Noel Coward’s Benedict Option: on Marriage, the Common Good, Thick and Committed Community, and the Need to Stick With the People Who See Through You

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From Act 1:

###

Liz: It’s very resolute of Fred to go on calling me Miss, isn’t it?

Monica: I think he has a sort of idea that when you gave up being Garry’s wife you automatically reverted to maidenhood.

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Liz: It’s a very pretty thought

Daphne comes out of the spare room in an evening dress and cloak. She is no longer crying but looks depressed. She jumps slightly on seeing Liz.

Daphne: Oh!

Monica: I’m so awfully sorry about the bath, Miss Stillington

Daphne: It didn’t matter a bit

Monica: This is Mrs. Essendine— Miss Stillington,

Daphne: Oh!

Liz (amiably): How do you do.

Daphne (shattered): Mrs. Essendine. Do you mean … I mean . . . Are you Garry’s wife?

Liz: Yes.

Daphne: Oh — I thought he was divorced.

Liz: We never quite got round to it.

Daphne: Oh, I see.

Liz: But please don’t look agitated — I upped and left him years ago.

#####

Garry: Now then, tell me all about everything.

Liz: I saw the play.

Garry: Good?

Liz: Yes, very. We shall have to change it a bit, but Vallion’s quite willing to let us do what we like. But I don’t want to go on about it now until I’ve mulled it over a little more. I’m seeing Morris after lunch.

Garry: I’ve told him I can’t open until November. I must have a holiday after Africa. So there’s lots of time.

Liz: Now I want to talk to you about something else.

Garry: I don’t like that tone at all. What’s on your mind?

Liz: You. Your general behaviour.

Garry: Really, Liz! What have I done now?

Liz: Don’t you think it’s time you started to relax?

Garry; I don’t know what you’re talking about.

Liz: Who was that poor little creature I saw here this morning in evening dress?

Garry: She’d lost her latch-key.

Liz: They often do.

Garry: Now listen to me, Liz

Liz: You’re over forty, you know.

Garry: Only just.

Liz: And in my humble opinion all this casual scampering about is rather undignified.

Garry: Scampering indeed. You have a genius for putting things unpleasantly.

Liz: Don’t misunderstand me. I’m not taking a moral view, I gave that up as hopeless years ago. I’m merely basing my little homily on reason, dignity, position and, let’s face it, age.

Garry: Perhaps you’d like me to live in a bath-chair!

Lk: It would certainly have its compensations.

Garry: It’s all very fine for you to come roaring back from Paris where you’ve been up to God knows what and start to bully me

Liz: I’m not bullying you.

Garry: Yes, you are. You’re sitting smug as be damned on an awful little cloud and blowing down on me.

Liz: Don’t bluster.

Garry: Who went away and left me a prey to everybody? Answer me that!

Liz: I did thank God.

Garry: Well then.

Liz: Would you have liked me to have stayed?

Garry: Certainly not, you drove me mad.

Liz: Well, stop shilly shallying about then and pay attention.

Garry: This, to date, is the most irritating morning of my life.

Liz; I can remember better ones.

Garry: Where were we?

Liz: Be good, there’s a darling— I mean it.

Garry: Mean what?

Liz: Exactly this. You have reached a moment in life when a little restraint would be becoming. You are no longer a debonair, irresponsible juvenile. You are an eminent man advancing, with every sign of reluctance, into middle age.

Garry: May God forgive you.

Liz: Never mind about that, listen. We all know about your irresistible fascination. We’ve watched it going on monotonously for twenty years.

Garry: I met you for the first time exactly eleven years ago next August, and you were wearing a very silly hat.

Liz: Will you be serious. Your behaviour naturally affects all of us. Morris, Henry, Monica and me. You’re responsible for us and we’re responsible for you. You never lose an opportunity of lecturing us and wagging your finger in our faces when we happen to do something you don’t approve of.

Garry: And am I right or am I not? Answer me that!

Liz: Oh, you’re fine when dealing with other people’s problems, but when it comes to your own you’re not so hot.

Garry: Of all the base ingratitude!

Liz: I think the time has come for you to look very carefully at yourself and sec how much you really need all this buccaneering. I personally don’t believe it’s nearly as necessary to you as you think it is. Think what fun it would be to be unattractive for a minute or two. Why you might take to it like a duck to water, and anyhow, it would be a wonderful change.

Garry: Dear Liz. You really are very sweet.

Liz: Oh dear, I might just as well have been talking Chinese.

Garry: Don’t be cross, Liz dear. I do see what you mean, honestly I do.

Liz: That’s rather sudden, isn’t it? After your belligerence of a few moments ago?

Garry (coaxingly): Surely I may be allowed a little change of mood?

Liz: You’re acting again.

Garry: You’ve said some very cruel things to me. I’m upset.

Liz: I wish you were.

Garry: Seriously though, don’t you think you’ve been a bit too hard on me? I admit I’m a trifle feckless every now and then, but I really don’t do much harm to anybody.

Liz: You do harm to yourself and to the few, the very few, who really mind about you.

Garry: I suppose you’ve discussed all this with Monica and Morris and Henry?

Liz: I haven’t yet, but I will unless I see some signs of improvement.

Garry: Blackmail, hey?

Liz: You know how you hate it when we all make a concerted pounce.

From Act III

Henry: Of all the brazen, arrogant sophistry I’ve ever listened to that takes the prize for all time!

Morris: You have the nerve to work yourself up into a state of moral indignation about us when we all know–

Garry: I have not worked myself into anything at all. I’m merely defending my right to speak the truth for once.

Henry; Truth! You wouldn’t recognise the truth if you saw it. You spend your whole life attitudinising and posturing and showing off

Garry: And I should like to know where we should all be if I didn’t! I’m an artist, aren’t 1? Surely I may be allowed a little license!

Morris: As far as I’m concerned, it’s expired.

Liz: For heaven’s sake stop shouting all of you, you’ll have the roof off.

###

Henry (to Garry): And kindly don’t start that old threadbare argument about none of us being able to live and breathe if it wasn’t for your glorious talent.

Garry; How dare you allude to my talent in that nasty sarcastic tone, you ungrateful little serpent!

Morris; Anyhow, if it hadn’t been for out restraining influence you’d be in the provinces by now.

Garry: And what’s the matter with the provinces, may I ask? They’ve often proved to be a great deal more intelligent than London.

Henry: Be careful! Someone might hear.

Garry: I suppose you’ll be saying next that it’s your restraining influence that has allowed me to hold my position as the idol of the public for twenty years

Morris: You’re not the idol of the public. They’ll come and see you in the right play and the right part and you’ve got to be good at that. Look what happened to you in Pity the Blind!

Garry: I was magnificent in Pity the Blind.

Morris: Yes, for ten days.

Henry: If it hadn’t been for us you’d have done Peer Gynt.

Garry: If I so much as hear Peer Gynt mentioned in this house again I swear before heaven that I shall produce it at Drury Lane.

Henry: Not on my money you won’t!

Garry: Your money indeed! Do you think I’m dependent on your miserable money to put on plays? Why there are thousands of shrewd old gentlemen in the city who would be only too delighted to back me in anything I choose to do,

Henry; I think it rather depends whether they are married or not.

Garry: Oh, so we’re back to that again, are we…

[And somehow, somehow, after all is resolved…]

Garry: You’re not really coming to Africa with me, are you?

Liz: Certainly I am. And not only to Africa. I’m coming back to you for good.

Garry: I don’t want you to come back to me. I’m perfectly happy as I am.

Liz: That can’t be helped. You behave abominably anyhow, but you won’t be able to be quite so bad with me there.

Garry: Liz, I implore you not to come back to me. Have you no sympathy? No heart?

Liz: I’m thinking of the good of the firm. That reminds me. I must leave a note for Monica in the office. I want her to ring up the bank for me first thing in the morning.

Garry The office! My God!

Liz: What’s the matter?

Garry (in a hoarse whisper): You’ve got a sofa, haven’t you, in your flat?

Liz: Of course. What are you talking about?

Garry: You’re not coming back to me, dear, I’m coming back to you!

[CURTAIN FALLS]

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