I recently submitted a script to the SKY Comedy REP scheme, where nine writers with little or no playwriting experience got the chance to develop one act comedy plays with pros like Meera Syal (Goodness Gracious Me, The Kumars), Simon Blackwell (The Thick of It, Veep) and Guz Khan (Man Like Mobeen). The nine plays are to be performed at a three-day SKY Comedy REP Festival at the Birmingham REP next year and the writers will get paid for it, which is always nice. As someone with no playwriting experience whatsoever I thought I’d have a crack at it. Sadly, I didn’t get through to the final nine, but did have a lot of fun writing for a different medium.
The brief was to write a three page sample script that involves a meeting on a park bench. Rather than send my (unsuccessful) effort off to some cloud-based knacker’s yard, I thought it might be fun to post it here.
So that’s what I’ve done:
DANNY: 30, male. Bookshop Assistant Manager
SARAH: 28, female. Regional Head of Marketing of a major blue chip company and Danny’s soon-to-be former fiancée
BERT THE BENCH: A park bench possessed by the ghost of a 1930s Aston Villa footballer.
Cannon Hill Park in present day Birmingham, England. DANNY paces back and forth near a park bench, having a heated conversation on his mobile phone with SARAH.
I don’t understand, Sarah, I thought you were happy. I thought we were happy. We were supposed to be getting married next year.
I’m in the park. Liz let me finish early. There was a bomb scare in the bookshop, a suspicious package in the Self-Help section.
I don’t know why they’d plant it there, I’m not some terrorist prankster. Maybe they don’t like Louise L Hay.
It’s a joke, Sarah, I know she’s your hero. (Pause) Why are you talking about her in the past tense?
(Long pause, he squirms)
Oh God, I’d forgotten she’d died. I’m so sorry. (Low battery beep from his phone, he ignores it) That was a very confusing time for me, I was still getting over Bowie and Prince-
Why am I in the park? Because I’d finished work early and the weather was nice. Thought I’d get off the bus on the way home and go for a walk.
It’s not weird! I didn’t know you were planning on dumping me. If I knew that I’d have come straight home.
I’m not being facetious. Well, maybe a bit facetious.
(Long pause as he becomes more agitated. He’s clearly getting grilled)
You think I’m disorganised? You used to say I was spontaneous! I know what this is: you’re rebranding me! I’m not disorganised, I’m- (Another low battery beep, but this time he checks) Oh, no – my phone’s at 2%!
I can’t charge it, I’m in the middle of a park!
What, the portable charger you got me as a Valentine’s gift? I don’t have it on me. I think it’s in my desk at work. It could probably do with a charge.
I’m sorry, Sarah, I didn’t mean what I said about Louise Hay. Are you still there, Sarah? Sarah?! (Stares at phone, slumps onto bench, sobs)
DANNY looks up, his eyes dart from left to right
BENCH: Would you mind – you’re sitting on my larynx.
DANNY: Who said that?
BENCH: Me. I did. Now budge over to the left a bit.
Budge over to the…? (He gets up, examines the bench). Is this a wind-up? Is there a spotty YouTuber hiding in the bushes? (Raises his voice) Stranger shaming is not cool, kids! (He crouches behind the bench, looks underneath) I bet there’s a Bluetooth speaker under here.
BENCH: Oi, stop looking up at my private parts!
DANNY: (Jumps back, horrified) Who said that? Where are you?
BENCH: I said it and I’m right here. I’m the park bench.
DANNY: Don’t be ridiculous, benches can’t talk!
BENCH: Who told you that? Bet it wasn’t a bench.
DANNY: Of course it wasn’t a bench!
BENCH: Let me guess: because benches can’t talk? So you keep saying.
DANNY: Because it’s true!
No it’s not. Benches can talk, it’s just that we don’t like to talk about it. But you lot just see what you want to see and hear what you want to hear. Bet that’s why your bit of stuff showed you the door.
DANNY: (Aghast) ‘My bit of…’ what? You can’t say that about Sarah!
BENCH: Why, cos I’m a bench?
DANNY: No, because it’s massively sexist!
BENCH: You said that benches can’t talk, yet here you are policing my language.
DANNY: I’m not policing anyone’s – argh – this is infuriating!
BENCH: It’s not a walk in the park for me, either, Danny. Mind you, being a park bench I don’t really get to walk in the park.
DANNY: (Sits on bench, hesitates, then budges over to the left a bit) I must be going mad. Wait, how do you know my name?
I’ve had people scratch their names into me for years, so I’ve developed quite a feel for the topic. You’re not losing your marbles, Danny. You can’t normally hear us because we’re on a different vibrational frequency. In certain circumstances, though, regular folk can hear us talk. Like when they’re drunk, or when they’ve just been dumped.
DANNY: Oh thanks.
Don’t mention it. Cats can hear us, too, but cats can hear everything. They don’t miss a trick, those blighters. Don’t know what we’re saying, of course, because they’re cats.
You said I was sitting on your larynx, but you’re made of wood and metal and bits of old chewing gum. Why would you even need a larynx?
BENCH: Same reason as you do, sunshine. So I can talk.
DANNY: It’s weird. I can feel your voice vibrating through the wood.
BENCH: (Snorts) I bet you can, you dirty bleeder!
DANNY: (Groans) So how long have you been doing this?
Long enough to remember when all this was fields, but that was before I was a bench. Technically speaking it’s all fields now, of course, but with a duck pond and an award-winning arts centre. I suppose a park’s just a well-groomed field with accessories.
DANNY: So, you weren’t always a bench?
No, I used to be one of you lot, a person. Born and raised around here. Wasn’t the assistant manager at some fancy bookshop, though.
DANNY: What were you, then?
BENCH: I was a professional footballer.
DANNY: A footballer?
That’s right, and quite the star attraction around these parts. Bert Butcher, centre-forward with 43 international caps to my name and my face on many a cigarette card. But I bet you don’t like football.
DANNY: What makes you think that?
BENCH: I can tell. You’ve got that look about you.
DANNY: Oh, right, so you can see as well as talk? Wooden eyes to go with your wooden larynx?
Don’t be ridiculous. I’m a park bench. I’m made of wood and metal and bits of old chewing gum. I’m as blind as a cricket bat.
And that’s where I reached the end of my third page and had to leave it. There’s quite a few scribbled notes about Bert’s backstory and my rather elaborate bench-based afterlife system which may be recycled in modified form elsewhere. I wanted to get Sarah to the park so she could confront Danny (with Bert acting as a no-nonsense relationship counsellor), but hadn’t quite worked out the logistics.