of books down there, but
it’s ages since I’ve been there. All the stuff in more regular use is kept up at this side.
It’s just a brick wall at the far end I think. There doesn’t seem to be any lighting. The
bulb must have gone.
(WOLF produces a torch from his pocket and snaps it on)
WOLF: (in Indiana Jones mode)Stay there.
(Exit WOLF in a determined manner L behind the stacks into the darkness)
MIRANDA: I do like a man of action.
(she sits down, squints at her watch)
What time is it?
MAGGIE: About quarter past six.
MIRANDA: So, only another – what? – sixty two hours to go? Oh, it’ll fly by!
SIMONE: I hope Wolf comes back soon. He’s bound to find a way out.
MIRANDA: I wouldn’t count on it, dear.
SIMONE: Why not? He’s got out of all sorts of impossible predicaments. You know
he has. It’s in his book. And I’ve seen him on TV, too. Always managing to get
through whatever problems they throw at him – making ropes from grass to swing
across a crevasse, and killing a reindeer and cutting it open to sleep inside it when
he was freezing to death in Lapland-
19
MIRANDA: Yes, but you’re forgetting one thing, Simone.
SIMONE: What’s that? I know there are no reindeer down here, but –
MIRANDA: No, Simone. Not reindeer. No television crews.
SIMONE: What?
MIRANDA: Well, call me an old cynic, but it seems to me that whenever Wolf has
managed to get himself out of some terrifying situation, there has been a film crew
there to record it.
COLIN: What – you mean – it’s all faked?
(MIRANDA shrugs expressively –not for her to say!)
SIMONE: It’s not! It couldn’t be, not all of it!
MIRANDA: Let’s just say I’d be feeling a lot more confident if I’d seen a big van
outside the library before we came in here, packed with TV cameras and with a sign
on the side saying “Channel 5”
(There is a thoughtful few seconds pause)
MAGGIE: So - what about your characters, Miranda – would any of them be any
good at getting themselves out of a locked room?
COLIN: Ah, yes! The sealed room mystery! I saw a Sherlock Holmes on TV once
with a sealed room murder. No apparent way in or out, and the detective has to find
out how the murderer did it.
MIRANDA: But that’s a story! And anyway, – the room wasn’t really sealed, the
murderer just makes it look as if it was.
COLIN: Ah, but a mind like yours, Miranda – I’m sure you’re always thinking
(he makes the inverted commas with his fingers)
“outside the box”, as they say.
SIMONE: (tensely) I’ve never liked shelves.
MAGGIE: Sorry?
SIMONE: It’s just – when I was a kid –
MIRANDA: Oh, here we go – another trauma, Simone?
(SIMONE is now sitting in a defensive hunched position)
20
MAGGIE: (sympatheticallyWould you like to share, Simone?
SIMONE: (being very brave, nodding )My Dad was a librarian. I used to do my
homework in a side room at the library when I was a kid, waiting for him to finish
work. There was a big table, and lots of reference books, on – on shelves. Very
dusty, very old. Very tall.
MIRANDA: Like the ones here, you mean?
MAGGIE: (very gently) So – did something happen there, Simone?
SIMONE: I used to sit in there, doing my homework, or reading. There was this old
man who used to come in too, sometimes. He – he was creepy.
MAGGIE: Oh dear…..
(SIMONE is determined to unburden herself now she’s started)
SIMONE: One day I was in there, as usual, doing my homework. This man - he
came up behind me – he whispered something – about a nice little schoolgirl. I was
frightened – I got up and walked over to the stacks. I heard him follow me – he had a
sort of shuffling limp –
(she gets up to demonstrates the limp, and the story, working up the tension
for all she’s worth. MAGGIE forgets that she is a librarian and not a therapist)
MAGGIE: Go on, Simone. You’re doing really well.
SIMONE: I was so scared. I ran behind the shelves. For some reason, I started
climbing up them, thinking he wouldn’t be able to follow – I don’t know, I panicked –
then I felt them swaying, and jumped off – and it was like slow motion – they fell right
over.
(COLIN stands and goes downstage so that he is behind SIMONE as she
backs away from the shelves. He puts out protective hands to her, and she jumps as
he touches her)
COLIN: Good God – so were you badly hurt?
(SIMONE’s tone reverts to the every day)
SIMONE: Oh, no! No, he was, though. The shelves fell on top of him. He was in
hospital for weeks. I felt terrible. It was all my fault.
COLIN: Well, I suppose you might say it was poetic justice – if he was chasing you –
21
SIMONE: My Dad says he was a harmless old man. He said he was actually looking
for a nice schoolgirl story for his granddaughter, and thought I might recommend
one. I felt so guilty.
(pause)
He limped with both legs after that. And ever since then – I’ve hated being near
shelves. I don’t trust them. I get this feeling – they’re just waiting to fall over when I
walk between them.
MAGGIE: Oh, poor you! But really, it was just an unfortunate accident. You mustn’t
blame yourself.
SIMONE: That’s what everyone tells me. See, I couldn’t even go inside a library for
years after that. But I love reading, so I decided it was about time I got over it. I’ve
been doing really well, over the last few months. But today – it’s made it worse –
those high shelves – waiting - watching -
MAGGIE: (at a loss) Well – try not to think about them. Look the other way.
SIMONE: Ah – but that’s just what they want you to do, isn’t it! Look away, so that
they can catch you off-guard! Oh, no! I’m not going to fall into that trap!
(She turns her chair R to sit facing the shelves, with some satisfaction,
watching alertly so that she can catch them out. MIRANDA, who’s been
looking towards the stacks for the last few seconds, changes the subject))
MIRANDA: What’s keeping Wolf? He’s surely found out by now what’s at the far end
– if it is just a wall.
(She gets up and goes to the edge of the stacks to peer down into the dark)
SIMONE: (anxiously)Do you think the shelves have got him?
MAGGIE: Don’t be silly, Simone. Of course not. Shelves don’t “get” people.
SIMONE: You wouldn’t know until it was too late.
MAGGIE: Wolf! …Wolf?
(They listen. Nothing.)
Why doesn’t he answer?
COLIN: Should one of us go after him?
MAGGIE: This is ridiculous. It’s only about thirty yards to the end of the stacks. He
can’t not hear us.
22
COLIN: Have you seen that film “Picnic at Hanging Rock”? about a group of
schoolgirls in about nineteen hundred and ten from a school in Australia, and they
went on a picnic-
MAGGIE: Yes, I’ve seen it, thanks, Colin, I don’t think it’s the sort of –
COLIN: -and they all went up into these boulders – it was a favourite picnic site –
and they vanished – never seen again-
SIMONE: All of them?
COLIN: Two or three girls, I think, and a teacher. I think maybe one was found later -
hysterical. Or maybe dead. The rest – just vanished – went round the corner of a
rock, and vanished. Pffff!
MIRANDA: So what happened to them?
COLIN: Nobody knows!
MIRANDA: Is that a true story?
COLIN: (emphatically) Yeah! .....I’m pretty sure it is, anyway.
MAGGIE: So – what are you saying? You think Wolf’s vanished?
MIRANDA: What – disappeared into the stacks never to be seen again? A nice
thought, but sadly I’m afraid it’s too good to be true.
SIMONE: Why has he not come back then? Where is he? Why is he not answering?
(She stands and takes a couple of steps towards the stacks)
Wolf! Wolf!
(There is some sort of sound from offstage in the direction WOLF disappeared
– a deep, echoey, possibly grinding sound, far away, like a very heavy rock
being shifted in an echoey cave.)
MIRANDA: What the hell was that?
SIMONE: I told you I heard something. I knew I shouldn’t have come down here – I
had a bad feeling as soon as I saw those shelves –
COLIN: It sounded like – a heavy rock being shifted.
MAGGIE: I’m pretty sure there are no rocks down here. He might have been shifting
some shelves to see if there was any way out behind them - although how he could
have done that – they must weigh tons!
SIMONE: Or maybe the shelves were shifting on their own!
23
MIRANDA: Oh, Simone– for heavens sake!!
COLIN: They said in that film that the rocks sometimes shifted of their own accord –
MAGGIE: Colin, this isn’t Australia! And this isn’t a ghost story! This is just a
basement-
MIRANDA: A sub-basement-
MAGGIE: (showing a tinge of irritation)-a perfectly normal sub-basement in a normal
library!
COLIN: Of course. Sorry, you’re absolutely right. What was I thinking? I’m a security
man. I should be giving support and boosting morale.
MIRANDA: It wouldn’t hurt.
COLIN: I’ve never been very good at that, though.
MAGGIE: Oh, I don’t know. You were doing very well on the relaxation techniques
just now.
COLIN: Was I? Nobody actually got relaxed, though, did they? And Wolf’s quite right
– it was completely the wrong thing to do. Action’s what’s needed. A plan. Not
upsetting people with horror stories. Look at Simone –she’s more on edge now than
ever.
SIMONE: I’m just really bad at confined spaces – and – I just don’t like shelves.
There’s probably a Latin name for it.
MIRANDA: (drily) There’s certainly an English name for it.
(COLIN has been pacing, restlessly, walks to look down the darkness of the
shelving, then returns DC)
COLIN: I would have loved to travel, you know. Do the sort of thing that Wolf has
done. That’s why I joined the army.
MAGGIE: Oh, when were you in the army?
COLIN: Sixteen years ago.
MAGGIE: Really? Colin, you dark horse! I never knew you were a soldier! When did
you leave?
COLIN: Sixteen years ago. They sent me home after two weeks.
MAGGIE: Oh, dear. Why was that?
24
COLIN: I wasn’t doing very well. Three people deserted while I was there. They were
worried I was having a bad effect on morale. I was a failure then – and I’m a failure
now!
(There is slightly too long a pause. MIRANDA, UC, obviously agrees, even
MAGGIE has started nodding sympathetically, then catches herself)
MAGGIE: (hurriedly) No, no, of course you’re not. Is he, Simone?
SIMONE: What? Oh, right yes. No, I mean.
COLIN: (getting more agitated) What was I thinking of, letting a member of the public
go off to investigate the dark and sinister area of the basement? That’s my job! I’m
supposed to be here for protection.
(he starts determinedly searching his belt and pockets.)
Anyone got a torch?
MIRANDA: You can use my mobile. It’s not much use for anything else. There-
(she comes down C and shows him the torch facility)
Now – off you go. I’d really like to get out of here in the next hour or two.
COLIN: Yes, Ma’m!
(COLIN sets off purposefully, possibly overdoing the crouched, ready for
anything
pose, torch held straight out in front between his clasped hands like Bruce
Willis with a gun)
MIRANDA: (in a scary horror story voice) “And then there were three”
(they look at her accusingly)
– sorry – force of habit.
SIMONE: If you think I’m going to be the next one to get up and go down that dark
passageway between the... the shelves..... you’re much mistaken!
MAGGIE: Oh, come on! Cheer up – this is absolutely ridiculous! There’s nothing
sinister about this library! Honestly, I’ve worked here for years!
(the lights go out briefly, then come on again. They tense up, then relax as the
lights come back on)
Gosh! That was a bit worrying for a moment! I don’t know how long I could manage
without lights!
25
(the lights go out and stay out.
MAGGIE: (after a second, quietly)Oh, shit!
MIRANDA: I wonder why I gave my phone to that imbecile security man?
Well, I suggest we get this over with straight away, and all split up and go down
different passages. That would speed things up.
SIMONE: What?
MIRANDA: Well, if we’re going to get picked off one by one I’d really rather it
happened sooner rather than later. It’s the waiting that’s so stressful.
SIMONE: Don’t leave me!
MAGGIE: Now, come on, don’t-
SIMONE: I mean it! Don’t leave me! I can’t stand the dark! Never could, from a kid. I
always start to see people in the shadows.
MAGGIE: That’s just your eyes playing tricks – it happens to everyone. There’s
always a reasonable explanation for these things
SIMONE: Reason? Reason? Don’t talk to me about reason! What’s the reason for
Wolf disappearing, into thin air, and no word for ten minutes? It’s not possible! And
where’s Colin?
(she turns in the direction COLIN and WOLF went)
Colin? Colin! Colin!!! Hello! Wolf? WOLF! COLIN!
MIRANDA: Well, if there is something down there, it certainly knows where we are
now!
(SIMONE subsides and babbles in terror)
SIMONE: Oh, god oh god oh god oh help, oh please oh god (etc)
MAGGIE: Now, Simone, get hold of yourself! Come on now! Miranda, please don’t
wind her up!
MIRANDA: There’s nothing much else to do, is there? Oh alright.
(MIRANDA sits)
Is it my imagination, or is it actually getting a lot colder now? I’m feeling positively
shivery.
26
MAGGIE: No, you’re right. The heating went off a while ago. I wish we had coats
down here with us
MIRANDA: Yes. Not as useful as keys, of course, but it would certainly help not to
freeze to death. I suppose we should try to huddle together a bit.
(they put their chairs as near together as they will go, and sit for a few
seconds in silence, rubbing their hands once or twice. Then SIMONE raises
her head and look off L.)
SIMONE: What was that?
MIRANDA: If you say that once more, Simone, I will make you go and investigate.
SIMONE: No, listen!
(They listen. Faintly and then increasingly slightly in volume, there is a
dragging sound. They watch, frozen in horror for several seconds. Then -
COLIN appears round the end of the stack. He has been feeling his way with
feet and hands in the dark, and breathing hard in his exertions hence the
slithering and monster breathing sounds)
MAGGIE: Colin! You frightened us to death!
COLIN: Sorry, sorry. Oh, am I glad to see you again!. I thought I was stuck down
there in the dark for ever! I’m afraid I dropped your phone, Miranda. It seems to have
broken it. I had to feel my way in the dark. I kept bumping into outsize books, and
unexpected corners. It’s very dark down there. And then the lights went out over
here. I got completely disorientated. I wasn’t even sure what direction I was going in.
Bashed my head at one stage – I think I might have knocked myself out for a second
or so...
MAGGIE: I suppose that’s why you didn’t hear us – we were calling and calling!
SIMONE: But did you find out where Wolf had gone?
COLIN: No. No sign at all. I went right down to the end of the stacks. You were right,
Maggie, it’s just a bare wall at the end. I thought it was, but it’s a while since I’ve
been down. Years. Never had any reason to, you see… But no. No sign of him at
all. It’s as if he’s vanished into thin air. And then I dropped the torch – and –
oooh…spooky or what! I panicked a bit I think.
(He pauses and looks off R for a couple of seconds, shakes his head as if
he’s trying to get something out of his head)
Weird feeling down there.
(He finds a seat and pulls it close into the little group)
27
I think we should just try to keep calm, and breathe slowly – and listen out for
anything untoward.
MIRANDA: Define “untoward”.
COLIN: As far as I’m concerned, nothing from a smallish ghost to the four horsemen
of the
apocalypse would surprise me. But if we just sit here, we can just sit it out until –
someone comes.
SIMONE: Sit it out.
COLIN: Yes. We won’t starve in two days. We’ve still got a bit of water-
MIRANDA: And that’s all we’re going to be drinking, by the way!
COLIN: We’ll be fine. Just sitting.
SIMONE: Just sitting…… In the dark….. Not knowing what’s happened to Wolf, or if
there’s anything – down there. For another two and a half days. Really. Just – sit
here.
MAGGIE: I don’t think there’s any choice, Simone. As long as we stick together-
(There is a loud and terrifying BANG from off R. They jump in terror, and look
in all directions to locate the source of this new threat)
SIMONE: Oh, my God! I can’t stand it.
(She tries to crawl under the chairs. COLIN gets up bravely and walks
towards the stacks.)
COLIN: Hello? Is there anyone there?
(There is the sound of slow, but unfeasibly loud and echoey footsteps coming
down one flight towards the head of the stairs, then a light shines down the
steps, faint then growing and glowing in intensity. Everyone but COLIN
notices it first, and points towards the steps. Then COLIN turns and
approaches the steps. He puts his arm over his eyes, dazzled, the others
gaze in wonder as he stands bathed in a sort of spotlight.)
COLIN: Hello? Please – don’t hurt us – who is that?
VOICE: (local accent, cheery) This is Sam! Sam, the cleaner! Who’s that? What are
you doing down there?
(MAGGIE and MIRANDA stand. MAGGIEgets her bag. SIMONE is still
cowering behind the chairs.)
28
MAGGIE: Oh, thank god! It’s Sam! The cleaner! It’s Sam! It’s Sam!
MIRANDA: Well, glory hallelujah! ....Do you think we could leave now?
SIMONE: What if it’s a trick?
MAGIE: I really don’t think Sam’s into playing tricks, Simone
MIRANDA: Simone. Sam is a cleaner, and that – is a staircase. Not a mysterious
rock formation in Australia, not a dodgy lift down some mine-shaft. Not a submerged
tunnel in Peru. And definitely not a shelf with murderous intentions. Get a grip.
(moving away, under her breath:)
And get a life.
(She moves to the stairs and speaks to COLIN, reclaiming her “charming”
persona)
You did quite well this evening, Colin. Sorry I was a bit doubtful about you. After a
shaky start. I might even put you in my next book!
(She smiles at him and goes upstairs. COLIN swells visibly. SIMONE follows
MIRANDA cautiously and watches as she goes up, then cautiously starts to
creep up the stairs, constantly checking behind her for any pursuing shelf, and
forward for any other danger. She gets to the top, peers round the corner, and
makes a dash for freedom. MAGGIE goes towards the stairs and to COLIN)
MAGGIE: Come on Colin. Let’s get home. You can relax now. Just make sure you
keep your keys on your belt next week.
(COLIN is not really listening, but miles away in his new plans)
COLIN: You know, I think I might retrain. I think I’ve learnt something tonight.
MAGGIE: You did well. What were you thinking – retrain as some kind of therapist?
You really helped to relax us.
COLIN: What? No, no. No, actually, I was thinking I should go back to the army. I
didn’t give it a proper chance last time. But – this time - SAS !
(MAGGIE manages not to roll her eyes)
MAGGIE: Right.
(She sets off upstairs. COLIN glances one last time round at the room, with a
new sense of pride, satisfied, he is obviously thinking “My job here is done!” -
tugs his uniform straight, nods once, firmly and follows MAGGIE upstairs. The
light down the stairs fades to almost nothing. Silence follows for a few
29
seconds. Then – an irregular dragging sound from off L, growing louder, and
after a few more seconds WOLF crawls in, painfully, blackened and ragged,
on his hands and knees. He stops just clear of the stacks and coughs and
gasps, head hanging down, trying to recover his breath, and then, by feel,
hauls himself arse first on to the nearest chair)
WOLF: It’s– alright.... I’ve found – found a way out...(he gasps for breath) –old air
duct in the
ceiling. Had to – climb up ..... on to stacks – then pull off the manhole cover – tore
my fingernails off, I think – but no matter –
(He stops to gasp for breath, then continues, still facing the stacks, and
waving his towards the direction of the stacks L to illustrate his story)
then - crawled up the airduct for about.... sixty feet. Very narrow – very dirty – room
for - just - one at a time – but – need someone to come up and - help get - manhole
cover off at the other end.
(He gasps with the effort of telling his story, then turns towards his
companions, and does a double take realising they’re not there. He looks for
the first time at the empty room. He drags himself to his feet and staggers
slightly. Takes in, and slowly registers the significance of, the still visible light
beaming down the stairs. He doesn’t speak for a few seconds)
Oh, bugger!
(snap blackout)
The End