Dancer

by Andrew J. Müller

THE CHARACTER

JILL LEYLAND

A Dancer (aged 33) crippled in an accident when she was 29. She has just tried to commit suicide and is laying in intensive care in a hospital. Her spirit, in the wheelchair, comes in and begins to tell her story.

NON-SPEAKING ROLE: - A Nurse who enters the ward at the end of the play.

THE SCENE: An individual hospital room. There is a bed, upon which lays a young woman surrounded by life support systems. The only sound is the respirator pumping up and down and the beep of the cardiograph. The room is darkened, light coming in through a window with a shuttered blind.

Enter JILL in a wheelchair. She has to struggle to get it through the door

JILL : NOT EVEN A HOSPITAL… NOT EVEN A HOSPITAL HAS DOORS YOU CAN FIT A BLOODY CHAIR THROUGH.

She wheels the chair up to the bed and looks at the figure of the woman, who is also Jill, but bruised and with a shaven head.

JILL : GOD LOOK AT ME! (She addresses the camera/audience) THAT’S ME THAT IS. LOOK AT ME — NOT VERY PRETTY IS IT. STILL, SINCE I’VE BEEN IN THIS CHAIR (She slaps the arm of the chair) NO ONE’S THOUGHT OF ME AS PRETTY ANYWAY. (She leans forward to study the unconscious her’s face) MIND YOU, I SHOULDN’T BE SO SHOCKED, I DID JUMP OFF A BALCONY. IT’S A BASTARD REALLY THAT I DIDN’T DIE. THAT WAS THE GENERAL IDEA. WHO’D’VE THOUGHT A CRIPPLE SLINGING HERSELF OFF A THIRD FLOOR BALCONY WOULD SURVIVE. I CERTAINLY DIDN’T.

I’M SURE YOU’RE WONDERING WHAT BROUGHT ME HERE. WHY I SHOULD WANT TO TAKE MY OWN LIFE AT 33? WELL, I’LL TELL YOU PRESENTLY — BUT FIRST I’LL HAVE TO TELL YOU ABOUT WHAT I WAS BEFORE I WAS THIS RUINED SHELL.

She wheels the chair over to the window and opens the blinds. Sunlight floods in.

JILL : 33 YEARS AGO I WAS BORN IN A LITTLE TOWN IN DERBYSHIRE. IT WAS A GOOD CHILDHOOD, 'TIL I WAS 9 WHEN WE HAD TO MOVE TO MANCHESTER 'COS DAD GOT A JOB THERE. MANCHESTER WAS GREY AND WET AND THE AIR WASN’T SWEET LIKE IN MY DEAR DERBYSHIRE HILLS. SCHOOL WAS HELL AND I STARTED SLAGGING OFF. HAH! THAT DIDN’T GO DOWN TO WELL WITH THE FOLKS I CAN TELL YOU. WHEN I WAS 14 I LEFT SCHOOL AND DIDN’T GO BACK; DAD THREW ME OUT WHEN I WAS 16 AND I DID THE ONLY THING I THOUGHT OF TO DO. I CAME DOWN TO LONDON.

MAN, IF I THOUGHT MANCHESTER WAS GREY LONDON WAS LIKE NOTHING ON EARTH. YOU COULD CRUNCH THE AIR AND DEVELOP PHOTOS IN THE THAMES. THE UNDERGROUND SMELT OF PISS AND I HAD NO MONEY. FUNNY THOUGH, IT WASN’T 'TIL I GOT TO LONDON THAT I FOUND I COULD DANCE. I’D NEVER THOUGHT I WAS A DANCER, NO MORE THAN ANY OTHER TEENAGER IN THE LOCAL CLUBS ANYWAY. BUT ONE DAY THERE WERE AUDITIONS ON AT SOME LITTLE PIT OF A DANCE SCHOOL. I WENT IN BECAUSE IT WAS RAINING.

SOMETHING THEY SAW WHEN I SHAMBLED AROUND ON STAGE CONVINCED THEM TO TAKE ME ON. SO I STARTED TO DANCE WITH THIS LITTLE SCHOOL. WE DID SHOWS, NOTHING FANCY BUT ONE DAY I WAS SEEN BY A TALENT SCOUT. THEY WHISKED ME AWAY TO PARIS, WHERE I DANCED AT THE LIDO AND THE MOULIN ROUGE. I MADE A LOT OF MONEY AND A NAME FOR MYSELF.

OH WHAT TIMES! I CAN REMEMBER STAYING UP NON-STOP FOR THREE DAYS. IN THE CAFES DURING THE DAY, DOING THE SHOW, GOING OUT IN THE NIGHT IN THE CLUBS AND BARS AROUND PIGALLE. WE’D GET SO SMASHED AND GO UP TO MONTMARTE, TAKE DRUGS AND SHAG AROUND THE BACK OF THE SACRE COUER. I WOKE UP A FEW TIMES IN THE CELLS TOO! HAH!

She pauses for a while, looking out of the window. From her pocket she draws some tobacco and rolls herself a cigarette. She takes a couple of drags before continuing.

JILL : I WANTED IT TO GO ON FOREVER. BUT IT DIDN’T OF COURSE. MUM GOT ILL AND DIED, AND I HAD TO GO HOME. (She pauses reflectively) ENGLAND SEEMED SO DARK THEN, MANCHESTER WAS NEVER WETTER OR LESS PLEASANT THAN THE DAY OF THE FUNERAL. MY SISTERS AND BROTHER ALL CAME HOME AND DAD — I CAN STILL SEE HIS FACE, THE COLD EMPTY LOOK. HE NEVER CRIED, NOT ONCE. NOT EVEN WHEN THAT BOX WENT INTO THE GROUND. BUT HE NEVER REALLY SMILED AGAIN. THEY MIGHT AS WELL HAVE BURIED HIM. HE WAS GONE WITHIN A FEW MONTHS TOO. I ALWAYS THOUGHT IT WAS BOLLOCKS, YOU KNOW, THAT YOU CAN DIE OF A BROKEN HEART. 'TIL I SAW IT HAPPEN. I NEVER GOT BACK TO PARIS AGAIN, SOMETHING CHANGED WHEN MUM AND DAD DIED, SOMETHING I NEVER COULD WORK OUT.

I HAD TO DANCE SOMETHING ELSE, NO MORE CABARET. I BEGAN TO DO SERIOUS DANCING; MODERN BALLET, THAT KIND OF STUFF. THREW MYSELF INTO IT. THAT WAS ABOUT WHEN I LOST ALL MY FRIENDS I SUPPOSE; I WAS A REAL CLASS DICKHEAD. I WENT ALL ARTY, AND ALL MY MATES THOUGHT I HAD MY HEAD STUCK UP MY ARSE — WHICH I KINDA DID I SUPPOSE.

The cigarette comes to its end. She takes a last long drag and stubs it out on the arm of the wheelchair. For a few moments it is completely silent, save the beep-beep-beep and the pump and suck of the respirator.

JILL : I WAS STILL A BABE THEN, OF COURSE. THE MEN COULDN’T LEAVE ME ALONE. (She smiles a wolfish smile) I TOOK ADVANTAGE OF THAT I CAN TELL YOU! I GOT TO BE A REGULAR IN THE PAPERS, OH YEAH. WHAT MAN WOULD I HAVE ON MY ARMS THIS WEEK — YOU KNOW THE SCENE. OF COURSE, IT WAS ALL HOLLOW, I DIDN’T LOVE ANY OF THEM. I DIDN’T EVEN LIKE A LOT OF THEM. THEY WERE ALL IN IT FOR THE GLAMOUR, AND FOR THE CHANCE OF SHAGGING A DANCER. I WAS FIT, BEAUTIFUL AND WILLING. I GOT TO BE A STAR, AND NO ONE CARED IF I COULD DANCE OR NOT.

She moves the chair over to the cabinet by the bed, opens it and starts taking stuff out. The first thing is a crumpled programme from a show, "Romeo and Juliet". She lays it on her legs and tries to smooth it out.

JILL : OH, WHEREFORE ART THOU…? IT’S FUNNY WHAT YOU HAVE IN YOUR POCKETS WHEN YOU’RE GONNA KILL YOURSELF. THIS WAS WHEN I MET BEN. HE WAS TYBALT AND I WAS JULIET, NATURALLY. HE WASN’T REALLY PRETTY. HE WAS JUST SWEET, THOSE BIG BLUE EYES OF HIS; ICE TO MY FIRE. (She studies the programme) I CAN REMEMBER WHEN THEY STABBED TYBALT ON THE OPENING NIGHT, THE AUDIENCE, I’VE NEVER SEEN AN AUDIENCE LIKE IT…PEOPLE WERE CRYING. I’VE NEVER SEEN ANYONE CRY IN LONDON — WELL, NOT OUT IN THE HOUSE ANYHOW, ONLY BACKSTAGE. DANCERS, YOU KNOW, THEY’RE A BIT NEUROTIC AT THE BEST OF TIMES…SO TEARS WERE COMMONPLACE…CONSTANT REALLY.

I CAN REMEMBER ONE GIRL, KERRY SILVER, HER NAME WAS. SHE WAS CAST AS THE NURSE, AND I WAS SUCH A BITCH TO HER. I USED TO DELIBERATELY MISS-TIME MY ENTRANCES, LEAVE HER STANDING FRONT OF HOUSE LIKE A SPARE PART. (A tear runs down Jill’s cheek) SHE BROKE DOWN IN THE END, AND WENT BACK TO BRISTOL WHERE SHE CAME FROM. EVERYONE SAID SHE COULDN’T COPE WITH THE FAME. I KNEW THE TRUTH — SHE COULDN’T COPE WITH ME.

BEN THOUGH, BEN KNEW TOO. HE KNEW AND HE DIDN’T CARE. HE WAS LIKE ME. HE LIVED FOR THE DANCING; WE WERE BOTH OBSSESSIVE. WE HAD TO END UP TOGETHER. THERE WASN’T REALLY ANYTHING ELSE TO DO.

She goes back to the cabinet and takes out her wallet. She opens it up and takes out a small picture of Ben and herself.

JILL : LOOK AT HIM. GOLDEN HAIRED BASTARD THAT HE WAS! WE FOUND SOMETHING OTHER THAN DANCING TO BE OBSSESSED WITH. COULDN’T KEEP US APART. IT WAS UNBELIEVABLE. I WAS SO IN LOVE, AND I WAS SO FAMOUS. I HAD MY OWN SHOW…MY OWN SHOW! WE OPENED AT THE PALLADIUM, AND ON THE THIRD NIGHT I HAD MY ACCIDENT. I MISSED A JUMP, STUMBLED AND FELL INTO THE ORCHESTRA PIT. APPARENTLY THE PLACE WENT DEATHLY QUIET. I WAS OUT COLD. WHEN I WOKE UP I WAS LAYING IN A HOSPITAL BED. (She looks at the bed in front of her) A BIT LIKE THIS ONE, BUT WITHOUT ALL THE BEEPING THINGS. I COULDN’T FEEL MY LEGS…I NEVER FELT MY LEGS AGAIN.

(She sighs, pauses and then continues)

I BROKE MY BACK IN TWO PLACES BY FALLING ONTO A TUBA. A TUBA NO LESS! NOT EVEN A VERY USEFUL INSTRUMENT. WISH IT HAD BEEN SOMETING MORE GRACEFUL, A HARP OF SOMETHING. BUT NO IT WAS A DAMNED GREAT BIG BRASS TUBA. IT SMASHED MY LOWER BACK TO SMITHEREENS. WHEN I WOKE UP I HAD A BACK LIKE THE EIFFEL TOWER. OF COURSE I WASN’T GOING TO DANCE AGAIN, I WASN’T GOING TO WALK AGAIN, LET ALONE DANCE.

I CAN REMEMBER BEGGING BEN TO KILL ME, OR MAKE THE DOCTORS INJECT SOMETHING INTO ME OTHER THAN PAINKILLERS. FUNNY, BEN WAS SO SUPPORTIVE THEN. TOLD ME I’D COME THROUGH IT — THAT I’D FIND SOMETHING ELSE, CHOREOGRAPHY OR SOME SUCH. HAH! LIKE YOU CAN TEACH DANCE FROM A WHEELCHAIR.

She rolls and lights another cigarette, and with the lit match she sets the picture in her hands on fire and watches it burn away, dropping the butt end of it onto the floor.

JILL : (Ironically to herself) I’D STUB IT OUT, BUT UNLESS I RUN IT OVER A FEW TIMES I CAN’T.

SO THEY GOT ME HOME. BEN, MY SISTERS, MY BROTHER AND THE HANGER’S ON WHO WERE AFTER A CUT OF THE INSURANCE — WHICH I CAN TELL YOU WAS A TIDY AMOUNT. I WAS 29. I WAS THE MOST FAMOUS DANCER IN THE WORLD, AND I COULDN’T STAND UP. THE IRONY WASN’T LOST ON ME. STRANGE, BUT THEN I TREATED IT LIKE A SICK JOKE. I’D LAUGH, ALL SHAME FACED, WHILE THE OTHERS DIDN’T QUITE KNOW WHERE TO PUT THEIR FACES. UP THEIR OWN ARSES! THAT’S THE SOLUTION I WOULD HAVE COME UP WITH. WHAT A BUNCH OF SYCOPHANTS. NOT ONE OF THEM GAVE A TOSS ABOUT THIS POOR CRIPPLED GIRL, THEY USED TO TALK ABOUT ME WHILST I WAS THERE — LIKE I COULDN’T HEAR THEM, LIKE IT WAS MY EARS THAT HAD STOPPED WORKING RATHER THAN MY LEGS. GOD ONLY KNOWS I WISHED IT WAS!

(A long drag from the cigarette with shaking hands)

SO EVERYDAY I SAT IN OUR BIG HOUSE IN HAMPSTEAD, AND WATCHED THEM ALL GO OFF TO WORK. BEN WENT OFF TO DANCE, AND WOULD COME HOME AND TELL ME ALL ABOUT IT. I THOUGHT AT THE TIME HE WAS JUST BEING A BIT THOUGHTLESS, BUT NOW I KNOW…NOW I KNOW IT WAS DELIBERATE.

THE BASTARD WAS ENJOYING THE SYMPATHY HE WAS GETTING…THE POOR LOVER OF THE TRAGIC CRIPPLED DANCER. HE WAS ENJOYING THE SYMPATHY FROM ALL THE WOMEN IN PARTICULAR. BELIEVE ME, IT’S A REAL DOWNER WHEN YOU LEARN THAT YOU’RE BEING CHEATED ON BY READING THE NEWS OF THE WORLD. IT’S NOT MUCH BETTER WHEN IT TURNS OUT IT’S YOUR SISTER.

I STILL CAN’T GET MY HEAD AROUND IT. IT WAS LIKE THEY’D BEEN WAITING FOR MY ACCIDENT. IF I WAS PARANOID I’D SAY IT WASN’T AN ACCIDENT. BUT IT WAS ONLY MY BODY THAT GOT CRIPPLED NOT MY MIND. NO, SCRUB THAT. I RECKON MY MIND DID GET CRIPPLED, AND BIG TIME TOO. IT REALLY FUCKS WITH YOUR HEAD HAVING YOUR WHOLE WORLD TORN OUT FROM UNDERNEATH YOU. WAKING UP AND FINDING OUT THAT WHAT YOU LIVED FOR YOU COULDN’T DO ANYMORE. LIKE A PAINTER GOING BLIND, OR A MUSICIAN LOOSING A LIMB.

BUT YEAH, IT TURNS OUT THEY WERE AT IT LIKE RABBITS BEFORE I EVEN GOT OUT OF THE HOSPITAL. SYMPATHY! SYMPATHY! WHAT ABOUT SOME SYMPATHY FOR ME, EH, CAROLINE? WHAT ABOUT A BIT OF THOUGHT FOR YOUR SISTER? THE ONE YOU SHARED A ROOM WITH, THE ONE YOU SHARED YOUR ROTTEN CHILDHOOD WITH. COULDN’T BEAR TO EVEN TALK TO ME COULD YOU? I SHOULD THINK NOT TOO. AT FIRST I TRIED TO IGNORE IT, AND BEN STARTED BRINGING WOMEN HOME, WHEN HE THOUGHT I WASN’T AWAKE, OR COULDN’T HEAR THEM SCREWING ON MY BED, IN MY BEDROOM. HE KNEW. HE KNEW I COULDN’T BURST IN AND FIND THEM, HE THOUGHT HE COULD GET AWAY WITH IT.

I DIDN’T THROW HIM OUT. ROBERT DID IT IN THE END. ROBERT’S MY BROTHER. HE WAS THE ONLY ONE WHO REALLY UNDERSTOOD I THINK. HE’S A WRITER, SO PERHAPS HE COULD UNDERSTAND. UNDERSTAND WHAT HE WOULD FEEL LIKE IF HE COULDN’T WRITE ANY MORE. HE BEAT BEN WITHIN AN INCH OF HIS LIFE AND THREW HIM INTO THE STREET. IT’S FUNNY, ISN’T IT, THAT NO MATTER HOW MUCH YOU HATE SOMEONE YOU CAN STILL LOVE THEM. HOW YOU LONG FOR SOMEONE TO LEAVE AND WHEN THEY’VE GONE ALL YOU WANT IS THEM BACK AGAIN. IT’S LIKE WE ENJOY THE SUFFERING.
PERHAPS WE DO.

ANYWAY, WHEN BEN LEFT SO DID THE LAST LINK WITH DANCE, AND THE LAST OF MY LIFE. I BECAME A CURIOSITY TO THE PEOPLE WHO HAD PREVIOUSLY THOUGHT ME AN ICON. IT WAS LIKE BEING IN A ZOO. GAWPING PEOPLE WOULD COME AROUND TO SEE THE GREAT DANCER FALLEN, LIKE A REDWOOD CUT DOWN IN ITS PRIME. LIKE I WAS A FREAK SHOW. "ROLL UP! ROLL UP! COME AND SEE THE DANCER WITHOUT LEGS! WONDER AT HOW SHE SPINS IN HER CHAIR…"

She chokes on her words and the tears begin the flow really freely. As she weeps she spits words out venomously.

JILL : REPORTERS! TV SHOWS! GLOSSY BLOODY MAGAZINES! LET’S COME IN AND TAKE SOME PICTURES OF THE TRAGIC STAR AT HOME. OH, WE’RE RUNNING A STORY ON HOW BEING IN A WHEELCHAIR ISN’T GOING TO AFFECT YOUR LIFE. ISN’T GOING TO AFFECT YOUR LIFE?! WHAT A BUNCH OF PATRONISING BLOODY GITS. HOW DARE THEY INSULT ME! HOW DARE THEY INSULT EVERYONE IN A WHEELCHAIR. WHO DO THEY THINK THEY’RE TALKING DOWN TO.

OH, WE’RE DOING IT FOR THE GOOD OF ALL WHEELCHAIR USERS. RIGHT, YOU AREN’T DOING IT TO SELL PAPERS THEN? OR GET HIGHER RATINGS THAN THE OTHER CHANNEL? OF COURSE NOT.

She takes out her tobacco again and tries to roll another cigarette, but her nerves have got too fraught and she fumbles with the packet, dropping it, sending tobacco flying over the floor. She wheels the chair backwards and tries to reach down to retrieve the spilt tobacco. She can’t bend down far enough, the chair starts to tip and she has to put and hand out to the bed to stop from toppling out.

JILL : (Leaning on the bed, looking straight down into the darkness on the floor) FUCK, FUCK, FUCK, FUCK. I CAN’T EVEN ROLL A FUCKING FAG. (She pushes herself back upright and starts hammering on her legs with her fists) MOVE DAMN YOU! MOVE! IT JUST ISN’T FAIR! IT’S NOT … BLOODY … FAIR.

Her words peter out and she sobs uncontrollably. After a while she calms down and takes a long, deep, shuddering breath.

JILL : SO NOW YOU KNOW. NOW YOU KNOW WHY I THREW MYSELF OFF A BALCONY. WHAT ELSE WAS THERE ANY POINT IN DOING? WHAT DID I HAVE LEFT TO ME? MEMORIES? WHAT GOOD ARE THEY TO ANYONE?

IT WASN’T EVEN EASY TO DO THAT. I KNOW WHAT THEY MEAN BY DEAD WEIGHT. HAH! DEAD WEIGHT, YEAH. I HAD TO PULL MYSELF UP OUT OF THIS STINKING, FETID PRISON OF A CHAIR, DRAG MYSELF UP ONTO THE RAIL AND BY THAT TIME I HAD NO STRENGTH LEFT TO REALLY LAUNCH MYSELF OFF. NO BIG SPECTACULAR CURTAIN CALL, JUST A SLUMP. AN UNDIGNIFIED FLOP OFF THE RAILING. HOW TELLING! HOW APPROPRIATE. LET IT END LIKE MY LIFE HAD BECOME, A BIG BUILD UP AND JUST WHEN GLORY ARRIVES IT TAILS OFF IN IGNOMY AND UGLY MOTION.

HOW GRACEFUL THE GREAT DANCER, FALLING LIKE A SACK OF SPUDS OFF A SHELF. I WANTED TO FLY GRACEFULLY THROUGH THE AIR LIKE A BIRD SHOT DOWN IN FLIGHT. TO DIVE INTO THE PAVEMENT AND SMASH MY SKULL TO SMITHEREENS. A BIG SPECTACULAR RED FINALE.

OH NO. I COULDN’T EVEN HAVE THAT. THESE USELESS LEGS WOULDN’T EVEN LET ME HAVE THAT. I LANDED ARSE FIRST. OH I SMACKED MY HEAD ON THE PAVEMENT ALL RIGHT, BUT ALL IT DID WAS SHAKE MY SKULL AROUND. IT WASN’T CLEAN. EVEN THIS WASN’T CLEAN. I JUST WANTED TO FINISH IT…NOT END UP HERE, TRUSSED UP LIKE SOME MACABRE CHRISTMAS TREE. ALL THESE ELECTRONICS KEEPING ME ALIVE, METAL LUNGS, METAL HEART, METAL SPINE. BUT STILL MY BRAIN, STILL IN THERE. TRAPPED LIKE SOME CRAB IN A KID’S BUCKET.

WELL, I WON’T HAVE THAT. I WON’T.

She angrily tears the drips out of her recumbent body’s arm. Then she goes over to the machines and starts hitting buttons angrily. The respirator wheezes and goes off. The cardiograph starts to make erratic noises.

JILL : I’M NOT GOING TO END UP SOME VEGETABLE, MOULDERING AWAY IN THIS BLOODY ROOM. I’M A STAR! STAR’S DON’T DIE LIKE THIS. THEY DIE SPECTACULARLY! THEY WON’T KEEP ME ALIVE. I’M DOING THIS RIGHT. I’M DOING IT RIGHT THIS TIME. (All the while her voice is shaky and a bit crazed).

Jill wheels the chair back over to her body and takes hold of her own hand. She leans as far forward as she can without coming out of the chair and puts her face to her hand, laying her head sideways on, almost as if she is listening for her own pulse in the back of her recumbent self’s hand.

The cardiograph’s beeping gets fainter and less consistent.

JILL : IT’S OVER NOW. PERCHANCE TO DREAM, FAIR JULIET.

As the cardiograph stops working and just does the continuous tone with the flatline the Jill in the wheelchair starts to become indistinct, fading away, as like a ghost.

JILL : OKAY FELLAS, YOU CAN BRING THE CURTAIN DOWN NOW.

She fades away as her body dies. We see the last breath go out of her body. Switch to POV above (as if from ceiling perhaps) as a nurse enters and rushes to the body, and begins to try to revive Jill.

END CREDITS.

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© Text copyright - Raving Loony Productions and Andrew J. Müller
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2009


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