Students: A Play by Peter Rose

Students: A Play by Peter Rose

The living room of a student house in London. Emma sits holding a mug of tea. Robbie stands looking out of the window holding a bottle of beer. She is twenty. He is sixty.

ROBBIE:You think you know something about men?

(Pause)

Would you say you knew much about the opposite sex?

EMMA:I think I do.
ROBBIE:Well, you don’t.
EMMA:I know one thing/
ROBBIE:No you don’t.
EMMA:I don’t know/
ROBBIE:No, you don’t. You don’t! You don’t know the first thing… I know sixty year old women who’ve lived with men their entire lives and still don’t know them. My wife’s one. If you include her dad and her brother, she hasn’t spent a single night of her life that wasn’t in the company of a man. Does she comprehend the ugly truth about her dad, her brother, her husband? No she doesn’t. She thinks she does. But she really doesn’t.

(He drinks from the bottle until it’s empty)

I could tell you a few things…. I’ve often thought that if a woman truly wants to know her man she should secretly watch him sleeping with a prostitute. She’d learn more about him in those ten minutes than she would in an entire lifetime otherwise.

(He goes to the plastic bag, takes out a beer. Opens it with a bottle opener attached to his keys)

Do you want me to tell you a few truths?

EMMA:Not really.
ROBBIE:Come on.
EMMA:No thanks.
ROBBIE:And that will be the thing I’ll never understand. The truth is obvious… We all know what men are… we all know the truth about it… its plain to see. It’s there in every history book. Any country you visit the world over it’s the same. Open a paper, turn on the news; we don’t make any secret of our true nature… But you girls turn a blind eye… It isn’t that we trick you or that you don’t notice. You see it but you look away. You know as well as we do but neither side is ever going to admit it. Not out loud.

(He swigs from the bottle)

Sure you wouldn’t like a beer?

EMMA:No thanks.
ROBBIE:Who ever heard of a student who didn’t drink?
EMMA:I do drink.
ROBBIE:Just not now.
EMMA:I don’t want to start this early… We’re going out tonight.
ROBBIE:Are you? Where to?

(Pause)

A nightclub? A pub crawl?

(Pause)

I can just picture it. All dressed up. Shots. Cocktails. What do you drink when you’re in the nightclubs? One of those whatsits? Breezeys? Vodka tonics? I went to a campus bar once, a few years ago, with my youngest boy, they served a bottle of drink with a caterpillar in it…

EMMA:I drink lager most of the time…
ROBBIE:Do you? So do I. What about the drugs… Do students still take drugs? Weed. Acid. Do people still do acid?
EMMA:I don’t.
ROBBIE:That’s sensible. You must have tried it though. I bet you’ve tried ecstasy. Have you?
EMMA:Have you?
ROBBIE:Me? Good god no. Never really had any opportunity to… There weren’t any drugs around when I was your age. Not around me anyway. It’s ecstasy now. That’s all the rage. Or am I out of touch? What ones have you tried? Have you tried ecstasy?
EMMA:I haven’t tried anything.
ROBBIE:Come on, I’m not your dad. I bet you’ve tried all sorts. When you’re in the nightclubs.
EMMA:Can I ask you a question, Robbie?
ROBBIE:Of course you can. Go on.
EMMA:Did you drive here?
ROBBIE:I did, yes.
EMMA:I don’t think you should drive home.
ROBBIE:Why not?
EMMA:You’re pissed.
ROBBIE:I am a bit pissed, yes. A few too many beers. That’s true.

(Pause)

I don’t care! I know I should! I know. But I don’t. I might lose my licence. Who cares! I might plough into a tree and go through the window screen, I know. So what?! I know I’m supposed to care but I don’t. And maybe what if a lovely mummy and daddy are crossing the road with their three little uns hand in hand and I’m too pissed to step on a brake pedal and the entire fucking clan bounces off my bonnet?

(He sits. Drinks. She drinks her tea)

I think I’m going through a difficult phase at the moment, Emma. Of course, my wife doesn’t understand. It’s boring isn’t it? Middle-aged men going through the same predictable breakdown, all piercing their ears, shopping in Fat Face and not looking each other in the eye down at Spearmint Rhino. The same old embarrassing crisis… Not that I’m middle aged, I’m beyond that, of course.

(Pause. Robbie drinks)

Have a beer.

(Pause)

Come on, have a beer.

EMMA:No thank you.
ROBBIE:Let me tell you…

(He stands, walks around)

A few things about men.

(Pause)

Someone’s got to! Someone’s got to tell you. Because otherwise you’ll learn the hard way. When I was nineteen… I was totally different, forget what you see here now, at nineteen… God, me at nineteen? I looked different, sounded different… I was cool… That’s what you’d call me back then… I was in Paris. Travelled through France, Spain, North Africa on a Norton Commando. People who knew me then would never have believed I’d end up like this. With a fucking pace maker and a vest. I was with this girl in Paris one morning. We were sitting on a bed talking and mucking about and I got this telegram asking me to call home. So I go to this café down the street and I call my mum and she tells me that my brother has drowned off the beach at Hastings. He’d been larking about with his mates when he’d been caught up in a strong undercurrent and that was it. Very calm, very matter of fact. She said that his body had been washed up the next day and that his face was unrecognisable… that he actually didn’t have any features, the nose, the eyes, they’d all gone because his body had been banged against the rocks and dragged across the sea bed so many times that it had… that you couldn’t tell it was him… they identified him from the ring on his finger. So anyway, she told me this, I put the phone down, I went back up to the room and the girl was still there, obviously she hadn’t any idea what had happened… She was lying on the bed waiting for me and she was naked… She’d covered her top half, her face and upper body, with pillows and so all I could see when I came in the room was her naked legs and… what not…

(He drinks)

What I’m telling you is… is that, of course, I jumped on and had it off. Even though I’d just found out that my brother was dead and that he’d drowned and that his face had been smashed off on the rocks… I was still in the mood to you-know-what.

EMMA:That’s telling me something about men?
ROBBIE:Yes it is.
EMMA:I don’t agree.
ROBBIE:You don’t?
EMMA:No I don’t.
ROBBIE:Trust me. That story is telling you something about men…
EMMA:It tells me something about you.
ROBBIE:Me as a man.
EMMA:It tells me something about grief.
ROBBIE:About men.
EMMA:Humans possibly. Micro level sociology.
ROBBIE:Don’t start that studenty shit now. I’m trying to tell you something important, something profound. There are things you don’t understand.
EMMA:Do you realise that you’re incredibly patronising?
ROBBIE:I’m not trying to patronise you…
(He drinks)
EMMA:Have you told your wife that story?
ROBBIE:Of course. Back in the days when we used to speak to each other. The only thing we ever talk about now is the central heating or the fucking car tax or whether the fucking dogs been fed.
EMMA:I think you should go home.
ROBBIE:Do you?
EMMA:Leave your car. Get a cab.
ROBBIE:Go home, fall asleep in front of the box.
EMMA:I think you should go home and tell your wife that story.
ROBBIE:That’s what you think?
EMMA:That’s what I think you should do.
ROBBIE:You’re eighteen. What do you know?
EMMA:I’m twenty.
ROBBIE:Twenty. Twenty. I wish I was twenty.
(He drinks)
EMMA:You’re obviously not very happy.
ROBBIE:No I’m not happy.
EMMA:And if you’re going to find a bit of happiness… it won’t be here. You should go home.
ROBBIE:Maybe I should leave. You might have a point there. But go home? That wouldn’t do anyone any good.

(Emma goes to the doorway. Shouts up the stairs)

EMMA:Nick!

(Pause)

Nick!

(Pause)

NICK:(Off) What?
EMMA:Hurry up! What are you doing?
NICK:(Off) I was in the shower.
EMMA:Can you hurry up please.
NICK:(Off) I’m just getting dressed.
EMMA:Your uncle’s leaving.
NICK:(Off) Tell him to hold on. I’m coming down.
EMMA:(Coming back into the room) He won’t be a minute.

(Robbie is looking out of the window. He drinks, empties a bottle)

ROBBIE:I remember those days; having a shower in the afternoon because you’ve just had sex on the living room carpet. You have just had sex haven’t you? I could smell it as I came in.
EMMA:(Goes back to the doorway) Nick!
NICK:(Off) What?!
EMMA:Hurry up!
NICK:I’ll be two minutes.
ROBBIE:It’s ok. It’s great. Sex in the afternoon. That’s what you’re supposed to do at twenty. That’s what university life is all about.

(Emma sits)

I never went to university.

(He opens another beer)

Ok. There’s something I need to tell you. I’m just going to come out and say it.

(Pause. Emma looks uncomfortable)

I didn’t come here to see Nick. I never do. I come here to see you. I want to ask you something… I know this is… er… inappropriate… I do just need to say this one thing…

(He takes a deep breath. Drinks)

I really want to sleep with you.

(She raises her eyebrows, looks at him)

Please. Please, I’m sorry. I just want to fuck you. Just once.

EMMA:What?
ROBBIE:That’s why I come here… To see you… And I can’t carry on, I just needed to ask, just in case, please, can’t I just sleep with you, just once?

(Pause)

Seriously. Please. Just once.

EMMA:You must be insane.
ROBBIE:All I’m doing is saying it out loud. You know that’s why I come here. You know that’s what I’m thinking when I look at you. I’m just saying it out loud.
EMMA:You must be mad. I don’t want to sleep with you.
ROBBIE:I don’t suppose you do. But couldn’t you just do it as a favour? Just once. I won’t tell anyone.

(Pause)

I know you’re not attracted to me. Of course not. But it wouldn’t be that bad. Seriously. I wouldn’t be a big deal. And I’d be so grateful… You’d be changing my life… by giving me the thing I want most… and it is the thing I want more than anything else…

(He sits. Pause)

EMMA:I’m not going to sleep with you.
ROBBIE:No. I didn’t think you would.
EMMA:Sorry.

(He looks at her)

ROBBIE:You’re not sorry.

(Emma stands)

Please, don’t think I’m a pervert for asking you… You’ve got to understand, I suppose you already know deep down, but the truth is, men want to sleep with you. Because of the way you look. Not just me. Everyone. Probably the only men who don’t want to sleep with you are related to you… everyone else… that’s what they want to do. Every single last man you come in contact with, your professors, your landlord, your next door neighbour, your mums boyfriend, the bloke cleaning window screens at the traffic lights, your male friends, your girlfriends boyfriends, your doctor, your dentist, your local MP, any man you ever meet… If they say they don’t, they’re lying. That’s the truth of it.

(Emma goes to the doorway. Looks up. Comes back into the room)

ROBBIE:He’s taking his time.
EMMA:Yeah.
ROBBIE:Don’t worry, I’ll be gone soon.

(Emma sits. Awkward silence. Emma stands, goes to the bag and takes out a beer)

EMMA:Opener?

(He hands sit to her. She opens the bottle and drinks)

ROBBIE:Do you hate me for asking?
EMMA:No.

(She drinks)

If Nick finds out you’ve come on to me he’ll kill you.

ROBBIE:So would his auntie Maureen.
EMMA:I think you need to spend some quality time with auntie Maureen.
ROBBIE:I don’t want her. I wish I did.
EMMA:Your relationship needs to find a second wind.
ROBBIE:Our relationship has plenty of wind already. Wind is about all it does have. Wind, yes. Fanny farts, no. (He smiles at her) We just share a house. And a past. That’s it. She’s probably as bored of me as I am of her.

(Pause)

My oldest friend in the world, he’s the same age as me, married three years before I did, he worships his wife. They’ve just joined the bridge club. Go out for dinner together three times a week. He’s never been happier. I want to be content with what I’ve got. But I’m not. What can I do?

EMMA:I don’t know.
ROBBIE:Nor do I. I can’t fault Maureen. She tries to be what I want her to be. She lets me sleep with her sometimes but I don’t think… I don’t get the impression that she’s really enjoying herself very much… And I only enjoy it because I’m thinking of you. Or someone similar.

(Emma drinks)

I’m crude, aren’t I? But only because I’m being completely frank… What would you say I wonder if I was to ask you again to sleep with me… If I said please please come away with me to a hotel and have sex with me and what if I said that if you don’t, if you say no, I’ll go to the hotel alone and I’ll fucking hang myself. I wonder what you’d say if you were faced with an ultimatum like that?

(Pause)

I think I’ll up the stakes.

(Pause)

What I’m about to say/

EMMA:Do you know, I’m studying something really interesting…
ROBBIE:I was about to say/
EMMA:You don’t know what I’m studying. You don’t know anything about me.
ROBBIE:I know/
EMMA:You don’t know anything about me. I know you think that I’m naïve. And you think that your wife’s dull but you’re not and you understand everyone but nobody understands you. And you’re certain that you’re incredibly perceptive and insightful and honest and uncompromising. There’s something I’d like to say to you before Nick comes down.

(She drinks)

My original intention was to study Civil and Environmental Engineering. But I’ve ended up doing a BA in Cultural Studies with an emphasis on Women’s Studies. Which is mental because, you know, what good is that going to do me in the real world? But when it came to filling in my UCAS form I just felt like I had to do it. Because I’d had this epiphany.

(Robbie reacts with his face to the word epiphany)

I did. I was sitting in the kitchen with my mum and she was talking about when she was at university and how she used to come home some weekends on this late night coach that left Leeds at like midnight and drove through the night. And I could tell she didn’t mean to tell me but suddenly she just came out with this story about this time when a guy sat next to her and he was all friendly and making jokes and then in the middle of the night he grabbed her hand and forced it onto his dick underneath a coat he had on his lap and she said that it was the look that he fixed on her that was the worst part of it and afterwards he just fell asleep and she sat there and didn’t move and didn’t say anything and just sat there the entire journey. And in the morning when the coach stopped both of them acted as if nothing had happened. I listened to my mum saying this and it suddenly dawned on me that every woman I know, every female friend, family member, whatever, every single one has been sexually assaulted. You can understand why I used the word epiphany. That’s quite a thing to realise. And I thought no, I’ve got to be exaggerating. So I started to think of every female I’d ever been close to, my sister, my aunt, all of my mates. And at one time or another every single one of them had told me about something that had happened to them.

(She drinks)

So I decided to do Women’s studies. ‘Cos there’s got to be something to this. I’m on to something. And now I’m here I’ve started interviewing women. Women I don’t know. Because I wanted to see if it was only true of a particular class or race or whatever. And it isn’t. So far every woman, without exception, every single woman that I ask “has it happened to you?” answers yes. Late teens, early twenties seems to be the most dangerous age, that’s when it happens most. But of course, it can happen to you at any age. And when I say sexual assault I’m using the term quite broadly. I use it to describe a whole range of behaviour from flashing upwards. I interviewed eight women yesterday. The first one told me about a night she was in a pub and a guy pulled her top up and her bra down while his mates filmed it on their phones. The next woman told me, well, you don’t want to hear about it. But let’s just say it was a diverse selection of testimonies. I heard about the French kissing granddad; the cousin who makes you suck him off upstairs at family parties when you’re thirteen. The girl who got drunk and fell asleep at a party and woke up with her ex-boyfriend inside her. The Polish girl in a newsagents who gets fingered by a couple of guys while the man behind the counter turns his back and rearranges the cigarettes. Boyfriends, husbands, neighbours, strangers. I can hear five, ten stories a day. If I carry on at this rate I’ll have do to a fucking PhD.

(She drinks)

I can’t wait to hear what you’re going to say. I’m pretty sure I can guess what you’re thinking.

(She drinks)

You know what I find fascinating about it? Every woman I ask “have you been sexually assaulted?” answers yes. But I can’t find a man who will admit to ever having done it. All my male friends, my boyfriend, my dad, every man I ask, none of them have ever done anything like that. How could I even ask it of them? “You’d think that of me?” they say shocked and offended.

(Pause)
(We hear Nick’s footsteps as he comes down the stairs)

But what about you, Robbie? You like being frank. Have you ever done anything you shouldn’t?

(Lights out)

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