Unknown

Okay. . .so variety is the spice of life, right? So when subjects throw me in the deep end by focusing on two topics I have no clue about – poetry and stage drama – what am I to do? Well, in short, the answer is below. I’ve really enjoyed pushing outside my comfort zone, and I hope you enjoy the drama script for Unknown. I tried to get some sci-fi in there. . .but I guess the best way I can describe it is The Lakehouse with less romance and more nonsensical violence.

You may recognise the poems from the ‘Poetry’ section.

UNKNOWN

An Epistolaric and Poetic Drama

by Nathan Phillips

 

Characters:

An Unnamed Corporal – a 22-year-old disheartened soldier communicating via letter to an unknown future.

An Unnamed Refugee – a 47 year old veteran who has lost her home to yet another conflict, and is struggling with the dilemma of what is best for her family. Trades letters and poetry with a historic soldier of the Western Front.

 

 

 

Set 1: The scene opens to An Unnamed Corporal in the trenches of Passchendaele. He is alone, rifle by his side, and is sitting exhausted against the trench wall facing the audience. Upstage is No Man’s Land. It’s dark and raining as he addresses the audience. Lightning reveals the Hearts and Minds poem as background, each flash showing a different verse.

 

Unnamed Soldier: You write to me of hearts and minds – I’m not sure I have either anymore. Your letters are enough to make me question my sanity, and I’m not sure any of us have the heart to keep fighting.

Some laugh at me, some scowl and say I’ve lost it when I read them your poems. Some weep with me. Maybe I have lost my mind, but you’re the last hope that I have that this all matters. You know what happens, you know if we make any difference to the hell we’ve made of this place.

It might be better if I have lost my mind, if this really is the War to End All Wars. If it is, then you couldn’t be a soldier like us. There would be no need. We would have made a difference and turned the world off fighting forever.

Pause

But I’m cynical, I guess. I can see no-one would want to endure this again, but those that decide, they don’t endure it. How can they understand what it’s like to tread through the shit and the mud of this place? To see the brothers we joined with replaced by kids? To see those kids become men, before more kids replace them again? I don’t want to be replaced! I want to go home and not have any poor bastard take my spot!

Ironic that you already know. Only you can tell me if we made a difference, but if we did, you can’t be real. Or you are lying. If you are real though, it means war still exists and all we’ve done is meaningless.

Pause

I celebrated my nineteenth birthday on the way over here, bile burning through my throat as I heaved over the side of the ship. Davey Harker laughed and told me I should be heaving out behind the pub. He comforted me at the time by telling who’s waiting for him back home. Told him it would be all over by Christmas, and he’d be back to her in no time. He bought it about a year ago.

God, Christmas, the idea of a succulent bit of turkey is torture right now. All we have is this tinned shit, hard as a brick. Not much of a Christmas feast when it comes about.

It’s almost here, and they’re promising again that they’ll end this mess in a few short months. But it’s been too many Christmases since they said it the first time. If they’re right, it’s by luck alone. Even then, it’s hard to believe any of us will make it. Only a handful of us originals remain. The odds of us still being here by then. . .I don’t know.

I know it sounds petty, but I still envy you. Even though I’ve only had one war in my lifetime, – and God I hope it’s the last – you’re with your family. You’ve had them with you the whole time. Every time I read your letters, I yearn for mine. I guess that never changed. Centuries later, are the same, kind of. You still have what I miss. What I may never see again.

But you already know my future, don’t you? It’s the only thing I’ve asked of you, and you haven’t told me yet.

Pause

I just hope that those who do return can convince the rest it isn’t worth it. Not ever again.

 

The background lightens to show the relevant verse of Hearts and Minds as Unnamed Corporal recites it.

Hearts and Minds – Concrete

Concrete 1Concrete 2

 

Set 2: The scene opens to a futuristic, but damaged urban environment. A sunken, broken highway, and bright flashes of an aerial firefight show the verses of Brothers in Arms. The Unnamed Refugee enters Stage Right, crouched and moving to the centre. She stops and addressed the audience.

 

The Unnamed Refugee: There’s a book my grandfather gave me that reminds me of you. ‘We were soldiers once. . .and young’. I accepted more out of grace than interest – it took time to realise what it meant.

You’re right, I have you at a disadvantage. I can look back through the records, see your story, and tell you all about your life. But what is the point? What would I tell you? Do I tell you of how you or your brothers die? Or how about the details of your life? Does telling one infer the other? Should I tell you of the conflicts to come, or let you experience your time with all the genuine surprise, regret, joy, and pain it should entail?

If I could have someone tell me my future, absolve me of making my own decisions, maybe it might be easier. Do I keep going? Stay with my partner and children and hope the battle in the skies above ignore us, or do I take the offer, get back into uniform and fight for them? All the while leaving them abandoned and homeless, wandering through the debris without ever knowing if they’ll see me again. I am old, my reflexes are not what they used to be, and every time we look up another pilot is falling to their death. I might do the same, but it might give my family a future. Just not one with me.

So I understand that you want to know. I want to know as well. But all that I have experienced has led me to a point at which my heart breaks whatever I do. If I already knew what to do and how to react though, it takes the weight of the decision away. And if the fate of my loved ones is no longer a weighty decision, what does that say about me? Does that make me less of a mother? Less of a person?

Pause

I won’t do that to you. I won’t risk taking that true experience of life, no matter how much it irks you. And I know it will, because no soldier likes being kept in the dark. But I know you, and not just because I’ve read you future. We are soldiers, and our decisions have consequences. Should you lose sight of their importance, if I take that responsibility from you, then nothing you do will seem to matter, regardless of the outcome. You will not experiences the moment, but merely pass through it. And we need to experience it, because that’s what lets is hold on to who we are.

That’s what my grandfather’s story was about. The title isn’t a reflection on the past. ‘We were soldiers once’. It’s an identity.

Pause

You will never stop having been soldier. Even if you survive and never put on a uniform again, it will leave its mark. Once a soldier, not always a soldier, but always something different. You write of your brothers, blood or otherwise. That connection you have with them, the one we have, that’s what it’s all based on. Our past informs us. We were soldiers. We can’t change that. Your future will one day become your past – and I won’t ruin that.

The background lightens to show the relevant verse of Brothers in Arms as Unnamed Refugee recites it.

 

 

Brothers in Arms – Pantoum

Brothers eternal, or so we are told

Orders barked at kids, standing awkward in a line

From the day we sign on, until we get old

We are brothers in arms, made so by our time

 

Orders barked at kids, standing awkward in a line

Shrill whistle blows; it’s over the bags

Brothers in arms, made so by our time

Bleeding no more for country or flags

 

Shrill whistle blows; it’s over the bags

Brothers fall and run and fly

Bleeding no more for country or flags

My brothers, in my arms they die

 

Brothers fall and run and fly

From the day we sign on, until we get old

My brothers, in my arms they die

Brothers eternal, or so we are told

 

 

 Set 1, with the verses of Fate in the flashes.

The Unnamed Soldier: I think I’ll call you Atroposthird of the Greek fates, The Inevitable. Don’t be so surprised that I’ve read the classics. Apparently an education doesn’t remove one’s responsibility to catch German bullets. At least, be no more surprised as I am that you won’t tell me my future. My Atropos, who knows my fate but refuses to tell me for fear it will happen anyway. Doesn’t that seem a little contradictory? Just a little self-defeating in the rationale?

The world hasn’t changed so much it seems. To stop a war, we start a war. We’re expected to give our lives to prevent the killing. To preserve our families, we leave them. To keep me hopeful, you refuse to provide the answer I’m so hopeful for. The ironies abound.

You fear I won’t truly experience this life if you tell me, but who would want this life? There is no hope, no future, no point to this bullshit! You can’t take the fucking joy that no longer exists in the depressive bleakness of this life! You keep me ignorant for fear of taking what I lost a long time ago.

Pause

But I do hold out hope for one thing. I wait for the words you send. Ironic, isn’t it? The only hope that remains is for the letter that refuses to give me any, and robs me of any hope for the future.

Pause

I’m sorry. I guess that came out pretty angry. But again, why wouldn’t I be angry? Knowing your reasoning doesn’t make it any less agonising to wonder which bullet will be mine. Accepting my fate doesn’t make me rage at it any less. You write that you know yours. Why can’t I know mine? All I know is that those who never suffer will continue to send us over until one side has nothing left. We’re not here to make a difference or change Europe for any better alternative. You, me, the other side; we’re not here to make a difference, not really. Just to fulfil the egos of King and Kaiser.

You speak of names, places, and ideas unknown to me. Yet you see the same story played out again. And again. Your story is my story, your fight and mine alike.

We may be separated by the centuries, but we’re still part of the same story. Time and time again it plays out, just the names, the details, the justifications differ. No matter when or how it happens though, it all comes out the same.

The Unnamed Soldier reads Fate.

 

 Fate – Glosa (F)

I know that I shall meet my fate,

Somewhere among the clouds above

Those that I fight I do not hate

Those that I guard I do not love;

  • William Butler Yeats (1919)

 

I know that I shall meet my fate,

Though it’s not one I highly rate

It’s stranglehold I have long fought

But pull is strong, the leash it taut

And so knowingly I bear the weight;

I know that I shall meet my fate.

 

Somewhere among the clouds above

The powers enact their push and shove

Vying to sit on a higher throne

Than all others they can look down on

The subjects to whom they show no love

Somewhere among the clouds above

 

Those that I fight I do not hate

Reserved for those that do debate

That justify the acts to violent intent

Their moral compass, broken, bent

Sent them out, then sit back and wait

Those that they fight they do not hate

 

Those that I guard I do not love;

Not the values, the families thereof

If guarding can be what it’s called

For those I love would be appalled

The acts conducted for those above

Those that I guard I do not love.

 

 

Set 1, with the verses of Friends Underfoot in the flashes.

The Unnamed Refugee: In truth, it’s hard to see when I stopped being a soldier, or if I did at all. I have a family, I’ve had several careers – yet it all comes back to that. I wear no uniform, and I serve no generals, not like you. But here I am, still surrounded by the thunderous roar of political egos colliding. Again the young take up arms, wear the uniform and consequences alike. In that, I understand your pain, though you choose to hide it. I see your anger and your apathy for what it is. You are still young. You are still a soldier. You are told time and time again it will end if you keep pushing, if you hold on, if you are courageous enough, faithful enough, strong enough. And you don’t want to believe, knowing what it is to be wrong, but you are young enough to still want to believe as well. It is that irony again I guess.

 Pause

It’s hard to see when we stopped being young too. Was there an age? Was it after our first time we saw real combat? When the bombs and the cannons first drowned each other out, each trying to shout louder than the other? The first time we had to drag a bloodied body back to a medic just to see ‘that’ look of helplessness? Was it when my children first played soldiers, and I was gripped with the fear that they might repeat our mistakes, or when we started losing even the ones that came home?

Maybe that’s what it meant; the book. To be young, to be a soldier, once. It means we came home. Those that remained – they are still soldiers, still young in the eyes of anyone who still remembers them. Maybe that is the yearning, the weariness that we feel. Not a tiredness or a desire to be young again, or to be recognised as a soldier, but wearing the burden that comes when those times collide. The hopefulness of youth – the ones my children still wear – watered down by a thankfulness to survive each day. Or a hope that they would not. I know I was not the only one to slip into that dark place, not so much a desire to take action, but holding out that maybe someone in another uniform would do it for me. Maybe if a bomb fell in the right place, I wouldn’t have to fight anymore.

Pause

My family would never have been, never suffered, and I would have been a soldier, and young, forever.

Pause

But I’m not. I am no longer young nor a soldier, yet here I am again. This time fighting to flee with my family, to keep them from danger. It’s the hardest part – resisting the instinctive pull of returning to uniform, believing I could make a difference, but instead staying with those that matter and getting them to a safe place.

I’m not fighting to advance this time, but to let others retreat, to run, to find somewhere we can start a safe life. Somewhere the fight won’t follow me this time. Like it won’t follow you.

I want you to write back again, I really do. I want to read of the pain, joy, tears and laughter your life could have entailed. I want to tell you how you helped me choose family over the fighting. But in the end, it’s your fate that has influenced mine. I can’t tell you how much it hurts knowing you will never receive this letter. I know if I go back, I will die in service yet achieve nothing.

Pause

So I will tell you, finally and with futility, that your fight, your death – it did mean something. It saved me from giving in again to war.

You are young, and you are a soldier. May you know peace, and see your friends again, as you remain so forever.

 

Lights fade to black.

The Unnamed Refugee reads Friends Underfoot.

 

 

Friends Underfoot – Triversen

The mud and sludge

and blood and crunch

of frost and friend underfoot.

 

Merry Christmas

I say as I pass

leaving them forever.

 

Advancing always,

the General’s needs

and his will done.

 

Still, we go forwards,

– volunteered or fated? –

until we’re gone.

 

To end all wars is

a noble aim but what

ends alongside?

 

There is no more mud

sludge, or blood

for frost or friends underfoot.

 

Curtains.

 

 

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