Working for the Company / by Andrew Shakeshaft

Cast:

ABS - a woman in her 40s. A farmer.
CHARLIE - A business woman.
VICKY - A scientist.
CAILLIE - Abs' daughter.

The play lasts about half an hour. As an all-female play for older students, this is a useful one for GCSE or above as an examination script. Parts are equal and differentiated enough to be challenging and interesting. The play should be performed in a naturalistic style.

Sample Pages from the script

Extract 1

A spotlight comes up slowly on Abs standing, holding a shotgun, barrel down, at her side. She is shouting out into the distance.

ABS
Try it! Next time try it! I'm ready for you... all of you. Blow you apart... spread your brains over the wall! Next time! Next time! [Her voice softens. Speaking to herself.] Next time... next time... yeh.

Abs freezes. A spotlight comes up on Charlie. She is swinging around on a swivel chair and speaking on a hands-free phone.

CHARLIE
What time? Listen, Paul, I need three weeks just to start the computer... listen, I can get you half of the order now, but the rest is going to have to be on trust. Have we got a deal? I need a 'yes' now... I've got companies on the other line who'll buy the lot, Paul... you know l will. Deal? Good.

Charlie freezes. A spotlight comes up on Vicky, standing upstage writing chemical equations on the back wall of the set.

VICKY
Okay. Number one is... PCP... good. Next... co-valent bonds, carbon 12? It used to be called acid, yes... more technical name? No, okay, we'll come back to that one. [Turning round to face the class.] Okay, a simpler one: who here has smoked some form of cannabis? ... Almost everyone, good... next chapter: psychological conditioning... Tony, could you start reading?

Vicky freezes. The lights fade on all but Abs who checks she is finally alone and then turns and walks upstage. The lights open out and reveal the interior of a cottage with a dining table, two chairs and a chest of drawers on which is a kettle. Caillie's making a cup of tea.

CAILLIE
They gone?

ABS
Yeh. Think so.

CHARLIE
You'd think they'd give up, wouldn't you?

ABS
We've got three hundred foot of electric wire out there, and still I need this bloody thing.

She throws the shotgun down next to her. Caillie brings the cups of tea over to the table.

CAILLIE
There you go.

ABS
Don't want one.

CAILLIE
It's a cup of tea.

ABS
The caffeine does my head in. Can't see straight after it. You know they've upped it, don't you?

CAILLIE
What?

ABS
There's three times as much caffeine in one of them than there was five years ago.

CAILLIE
Didn't notice.

ABS
No. 'Cos you're too busy taking all those other tablets. As soon as it all went legal people stopped buying tea, so they had to give you a reason to, so they made it stronger. Coke's got more sugar in than before and cereals... you know what?

CAILLIE
annoyed Yes. Every time you tell me this... every time the gangs try and break into the field I have to listen to your 'nothing's the way it was' speech.

ABS
carrying on Cereals...

CAILLIE
God!

ABS
They're not even allowed to call them cereals anymore, you know why? [Caillie doesn't respond, but mouths Abs' next line along with her.] Because there's not enough cereal in them. [Beat.] 'Morning wakeup biscuits.' Ridiculous!

Pause. Caillie has gone back over to the kettle and is staring out of the window.

CAILLIE
They didn't get in, did they?

ABS
No. Why?

CAILLIE
The light's off.

ABS
getting up hurriedly NO! [She rushes over to the window.] Shit! They've cut the power! [She grabs up the shotgun and goes to run outside with it.]

CAILLIE
I'll call the police.

ABS
Don't waste the phone card... I'll be back in a minute. [She exits.]

CAILLIE
calling after her Don't hurt them! [She realises that Abs hasn't heard.] Damn!

Caillie sits down at the table and sips at her cup of tea. The lights flicker.

CAILLIE
thinking out loud Oops! Wrong cable fellas! Don't want to cut that one too. Different power supplies for the house and the fence.

There is an electrical crack and the lights go out.

CAILLIE
sarcastic Yipee! Thanks for everything.

Three gun shots are heard outside. The last shot is followed by the scream of a young boy. Pause. A light comes up on Charlie, who is attempting to hail a taxi whilst shouting into a mobile phone which is clamped to her ear.

CHARLIE
I don't want his P.A., I want him. Yes, thank you. [Taking the phone away.] Christ! Pay peanuts, get monkeys; pay New Look vouchers, get bimbos... Terry, how are you? Good. I'm about to ruin your day, we've got another one: little farm outside Gloucester, guy was coming over the fence and the yokel blew his brains out... yes, he's dead... People don't tend to function well without brains, Terry, unless they're in your line of work. [Beat.] Sorry, Terry, I'm having a bad day. I'm going to go over there, as soon as I can get a taxi. Call you later, bye! [She hangs up.] Taxi!

A taxi whizzes past her. She calls after it, waving her middle finger at it.

CHARLIE
You too, mate!

Extract 2

She kneels down in front of the cover and lifts it slightly. Calille and Ads wince at the sight, Charlie continues to smile.

CHARLIE
Made a mess of himself, didn't he?

ABS
I shot him.

CHARLIE
Not until the doctor proves it, you didn't. Innocent until proven guilty. Anything could have happened here, and as a company employee, I want to make sure that you have every chance of the truth being discovered.

CAILLIE
He could have slipped. I said that.

CHARLIE
Slipped... a shock jump from the fence... could simply have been legally stoned and thought he could fly... anything!

VICKY
He was shot.

CHARLIE
Before or after he tried to fly?

VICKY
You know I can't tell.

CHARLIE
I know.

CAILLE
Can you say what happened?

VICKY
Not from just looking. I'll have to do some tests.

CHARLIE
Okay. Let's hurry this up, shall we? Mrs Lindley, if you'd like to follow me back into the house and I'll explain the company's insurance policy for these occurrences.

ABS
Insurance... ?

CHARLIE
All will be explained.

Charlie picks her way across the barn and exits. Abs waits.

CAILLIE
It's okay, mum. You go with her. lt's only paper work.

ABS
Okay.

Abs begins to walk towards the exit.

CAILLIE
Don't sign anything though, okay?

ABS
I won't.

Abs leaves. Caillle looks at Vicky.

CAILLIE
Don't mind my mum. She's a bit... since my dad left she's not been the same.

VICKY
Don't worry, I know. My parents split up when I was little, neither of them were ever quite the same again.

Beat.

CAILLIE
What are you looking for?

VICKY
Anything really. Anything-that proves that the only possible way he could have died was from the gunshot.

CAILLIE
Is that likely?

VICKY
No. Virtually impossible. As Charlie said...

CAILLIE
Charlie?

VICKY
The suit with the plastic face.

Gaillie smiles.

VICKY
Anything could have happened to him. Could have just popped a bad tablet - they can stop your heart like... [She snaps her fingers.] ... that.

CAILLIE
I thought-they couldn't any more. Not since-they were legal.

VICKY
Shouldn't be able to, but each of the separate companies are still experimenting with different cocktails, competing with each other as to who can give the biggest high... and some of them still have side-effects. Like on a bottle of aspirin, they have to list the side effects? [Caillie nods.] Well, on the new tabs, one of the side effects is heart arrhythmia.

CAILLIE
What's that!

VICKY
Irregular heartbeat. Could cause a heart attack in extreme cases.

CAILLIE
Is that what happened to him?

VICKY
Can't say for sure... but as long as I can't rule it out, this becomes DMA, and then your mum's no longer liable for it.

CAILLIE
DMA?

VICKY
Death By Misadventure. Sorry - we get so many of these, we've given them an acronym.

Beat

CAILLIE
So she's not going to prison?

VICKY
No.

CAILLIE
But he's dead.

VICKY
I don't like it... [She pauses, waiting for Caillie to supply her name.]

CAILLIE
Caillie.

VICKY
Caillie - but it's the rules. And it's good for you and your mum, isn't it?

CAILLIE
I know.

VICKY
You're just lucky that you're company employees. If you were freelance, they'd have arrested you first and done tests later.

Sample Pages from Production Notes

PRODUCTION NOTES + TECHNICAL CUES etc.

N.B. These notes are suggestions only. You may find them helpful to follow; or they may act as a springboard for your own ideas; or you can choose to ignore them entirely!

INTRODUCTION: THEMES, THE PLAY'S INTENTION.

This play is a 'what - if?'. ...'What if' the growing and processing of cannabis was a government operation and thus big business? Posed in an imaginary not-very-distant future, struggling farmers have been given a new lease of life by working for the Company - a government-backed big firm. Their farms are surrounded by high fences, covered in barbed wire, to deter people from breaking in and plundering the crop for their own use. Preventing break-ins is a major headache since the plants are a constant lure, especially for young drug-users.

Against this background, the details of which emerge through the course of the play, Abs, a single woman and farmer, who lives with her daughter Caillie, has shot and inadvertently killed a would-be thief, who tried to climb the fence in the dark. Cue for the 'Company' to move in and smooth the way for her, certifying the death as an accident or from natural causes, so that Abs will not have to face the police or a murder trial. The horrible efficiency of the Company, as represented by Charlie, is the main point of the play, which shows us how big business is cold and ruthless when it comes to protecting its own concerns. As part of the cover-up, Abs and her daughter are being given a lump sum of money to move elsewhere, far away from any potential come-back or trouble. They will lose their home and everything that means something to them to the Company. Effectively, the Company owns them and there is nothing they can do about.

Or is there? In a twist at the end, and egged on by Vicky,who is a scientist employed occasionally by the Company to 'find' a cause of death other than murder, Abs and her daughter fight back and murder Charlie, with Vicky's help concealing the murder and passing off her body as another accident along with the original young man. Whether they will get away with this or not is unclear. It seems unlikely that they will, with a Company so big and efficient, but that isn't the point of the play. The points are: to show the ruthlessness of big business; to show how individuals can strike a blow for personal freedom; to pose some 'what-ifs' that are quite believable in a not-too-distant future.

CHARACTERS

ABS - is a woman in her forties, a farmer who, having failed to make a go of the family farm and wanting to stay in the place she knows as home, has accepted the government-backed Company offer in order to survive and stay in the house she loves. Not used to the extensive paper-work which she has had to sign she does not understand that in fact she has signed away her rights to her farm along with her personal freedom of choice. The minute something goes wrong - someone gets killed - the Company will move in and take over, calling her lucky to get a golden handshake to be sent away from everything familiar.

Abs is confused by all that has happened to her. She hankers after the past, when everything was simpler, the food was cleaner and additives were kept under control. She is floundering around, aware that things are wrong in this new world, but unable to quite say what, and certainly unable to say what can be done about it.

Though she deteriorates after the murder and becomes rather pathetically dependent on Caillie's strength and clear-thinking to see her through, she is basically a strong character, as is shown by her actions at the beginning of the play. She should be so bewildered and appalled by what she has done, that it has temporarily knocked the stuffing out of her. But there are, and must be, flashes of the strong woman she has always been - the one who booted her husband out. These serve to add depth to the character.

She should be played with a regional accent if possible. Though set near Gloucester, it would be possible to place this anywhere in the country where there are remote farms away from City life. Changing Gloucester to any region would not impede the play in any way.

CAILLIE - is Abs' daughter. She is a strong independent-minded young woman, around 19 or 20, who is not afraid to speak her mind. A chip off the old block, she and Abs are clearly evenly matched at the beginning and used to bouncing arguments off each other. But it is Caillie who steps in and advises her mother later - who shows more awareness of the way things are in this modern world and who won't be conned. Mother and daughter are close and mutually supportive.

Caillie is knocked back by her recognition of the victim. Briefly she becomes a child, wanting comfort - not form her mother, but from the sympathetic Vicky. But she quickly gathers her wits, and it is she who is prepared to carry through the murder of Charlie. She quickly embraces necessity and has the determination to carry it through. A strong manner of speech, again with a regional accent, I think, but perhaps not so pronounced as her mother's. This would emphasise her relative understanding of the modern world, to contrast with the country accent of her mother, which stands for her attachment to the old ways.

CHARLIE - is the business-woman and front person for the Company. It is her job to efficiently sort out any potential problems and to keep the Company's business investments ticking over as smoothly as possible. This also entails making sure there is no slur which can attach to the good name of the Company, by a mistake made by any of its employees. She is a cold, hard woman - more concerned with making money and keeping herself well nipped and tucked, so as to keep her body toned and tanned to as close to perfection as possible. Her money goes towards such selfish ends and she has no sympathy at all with Abs or her daughter. They are just another job to be got through as quickly as possible. Moreover, a pretty boring job, to her, Abs and her daughter are yokels and devoid of any interest.

An unsympathetic character, we have no feeling for her to lament her murder at the end. By murdering her, Caillie, with the support of the others, is killing the Company - or at least as much of it as these `small' people can stand up to.
Charlie should speak in a quite upper-class voice. As a representative of one of `them' as opposed to ordinary people, represented by Caillie and Abs, she should speak with a bored, drawling upper-crust voice, which will underline her patronage and further distance her from the farmers. Such a voice is ideal to emphasise her insincerity, too. When dealing with business, her voice is terse and no-nonsense, hard.

VICKY - is the scientist who admits that, when she was employed full-time by the Company, she was so inundated with bumph, that she had no idea the extent to which she was tied down to working for them. She has tried to escape the clutches of the Company, having decided that what it does is detrimental to the health of young people. But small print has tied her in: she is unable to free herself entirely from their clutches, and must still jump to their tune when called upon. The murder of Charlie, even if a temporary reprieve, is as much a triumph for the individual in Vicky, as it is for Abs and Caillie. Vicky is as much a reluctant prisoner of the Company's net. Aware of the harm these drugs are doing to people, Vicky has begun to work in a rehabilitation centre - another blow against the system which she now so hates.

Vicky is there as a counterbalance to Charlie. Both are aware of the power and the way of working that is the Company. Charlie has embraced its methods and enthusiastically goes along with them. Vicky has rejected its methods - but from a stance of understanding and research - unlike Abs and Caillie, who reject the Company out of sentiment and human emotional feeling. Vicky possesses feelings too, but these are backed up with the reason of her scientific knowledge.
Vicky should speak quite well. It is clear that she could have risen high in the Company; she is a capable, knowledgeable scientist - none better, which is why the Company still uses her, despite her attempts to resign.

Alternatively, one could play Vicky as perhaps having a secret agenda which only becomes clear at the end, after her 'rival' Charlie has been disposed of. There are two ways of looking at Vicky, but whichever way you decide on, she must seem to be perfectly sincere when sympathising with Caillie and her mother.

SETTING

The play is done in a naturalistic style. It requires two distinct settings, plus a number of more anonymous ones. I would suggest that the inside of the barn and the kitchen, two quite specific locations, are permanently set on the playing area. In between them needs to be a space, which can stand for neutral ground as well as being the distance between kitchen and barn. The simplest way of doing this would be as follows:

The inside of the cottage kitchen, which can either be simply done by just using the furniture required, or can show, say, part of the kitchen wall with window.

On the other side of the stage, the interior of the barn, again, either just having some strawbales, old sacking etc. to indicate the interior or having some indication of its composition by having a part of the wooden wall visible.

The easiest way is to stick to light to define the areas, relying on furnishings to give more realism to the areas. Some, however, might prefer to go to town on the setting, with working doors and so on.

Inside the kitchen area you need: good size pine or similar table with chairs round it, at least two; a sideboard or chest-of-drawers - on it, kettle and crockery. Abs and Caillie are poor so crockery should be simply and practical, not matching sets. Aim for a feeling of clutter.

Inside the barn area, you need a few randomly stacked straw bales and some old sacking, coils of baler twine [coloured string], a couple of petrol cans - these sort of things to suggest farm machinery. The bales can act as levels and seating in this area. Prominently, in the centre of this area, is the 'body' wrapped around with sacking. The sacking should look wet in places, and dirty. The wetness is dark - blood. If you have a studio or a stage where the audience is raised looking down on it, have the blood soaked around the body on the floor, and make sure the floor is covered in straw and so on.

If the back of the playing area is raised - i.e. behind the two main playing areas and the central 'open' area, this will be helpful for a number of scenes. On the raised area at the back, the opposite side to the kitchen, let us say USL, place an office swivel chair for Charlie's use. On the opposite side, say USR, have a white board with marker by it, for Vicky's use.

Make sure there is as much of an open area between the two 'rooms' as possible, without squandering space - though the greater playing areas still need to be the kitchen and the barn themselves, since these are the most used.