Simon Usher directs this world premiere of Nick Ward’s play adapted from Heart of Darkness and Outpost of Progress by Joseph Conrad. A grotesquely dark comedy about slavery, opium addiction, cartography, madness and abandonment.
Theatre 03 August — 29 August Pleasance Dome » Queen Dome 2:05pm
‘Makota’ – on kitchen roll backed on paper (acrylic, black pastel, water-colour).
A play by
(after Joseph Conrad)
Final Draft: June-August 2011
2nd Draft: 1999, Broome, West Australia
1st Draft: 1986, National Theatre Studio, London.
Commissioned by The Playground Studio, Latimer Road, London – with the support of The Peggy Ramsay Foundation.
http://www.the-playground.co.uk/about.htm – Cached
All rights reserved.
The Man Who Came Before
The Managing Director
The play takes place in 1880.
1. The Man Who Came Before.
For some reason when I came to read Splendid Isolation again in 2009 the first page was missing. I vividly remember the opening as it was choreographed (loosely) at the National Theatre Studio in the Summer of 1986 in two private showings in a production designed by Fred Pilbrow; with music by Richard Heacock; directed by myself.
It went like this: the audience enter the Long Room which has been blacked out (although the traffic on The Cut is intrusive). The set is a ramshackle jetty lit by flickering hurricane lamps. A semi-naked man (The Man Who Came Before) and Makota play out a wordless scene to the tribal rhythms tapped out on Richard Heacock’s fiddle (plus delay-sampler) – for as long as it takes – The Man Who Came Before and Makota undertake a compelling demonstration of what might happen when words have run out – when what needs to be said cannot be expressed in the language of words but must instead be expressed in the purest language of theatre. They reflect each other – a white man and a black woman – it is a profound exchange. Sensuality. Clothes are swapped and the future is glimpsed. Is survival worth it? Five minutes minimum.
A seamless transition.
2. Thames-mouth, 1880.
Kayerts: (extending his hand): Kayerts.
Carlier: (shaking hands): Carlier.
Kayerts: Forcing him to speak.
Carlier: The river is as magnificent as ever, even here on Thames-mouth, a spitting distance or a foul-watery step from the Deptford prison ships, where corpses rot ere they are despatched and not always on the ebb. Phew! Smell it! Here upon the stinking Thames we stand, Mr Kayerts, aboard our average Nellie
Kayerts: awaiting instruction and the cruising of our yawl to a place of richness far beyond this stench.
Carlier: Roman blood… Cavalry.
Kayerts: Ah! A cavalryman, excellent!
(Kayerts leans over with a conspiratorial tone)
I believe, Carlier, we are here attending to a similar purpose. It seems we are destined to journey to the top of that great peninsula they call The Point.
Carlier: In which case we shall become extremely well acquainted, Mr Kayerts.
Kayerts: Indeed, Carlier, indeed.
The Managing Director, a nautical, addresses the audience.
MD: The taking of light into darkness. The profound understanding of organisation: the devotion to efficiency. The gathering of pearls: the creation of wealth. My universe – my idea.
My teaching: a man will do anything; nay, a nation will do anything, if the conviction behind the idea is great. Sound education! I was taught to understand the future, to inherit the earth.
A murmur… I hear a murmur… the whispered protest of the meak and irresolute. I hear them. They say that the taking away from those that have different complexions and physiognomies to ourselves – to take away from those that dance and sing in the night, as we sleep – perhaps is not such a pretty thing when you look at it too much… nor prudent. I have been there… I know… I understand. The idea – and the unselfish belief in the idea – something you can set up and bow down before, and offer sacrifice to… I have known that too – but for what a sacrifice!
I have grown cynical. I am not deaf to the murmuring. There is truth in it.
I have been there. One would never have believed the changes that can overtake the most steadfast of men in such places. The idea can get lost, you see. An alteration of perception, I speak of… impossible to describe, but I have felt it. Alterations made manifest in the physical realm, which we must scrutinize, classify; and by classifying, gain understanding of that which is human and that which is not.
You must understand I am only a minor official, given a title beyond my worth. Oh yes! They’ll give you a title. Managing Director – very grand! The Administration’s stategy for the preservation of self-respect: for those for whom the idea has become hollow at the core. Quite hollow! Show me the man who will not surrender his belief for a title and stipend, and I will show you the colour of words. I did my time in the field, now I appoint others to the service of the idea.
(He indicated Kayerts and Carlier)
Unremarkable men – disposable, perhaps. Men, let us say, rejected for service by others. Men, who in short, will not be greatly missed within society. Oh! but the care the Administration has taken with their selection. Yes, we have our proceedure – and I can report that they are ideally suited to service at The Point.
(To Kayerts and Carlier)
Mr Kayerts, Mr Carlier, it is my singular honour to welcome you aboard the Association.
Kayerts: Pleased to make your acquaintance, sir.
MD: The pleasure, gentlemen, is therefore shared.
(aside) To cut such fellows loose to an unforgiving land. To let them feel the life of the wilderness… the growing regrets… the longing to escape… the powerless disgust… the surrender… a controlled experiment in the field; this will be of use to the furtherance of medical science… to cut them loose with nothing but each other and sound indoctrination.
Mr Carlier, do you enjoy maps?
Carlier: I have found the map to be an essential apputenance of the age, sir.
MD: I mean, Mr Carlier, are you fascinated by maps. Are you fascinated by maps, Mr Kayerts?
Kayerts: Cartography has been considerably advanced in recent years, to my personal gratification, sir.
MD: But, do you have a passion for maps, Mr Kayerts? Mr Carlier? Maps with blank spaces – yet to be filled in – great tracts of savagery and darkness yielding secreted richness.
Kayerts: A passion, sir?
MD: Understand, I see you both as fixed points charting the outer reaches of the new metaphysics. Emmisaries, if you like, of light.
Do you understand?
Kayerts: Perfectly, sir.
MD: Do you understand, Mr Carlier? Beacons to light up unnominated real estate of unencompassed darkness.
Carlier: Your metaphor is expedient, sir.
MD: Which is to say, we have had our problems with The Point. One of the previous agents, the subordinate, disappeared.
Carlier: Disappeared, sir.
MD: Vanished, Carlier. Rumours abound, gentlemen, of his survival beyond the civilising mantle of the Empire, which I doubt. Name of Kurtz.
Kayerts: What of the other, this Kurtz fellow’s superior.
MD: They say the agent in charge… well, no matter… I admired his courage, in the face of such intollerable subordination, and whatever they say, whatever ideas he had of his own, whatever the manifold powers he came to acknowledge in a blinding flash, he remained – just – within the orbit of the sovereign constitution. God save our gracious Queen!
Kayerts/Carlier: God save the Queen!
MD: Which is to say, gentlemen, he sent out more pearls than all the other agents put together, without telling us quite how.
Kayerts: Good, good.
MD: He was a remarkable man in his discretion, yes, but his method was unsound.
Carlier: Unsound, sir?
MD: No restraint, gentlemen… His skull was found to be enlarged, his death doubtful. Didn’t see the body. Read the report. Detailed enough as these things go, but we need to understand more. Enlarged from fever? From fear? Isolation? Who knows? – perhaps from some sinister quality altogether more alarming, gentlemen.
I have been there.
I have known the changes that can overcome a man, even of great fortitude, in such conditions. Impossible to describe: a great intensity bearing upon the refinements of the most sophisticated sensibility, rendering it quite helpless. You will feel it too, as the Wet draws in.
Well, gentlemen, I have enjoyed our combination. There is but one formality.
Kayerts: At your service, sir.
MD: For our cranial records, you understand.
Carlier: I do not understand, sir.
MD: Ah! But you will, Mr Carlier. Your solicitation is appreciated.
(The Managing Director measures the crania of Kayerts and Carlier with calipers, as he does so he sings – joined by Kayerts and Carlier – the Newbolt hymn ‘Effingham, Grenville, Raleigh, Drake’: transition of Kayerts and Carlier to The Point.)
3. Mr Kayerts and Mr Carlier lately arrived at The Point.
Kayerts and Carlier are seated at either side of a desk, on which there are various objects: an abacus, files, note books, an opium pipe.
Artefacts, totems and books litter the station: the remnants of The Man Who Came Before.
Makota observes the two men, unseen.
Carlier: Some journey, eh Kayerts?
I must say though, our station is prettily situated.
A trifle hot, perhaps…
We must let time run by here.
An abundance of fresh water in the well to quench our thirst as we observe the tide rise and fall upon the reef and the sun dipping into the sky-merging ocean, twixt yonder rocky islands. What a life, eh Kayerts? Just sitting here gathering in the pearls the natives bring.
I have rarely been overtaken with such a sense of Paradise as this – the mastery of the moment.
Kayerts: Mr Carlier, I believe in order, I believe in form begetting proceedure… I believe…
Carlier: (interrupting) Well, I’ll be scuppered!
(Carlier has noticed Makota, who is fanning herself and brushing away flies in imitation of Kayerts. She is dressed in the clothes of The Man Who Came Before. The flies, mosquitoes and tiny biting sand-flies are, of course, a constant source of irritation for both Carlier and Kayerts, though less so as the play progresses. Makota seems untroubled by this constant environmental feature of life at The Point.
They stare at Makota, who stares back, like a mirror.)
Well, I’ll be damned!
(He whispers to Kayerts)
I say, look at it, is it a she or is it a he?
I do believe it’s a female.
(Carlier moves over to inspect Makota. He returns to Kayerts.)
Carlier: She appears to be wearing the other chap’s clothing. The fellow who was here before.
Very damned strange.
(Kayerts ignores Carlier. He approaches Makota, clears his throat, then, as if to an infant:)
Kayerts: Pearls… Pearls… Pearls… Dive… Die-ve.
(He makes a diving action)
Dive for pearls. Understand?
(Makota imitates his lip movements. ‘Pearls’ – like kisses.)
(He points to himself)
(He points at Carlier)
Mr Carlier, subordinate. Mr Kayerts and Mr Carlier need pearls… your people dive for pearls and we give you…
White man medicine and trinkets from the store. Pretty things.
Carlier: You’re wasting your time, Kayerts. She doesn’t understand a word.
Kayerts: Are you attempting to undermine my authority?
Carlier: Not at all, sir. I merely wish to suggest an adjustment to your method; that in time the pearls will come of their own accord. These things are ordained.
Kayerts: Mr Carlier, I believe in order, I believe in organisation, I believe in getting things done within the full circumference of one’s ability and leaving nothing to chance, which in my experience is never a fine thing. Chance equals chaos. We need recruits, and we shall have them.
Carlier:Very strange. He must have been a curious fellow. Died of fever having been abandoned by his subordinate, wasn’t that what the managing director said? – lost his mind, more like.
Kayerts: Your insinuations are beyond the bounds of decorum and serve no useful purpose here, I must therefore insist that you refrain from such idle speculation concerning the unfortunate demises of our unlucky predecessors. Do I make myself clear, Carlier?
Carlier: I say, perhaps the poor fellow went utterly mad. All alone save his native lover and the fear of his wild-man subordinate, Kurtz – out there somewhere. I say it’s a good thing we have each other, Kayerts.
(Carlier makes physical contact with Kayerts)
Kayerts: Steady on, Carlier. Keep your distance, do you hear?
(He sits at the desk)
I believe in a disciplined approach. I am in charge. I am told the climate here is no worse than home as long as one keeps out of the sun. Do you hear that, Carlier, you will not expose yourself recklessly to the sun? – and you will observe absolute decorum regarding extraneous fraternization with the female savage.
Carlier: Your orders will be attended to with the greatest respect, chief.
(He sits opposite Kayerts)
Kayerts: I must also insist upon the highest standards of hygiene, otherwise our co-habitation will become intolerably irksome. In my opinion daily ablutions, a got-up shirt-front and a starched collar are no more, no less, than achievements of character. You, Carlier, are by nature a scruffy fellow, content as you say to let life pass you by in a state of shameful disorder. Order gives a man backbone, Carlier. I must therefore insist upon your immediate reform. I need not remind you that we are here appointed to a purpose for which account books must be kept in meticulous order. Pearls will not exist in my eyes until they have been entered therein and safely stowed in the repositary, for which I will remain the sole guardian of the key. Do I make myself perfectly clear?
Kayerts: Very good. Now, Carlier to bed, there is much to do in the morning.
Carlier: To bed?
Kayerts: Yes, to bed.
(They move towards their ‘beds’, upstage. As they go, Kayerts turns to Makota)
Pearls… Pearls… Yes, pearls.
4. Mr Kayerts and Mr Carlier observe a curious event.
Kayerts, dressed as before, is sitting at the desk, now tidy, the empty account book before him. Carlier, no longer wearing jacket and tie, stands separately, looking out.
Time has passed. An open provisions box: empty tins, rice, coffee and sugar packets litter the floor.
Kayerts: (To Makota) We need pearls… Pearls… Tell your friends to stop loafing around and dive for pearls.
Many pearls make Mr Kayerts and Mr Carlier happy.
(Slight pause: holding up the empty account book)
Three weeks and no pearls.
(He raises his voice)
Tell those savages to dive for the damned pearls or I’ll shoot the bloody lot of you.
Carlier: You see that fellow there?
Kayerts: To me they look the same.
Carlier: I think that fellow’s sick.
Kayerts: They groan when they are sick. Terrible noise. No restraint. Distracting.
Carlier: Why on earth is he digging a mound?
Kayerts: Mound? Did you say mound?
Carlier: His people do not, as a rule, build mounds – this much we know.
Kayerts: No pearls, no percentages: Mr Kayerts and Mr Carlier done for.
Carlier: Yes, he’s constructing some sort of grave, Kayerts, I say, how curious, do you think the fellow’s dying or is he perhaps making provision for the deaths of others?
Kayerts: They groan when they are sick, and when they are sick they die. There’s an end. Judging from the pearls they bring I think they must be dying in their entirity. What is this madness?
Carlier: Look at his face!
Kayerts: To me they look the same.
Carlier: What’s that around his neck? Kayerts, look at this fellow, he’s got something tied around his neck. Looks like white twine. What’s the black man doing with white twine around his throat?
(Kayerts returns to Carlier and looks out)
Kayerts: Well I’ll be damned! Packing thread. That’s what it is. Packing thread from the store. I see a cross.
Carlier: What meaning does it have? What’s it mean to him?
Kayerts: It means petty thieving.
(to Makota) Thieving. No good.
Carlier: He’s trying to tell us something. No, he’s… he’s self-noosing!
Kayerts: What a performance!
Carlier: It’s an omen, Kayerts.
Kayerts: Silence, Carlier, do you hear?
(Silence: Carlier continues to look out. Kayerts returns to his desk and fills an opium pipe)
Carlier: I say, Kayerts, good fellow!
(Carlier reaches for the pipe)
Kayerts: You are a greedy man, Carlier. Wait your turn.
(Kayerts smokes. He stands unsteadily. He takes a few steps and sits on the floor. Carlier joins him and takes the pipe – the effects of which are immediate. The two men are very close.)
Carlier: (looking out) He’s gone.
Kayerts: Grave be damned, it’s a mound dug sans permission causing potential inconvenience. There’s an end, Carlier. Now, to work!
Carlier: It’s an omen.
Kayerts: It’s an impediment to progress.
Carlier: We brought this sickness.
Kayerts: Order, Carlier. To bed. There is much to be done in the morning.
(Carlier and Kayerts go to their ‘beds’)
5. A restless night for Mr Kayerts and Mr Carlier.
Night. The sound of groaning. Carlier strikes a match and lights a lamp. He holds the lamp over Kayerts who sighs in his sleep.
Kayerts: (asleep) Melie… my own heart… my love… Melie… Ah!
(Carlier leaves Kayerts, slowly treading the jetty to Makota. He holds the lamp close to her face. Strange music-chanting.)
Kayerts: (asleep) Ahhh!
(Intimacy between Carlier and Makota.
He is ‘sung’ by Makota and her people as Kayerts continues to groan.
Carlier is returning to his bed as a sleep-walker. He stops. He looks at the sky. A blinding flash. He falls heavily to the ground and is still.
Kayerts is woken by the sound of Carlier’s fall. He arms himself with a musket and ventures into the dark.
He trips over Carlier.
The gun goes off.)
6. Mr Kayerts and Mr Carlier reveal their histories.
Kayerts is watching Carlier, who is fishing with a hand-line, unsuccessfully, as it turns out, into the rising tide. He casts the line with a circular windmilling action and a flick of the the wrist. A natural. Occassionally he gets a bite.
Kayerts: About last night, Carlier.
Carlier: What about last night?
Kayerts: A de-briefing is in order.
Carlier: I remember nothing.
Kayerts: I discovered you prostrate without the compound, stinking like a savage.
Carlier: Not I, sir, I slept soundly.
Kayerts: Indeed you did not, Carlier.
Carlier: I remember nothing but a profoundly dreamless sleep, sir.
Kayerts: Well, no matter.
(Carlier has a fish on the line. A fighter. The fish eventually dives for the safety of the reef and the line snaps. The only hook is lost.)
Kayerts: I say, Carlier, would you care to join me for a drop of rum?
Kayerts: Indeed, I have rum, my dear chap. For a sticky day. Would you care to loosen your tie and join me for a drop?
You do drink rum, Carlier?
Carlier: Oh, yes, indeed, Mr Kayerts.
Kayerts: Would you care to join me for a drop. Help pass the time.
Carlier: It’s been very quiet.
Carlier: Not a single pearl.
Carlier: You have rum?
Kayerts: Indeed. I don’t know what the devil those fellows think they’re doing.
(to Makota) Tell them to run along and fetch us some pearls.
(to Carlier) Now, my dear fellow, a drop of rum.
(Kayerts produces a bottle and two glasses.)
Carlier: I say, very cunning… and glasses!
(Kayerts pours two glasses of rum and gives one to Carlier)
To progress, Carlier, and to civilisation.
(Kayerts sings a snatch of the Newbolt hymn)
Carlier: To progress and good will!
Kayerts: First one slips down easily, eh?
(Kayerts pours himself another and drinks it. He pours himself a third, which he also drinks.)
Kayerts: Would you care for another?
(Kayerts fills both glasses)
Today is my birthday.
Carlier: Ah! A celebration.
Kayerts: I have told you, Carlier, I believe in doing a thing properly.
Carlier: Permission, then, to remove the tie altogether, sir.
(Carlier removes his tie as Kayerts continues to drink heavily)
Wretched country. If it wasn’t for my Melie you wouldn’t find me here.
Melie is my daughter. Does that surprise you, Mr Carlier? Mr Kayerts has a daughter.
Kayerts: My daughter.
You must understand things were extremely difficult after her mother died.
Kayerts: My wife, Elspeth, Carlier. After she dies, my dear Mellie is taken from me. My only comfort taken from me by her damned aunt. Wife died of a sudden. Money troubles. Nothing made sense, Carlier, things fell apart. Melie only comfort etcetera, etcetera. Monstrous behaviour.
Carler: How did your wife die?
Kayerts: No matter.
Something of the brain.
Kayerts: Doctor explained. Hardly recognised her – had become disobedient. Shadow of former self, etcetera. No comfort to me, Carlier, completely changed. Damned mysterious. Always a difficult woman, in truth, etcetera.
Carlier: I see.
Kayerts: You see, do you?
What do you see?
Carlier: Your daughter.
Kayerts: No money. Melie taken to stay with aunt. No substance to allegations regarding aforementioned monstrous behaviour. No witness. Money root of all evil, etcetera.
Carlier: How old is Melie, Kayerts?
Kayerts: Slip of a thing, fifteen years, etcetera.
Carlier: So young! How delightful! And how profoundly you must miss her.
Carlier: But, you could hardly bring her with you. No place for a girl. Not here. More’s the pity. By your poetical descriptions, I am beginning to miss her too.
Kayerts: Her side, my side, never saw eye to eye.
Carlier: Often the case.
Kayerts: Her side held that my side didn’t amount to anything.
She married beneath her. Damn them! Damn them for taking my dear sweet comfort, my dear Melie, in my hour of need. Damn them! No distinction, you see, between character and inheritance. It all comes down to money in the end, if the truth be told. Percentages, Carlier, that’s what we need.
Carlier, you don’t look well. You haven’t caught any damn fever, have you? What’s got into you, man? You appear infected.
Carlier: Last night I saw a ship in the sky.
The spirits here are strong and last night they took possession of my soul. The dark powers have me captive, Kayerts. Soon I must leave you.
Kayerts: Very amusing, Carlier. Here, have another.
(He fills Carlier’s glass)
So what are you doing in this wretched country? Hardly the volunteering type, are you, Carlier?
Carlier: After I left the cavalry, brother-in-law couldn’t wait to get me out of the country. Influence with the managing director. Old cohorts.
Kayerts: But, on what grounds did you leave the cavalry, Carlier?
Carlier: I was snared into something for which I was called a vile name, Mr Kayerts.
Kayerts: The vile name?
Come, Carlier, be frank, be unashamed, be open. Come! I have divulged to you, you must divulge to me. Show me the man without a past, Carlier, show me the man, who does not, from some weakness unknown, watched or unwatched, prayed against or manfully scorned, repressed or even ignored – for more than half a lifetime, perhaps – let himself be spoken to by the voice which siren-like draws him to moral torpor. Not a one of us safe, Carlier – our weakness is the snake beneath the English flower.
(He drinks again)
The dram of evil.
(He fills the opium pipe. He smiles at Carlier)
We are nothing but a pair of English monsters, you and I.
You were expelled from the cavalry, Carlier, correct?
Kayerts: Would you care to join me for a pipe?
(They share the pipe in silence)
Kayerts: Why were you expelled from the cavalry, Carlier?
Carlier: Mind your own damned business.
Kayerts: One day I’m going to eat you, Carlier.
(Carlier wonders if Kayerts really said what he thinks he heard him say. Kayerts says nothing.)
7. Mr Kayerts and Mr Carlier aquire pearls.
The sound of beating sticks.
Carlier is looking out. Kayerts is seated.
Carlier: They seem excited this morning. Some ritual.
Kayerts: Ritual be damned! I call it a row. What a decnt fellow has to put up with in this dog of a country.
Do they have pearls?
Carlier: Yes, I believe they may have. Yes! Yes! Pearl shell, Kayerts, they have shell.
Kayerts: (shouting to be heard) Nothing to get excited about. Control yourself, man. It is our singular purpose here.
How much shell, Carlier?
Carlier: I can’t make it out… not much, sir.
Kayerts: How much?
Carlier: Half a dozen shells, perhaps… that’s all I can see… they won’t stand still… Look at the muscles on that fellow… I wouldn’t care for a punch on the nose from him, eh Kayerts?
Kayerts: Six shells? Did you say only six?
Carlier: Fine arms, but a runner’s legs below the knee. Never make a cavalryman of him.
(Carlier steps off the stage)
Kayerts: Six shells?
(Carlier retuns with the six shells)
Carlier: Six today but who knows how many tomorrow? We’re rich, Kayerts, we’re rich! How pretty they are, what a world of patterns and texture.
Carlier: The very measure of infinity.
Kayerts: (To Makota) I will thank you to supply these gentlemen with the necessary for the transaction.
(Kayerts gives Makota trinkets and the end of the bottle of rum, after first taking a swig. Makota disappears. Carlier remains lost in the beauty of the pearl shells.)
Now, Carlier, they ‘do not exist in my eyes until entered into the account book’.
(Carlier goes to the desk and makes the entry with Kayerts standing over his shoulder.)
The six pearls are now to be removed, washed, and safely stowed, not in Mr Carlier’s pocket, but rather, in the store room.
Carlier: I am to remove the pearls and I am to wash them.
Carlier: And what shall you be doing?
(Kayerts fills the opium pipe)
Kayerts: I shall be watching you like a hawk, Mr Carlier, as you undertake what you have been instructed to do. I shall then have the pleasure of relieving you of the six pearls and locking them in the safe especially appointed for the purpose within the repository.
9. Mr Kayerts and Mr Carlier await the delivery of provisions.
Kayerts and Carlier sitting separately. Makota watching them.
Kayerts: Today, Carlier, is a special day. Today I have been in control of The Point for exactly three months. Today, as promised by the Association, provisions are due.
Carlier: Not before time. Nothing but rice makes me feel sick.
Kayerts: You’re sick?
Carlier: Not sick. In this heat rice makes me ‘feel sick’. An expression, like ‘day in day out’.
Kayerts: Did you say you are sick?
Carlier: I am not sick.
Kayerts: On arrival we ate most of our luxuries with neither restraint nor due consideration for future necessity. Somewhat foolish. Now, we are compelled to eat rice predominantly. With the new provisions, expected at twelve noon, we must exercise self-command. Is that understood, Carlier?
Carlier: I eat no more than you.
Kayerts: No, Carlier, you are a greedy man. A selfish and greedy man. But no matter. In anticipation of today I have laid aside tinned beef and chocolate, somewhat melted, but fine chocolate nevertheless, by appointment to our island’s treasure, Queen Victoria.
Kayerts: Chocolate, Carlier, chocolate.
Carlier: I am very partial to chocolate.
Kayerts: So am I, Carlier, so am I. To celebrate the immanent arrival of provisions, I therefore suggest a small feast, with maybe just a drop of rum and the careless pleasures of a pipe. And, with their arrival, a new beginning, Carlier.
Carlier: I have no words to express the pleasure excited in me by your generous proposal. God save the Queen!
Kayerts: God save the Queen!
(Kayerts and Carlier eat, drink and smoke)
Kayerts: What is the time?
(Silence as Carlier looks at his pocket watch, which he shakes)
Carlier: Damn it!
Kayerts: (looking at the sky) Four o’clock?
Carlier: A fair estimate, sir.
We’ve been forgotten.
Kayerts: Silence, Carlier, do you hear?
Kayerts: (yells) Silence!
10. Mr Kayerts and Mr Carlier continue to await the delivery of provisions.
Night. Kayerts and Carlier have not moved.
Carlier: You made us eat all the provisions.
Kayerts: We have sugar.
Carlier: You made us eat all the provisions. Now we have nothing. Nothing but rice and coffee. Rice, coffee and six pearls. Kayerts, you are a fool. I hate rice. We have been abandoned. We will both die of hunger in this place.
Kayerts: I am in charge, Carlier, and I order you not to address me in this manner.
Carlier: Damn you!
Kayerts: We have sugar. A small quantity. We save the sugar for the sick. Until the provisions come.
carlier: When will the provisions come?
Kayerts: Soon. Tomorrow. A short delay. I will be taking this matter up within the Administration.
(The Man Who Came Before steps forward, holding two books. Kayerts and Carlier look at him in disbelief.)
Kayerts: To whom do we owe the unexpected pleasure, sir?
(Kayerts tries to stand, but falls back into Carlier’s arms)
The Man Who Came Before: From Kurtz. One book will kill you, the other will save your life.
(The Man Who Came Before shuffles the books and offers them to Carlier, who chooses one. He gives the other to Kayerts and returns to his upstage position. Carlier is looking at the book. Kayerts does likewise. They look at each other.)
Kayerts: May I enquire of the matter contained within the book you are reading, Carlier?
Carlier: You mean the subject?
Carlier: It is called ‘A Short Book of Knots’, sir.
Carlier: Beautifully got up. And yours?
Kayerts: The matter contained within the book I have been given, Carlier, will remain my closely guarded secret. Please replace your tie, sir.
The sound of fighting and yelling.
Makota hides in fear.
Carlier: Kayerts, wake up!
(Carler looks out)
Kayerts: What in the Devil’s name do they want?
Carlier: I don’t recognise them. Very savage. Not our lot.
Kayerts: What do they want?
Carlier: They seem to be… Shells! Kayerts! Pearls! By the hundred. My God, Kayerts, think of the percentages. We’re rich, kayerts!
Kayerts: Don’t get excited. Pearls, you say? Good, that’s what we’re here for.
Carlier: Kayerts! They’re putting our lot in chains.
Kayerts: I shall go out and discover what these fellows want.
(He leaves the station with his musket)
12. Mr Kayerts has undertaken a transaction.
Carlier is sitting alone at the desk.
The sound of a musket shot. Kayerts has shot and killed The Man Who Came Before. A spiral of red.
Makota remains hidden, shaking with fear.
Kayerts sits at the desk and starts to write in the account book.
Carlier: Kayerts, what have you done?
(Kayerts pushes the account book and musket to Carlier’s side of the desk)
Kayerts: I will thank you to clean the musket and enter the pearls into the account book especially appointed for the purpose, Mr Carlier.
Carlier: I shall not.
Kayerts: Are you opposing me?
Carlier: I shall take no part in slave-trading. You are a fool, an even greater fool than I took you for.
(He loads the musket)
You eat our provisions. You commit murder. You sell our natives. Now we are alone. We are cursed. We shall both die of this fever.
Kayerts: Why do you load the musket, Carlier, when I have expressed a desire for it to be cleaned?
Carlier: You don’t look well, you know, these last few days.
Kayerts: I’m well.
Carlier: I disagree.
Carlier: I’ve noticed. You don’t look well, not at all.
Kayerts: The musket, Carlier.
Carlier: These last few days.
Kayerts: I’m not sick, I’m well.
Carlier: I’m not saying you look sick so much as not well. I never said you look sick. A little pale perhaps. Lost your colour somewhat, one might say.
Kayerts: I’m not sick, I tell you.
Carlier: A touch of fever. You never know. Just a touch, you understand.
Kayerts: I’m not sick, damn you. I’m not sick. Fever be damned! Give me the musket, there’s a good fellow.
I’m not sick!
Carlier: Yes, sir.
(Carlier raises the musket slowly in the silence and points it at Kayerts)
Kayerts: Yes, sir.
Carlier: When was the last time you enjoyed a cup of coffee? I mean thoroughly enjoyed a cup of aromatic coffee? Coffee like the coffee you drink, perhaps, at home, after a decent meal in decent company. A delightful cup of coffee, of the kind that Melie may brew for her doting father. I can see her, Kayerts! Sweet slip of a thing, in her innonence, bearing freshly brewed coffee. I can smell it. Pungent. And sugary! When was the last time, Kayerts?
Kayerts: For the sick.
Carlier: In my honest opinion, it is coffee you desire. Good coffee. decent coffee. Sweet coffee.
Kayerts: For the sick.
Carlier: I’m not saying you’re unwell, but wouldn’t a brimming cup of coffee, sweet coffee, make you feel on top of the world. Imagine, eh Kayerts? Then we read the future in the dregs.
Kayerts: We save the sugar for the sick. I am in charge. This is agreed. Until the provisions come, we save the sugar for the sick.
Carlier: (pointing the musket) We wait for provisions. Provisions never come. Hang it all, Kayerts, let’s both have the sweet cup of coffee we deserve, and let it ease us through the difficult time – which is now.
Kayerts: For the sick.
Carlier: I’m sick.
Kayerts: You are no more sick than I, and I go without. We must show restraint at all costs. Desist from pointing that damned fire-arm, do you hear?
My good man?
Carlier: I’m sick.
Kayerts: You are well!
(Kayerts picks up the book he was given and opens it randomly. He reads.)
Carlier: Look at me!
(Kayerts continues to read)
I’m as sick as you. We are both sick with the fever.
Katerts: (faraway) Nonsense, man.
(Kayerts continues to read in silence)
(directly) If you don’t look out that musket will go off in your face.
Carlier: Come out with that sugar you incestuous slave-trader.
(Kayerts puts the book down)
Kayerts: That grotesque joke, Carler, is in extremely bad taste, and will not be repeated. The sugar is for the sick. Hand me the musket, now there’s a jolly good fellow.
Carlier: I am hungry. I am sick. I don’t joke. You are a slave-trader. I am a slave-trader. There are nothing but Hell-bound slave-traders in this cursed country. I mean to have sugar in my coffee today. Do you understand? I will have sugar in my coffee.
(Kayerts stands and makes unsteadily for the door)
(Carlier follows Kayerts, staggering.
The sound of the exploding musket.
Kayerts enters, dragging Carlier’s dead body, Makota watching.)
Kayerts: Order. My station. My pearls. Carlier, order! I insist. Appointed. You are a clerk, no more. Higher purpose. Light into darkness. For the sick. We are not sick, they are sick. I forgive you. A certain weakness is admissable, so long as the true path is found again. We are not dying, they are dying. Let them do the groaning… Carlier, we find ourselves… in extreme danger. We save the sugar for the sick… Carlier, listen to me, man… beware the foul fiend… never submit to the brute… matter of form… sugar today, but what of tomorrow… what follows? He makes one his slave. Tramples on one… with unhygenic foot… Carlier, I will not permit you to trample on me in this manner again… there will be no repetition of this uncivilised behaviour. You will obey me.
(Kayerts has dragged the body as far as the desk. Kayerts sits in his chair.)
Out of order, welcome chaos… Life… Death… words… Order… Chaos… no words… New thoughts… upside sown… void… tra la la…
I see now, in an instant, a mere instant, the beauty of the world… all previous thought – pah! All likes, dislikes – upturned. Ah! Wisdom… a trifle mad, that Carlier, but free… you were a noxious beast anyway… respect a brute? Men die every day… every day… every hour… every minute… every moment… not one but thousands.
(He clicks his fingers)
Thousands dead… thousands dead… dead… strange word… dead… dead… die… death… millions… who knows? One death makes no difference. Let all the fools who understand not my words perish in an instant… and good riddance to you all, because it doesn’t matter. Nothing matters. Nothing at all. You can’t touch me with your death. Mankind are nothing but fools and savages, all dying in the long run, or killing each other… What man alive does not wish another dead but lacks the means or courage?
(To Carlier) You should listen to me, my friend… You only knew me when I was alive. Then I spoke nothing but nonsense. Change places, my friend, and you will understand. We live for this moment, for it is the time of pure radiance! If words could speak, I would have nothing to say. Change places, my friend, and you will understand.
(With his final speech Kayerts weakly picks up Carlier’s body and, after a struggle, sits it in his chair. Kayerts finally comes to rest with his head in Carlier’s lap. Or does he?)
Effingham, Grenville, Raleigh, Drake,
Here’s to the bold and free!
Benbow, Collingwood, Byron, Blake,
Hail to the kings of the sea!
Admirals all for England’s sake,
Honour be yours and fame!
And honour, as long as waves shall break,
To Nelson’s peerless name.
To set the cause above renown,
To love the game beyond the prize,
To honour, while you strike him down,
The face that comes with fearless eyes.
To count the life of battle good,
And dear the land that gave you birth,
And dearer yet the brotherhood,
That binds the brave of all the earth.
Use of captions
They worked beautifully in the 1986 Fred Pilbrow-designed National Theatre Studio presentation – pure Brechtian aesthetics – plus humour, manually operated.
It’s an option… a way of serving the extraordinarly ironic tone of the Conrad original ‘Outpost of Progress’ – the short story he thought to be his best.
Perhaps something for the ‘no exit’ Managing Director to do.
7th June 2011, Cambridge