Photograph by Chandrika Narayanan-Mohan
On Sunday 24th June 2018, Fishamble and Irish Rail partnered to create a day-long playwriting workshop between Dublin and Bray called #PlaysonaTrain, taking place on train carriages and in Bray itself. 9 playwrights were chosen from a social media competition, and by the end of the day these playwrights had each written a short play based on trains.
Play on a Train by Saoirse Anton
Characters: Áine – An older woman. Dressed in earthy, ethereal clothes.
Síofra – A younger woman. Dressed with hints of the ethereal, but with more concession
to conventional fashion.
Early morning, between moonlight and sunlight.
A train carriage, two seats facing each other with a table in between. Áine pre-set in one sat. Some time before Síofra enters. Síofra enters, a black box clutched tightly in her arms. She is nervous but determined. She has the air of someone who was once strong but has been worn down. She is a woman escaping something. Áine notices Síofra, she knows something that we (and maybe Síofra) don’t know yet. Síofra notices Áine and there is a moment of strong connection, verging on recognition between them. Síofra sits opposite Áine, the box still clutched in her arms.
Áine (A): Morning
Síofra reacts. More silence.
A:You know there is a luggage rack. Indicating to the box.
Síofra shakes her head.
A: Or the table?
Síofra refuses again.
A: Right, can I ask what it is that you won’t put it down?
A: Ah, ok, I should have guessed the answer to that one. Where are you off to anyway?
Síofra (S): Wherever I get off.
A: That’s the best place to go. I’ve been there myself, a good few years ago now. And I’d imaging you, like me, came from wherever you got on at?
Síofra reacts, a little nervous or confused, definitely not comfortable.
A: Well, we can’t help but keep going where we’re going. Have you had your breakfast yet?
S: Not yet.
A: Want some? Offers some food she has just taken out of her bag.
S: No, thanks, you’re grand.
A: Ah sure, yer one with the trolley will be round soon.
Silence for a while. Not uncomfortable. After a bit Síofra slowly places the box on the table, not being comfortable holding it on her knee. Áine acknowledges it.
A: I wonder where that trolley’s gotten to. The train’s not the only thing that needs fuel!
Síofra laughs, the first really open, comfortable response she has given. Suddenly the train stops. An announcement apologises for the delay. Síofra sighs.
A: Looks like we’ll be here a while. Should have brought some tea.
S: Yeah, hope it gets moving again quickly.
A: Ah sure, we’ll get there eventually. No rush, is there?
S: No, I suppose not.
They both look out the window again. Síofra fidgets a bit.
A: You haven’t told me your name.
S: You haven’t told me yours.
A: Well Síofra, who are you?
S: What sort of a question...? How am I meant to answer that?
A: Well surely you, of all people, should know the answer to that one?
Siofra snorts and looks out the window, unnerved or unsettled. A crow flies past the window.
A: Morrigan. There’s a battle to be lost or won today.
Síofra is becoming more unsettled. A pause as they look out the window.
A: So Síofra (reaching for the clasp on the box) who are you?
She flicks the clasp open with click. At the sound Síofra whips around to look at her.
S: Leave that alone!
She tries to shut the box but it is already too late. The contents have been revealed. It is a model box of Síofra’s home.
She clearly already knew what was in the box.
Síofra is angry. Looks back out the window.
A: Why did...
S: Don’t ask.
S: I said don’t ask.
Áine watches Síofra surreptitiously as Síofra begins to play with and rearrange items in the box.
S: I didn’t have a choice.
A: Who made you leave?
S: Well, no one, I decided to go.
A: You decided but you didn’t have a choice?
S: I just had to, alright?
S: I wasn’t right for it. It’s my home, god, I know it like the back of my hand, been there all my life, but I shouldn’t be there, have been there. Wasn’t right, not welcome.
A: Or maybe it wasn’t right for you?
Looks out the window. Begins to speak slowly as Áine begins to move items around in the model box.
S: It’s me. I never fitted. I suppose I belonged elsewhere. The girl who was sick so often they didn’t think she’d survive, but then when she did was too strong, too alive for them to accept. I remember one day in junior infants, I was the youngest in the class, only just turned four when we started, and the teacher was standing over my desk, with the disappointed look she reserved just for me. I can’t remember what I had done that time, there was always something, coloured a white horse that should have been brown, sang the wrong song that no-one else knew, mentioned a memory she didn’t believe, noticed something more than I should have. I don’t know. But that look followed me everywhere, on different faces, in different guises – at home, at school, at mass, at work.
She moves the Síofra figurine to the edge of the box, the others to the far side.
S: Follows. Changed, changes. Took on a new tone. Confusion and disappointment to, disappointment and...something else... I walked too tall, talked too surely, knew too much. Everywhere I turned, every face I knew wore this disappointment and... oh I don’t know. Why am I telling you this?
She tries to shut the box, but I won’t close. Áine looks on, knowingly. We get the sense that she is stopping the box from closing. Síofra gives up, confused and frustrated, and looks out the window again.
A: Fear, disappointment and fear.
S: Don’t be stupid. Fear? Who would be afraid of me? The sickly girl who can’t quite get things right, and the strange woman who sort of gave up trying? Yeah, right, so scary.
Áine just watches her.
S: Fear? No it’s more like, oh I don’t know, it’s like, disappointment and...
She gradually realises that Áine is right.
A: People fear what they don’t know, what they can’t know.
S: What do you mean? I’ve lived there forever, they know me, I know them.
The train begins to move again at some point during this piece.
A: Do they? Do you? You know that Catherine Keane had a baby last week, that Paulie Mahony is cheating on his wife, that Maura Casey is going to go out of business soon if she doesn’t stop giving everyone everything on credit. They know you just finished your leaving cert, that you’ve worked in Brady’s two years and five months next week...
S: Hold on, how do you...?
A: You know about them, they know about you. But you don’t know them and they don’t know you. The understanding isn’t there because you haven’t found your tribe yet, your people, the ones who know you as well as you know yourself when you stand with your feet on the ground and feel the energy of yourself, your past, your future, your place flowing through you. We fear what we don’t know, it holds a power we can’t contain.
Síofra has been listening intently, a change coming over her that has been brewing since she first saw Áine.
“The Changeling’s Lullaby” begins playing softly as an instrumental.
The train stops.
After a moment Síofra slowly stands, looks at the box. She leaves it on the table, turns and leaves the train with the walk of a queen.
Áine softly sings “The Changeling’s Lullaby” as the lights draw inwards to her, then just the light on/in the box as she finishes the song.
Saoirse is a theatremaker & critic, writer, poet, feminist, enthusiast, optimist, opinionated scamp & human being. She’s trying her best to make the world a better place.
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