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Colin Spencer

 

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The Downs Venice
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Excerpt from Asylum

Walking up on to the stage is a woman, she is shoeless and wears a red dress. Her fair hair is cut so short that it clings to her skull and she seems in the stage lights almost hairless. The bones in her face are sharp, her features are proud, rigid and inexpressive; her hands are flat upon her thighs. Then, without a word, she begins to unbutton the dress, to let it fall about her feet.

‘The room was small, the bed should be here on the stage, with a screen, a bowl of water and the lamp, the lamp is important. The lamp must be right,’ This she says to herself. The rest of the players move, weaving a large circle, in the depths of the arena.

Then one of the nurses calls out prompted by a Doctor, he leans over the balcony and says, ‘Cleo, you must start from the beginning. That is important. You promised us, you would start from the beginning.’

She stares up at him, squinting in the light, one hand upon her breast. She says, ‘This is my beginning, here in the room.’

‘Cleo, we must follow it through carefully. You’ll have to do it from your meeting with Max, do you understand?’

She shakes her head. ‘No, no, you’re wrong. We must begin here. In the room, I want the setting, it must be right. I need to begin here. But Carl, look at him, he’s no good, he’s much younger. I want a boy of twelve for this scene. He was only twelve, have you forgotten that?’

‘Cleo,’ the nurse goes on, ‘we haven’t, I’m relieved to say, any one here who is as young as that. When we come to that scene which we’ll do later, you’ll have to imagine the boy.’

‘Dear, dear.’ Doctor Moore whispers, ‘what a monstrous lie.’ And smiling ironically he tugs at the nurse’s coat.

‘What!’ she shouts, ‘imagine the boy?’ and she stamps on the stage. ‘What do you think this is? A game, a charade?’ and then almost whining, she murmurs. ‘It is my life. I can do nothing, nothing, unless it is all there. That scene at least must be right.’ She turns her head and wanders to the back of the stage.

In the arena a man takes a lamp and places a beaded fringe about it. ‘That is right,’ she says triumphantly, pointing, ‘that is how it looked.’

‘From the beginning, Cleo,’ Dr Mount says, patiently.

‘If I start there, then we must be disguised. Do you see?

What is important I must have exactly as it happened, the details must be correct but this, this meeting with Max,’ she says, smiling ‘I’ll show you how we’ll do it.’ She opens the door and walks through saying, ‘I shall want a garden scene.’