Script Extracts

BEST SELF - opening

The play is held in a timeless ballroom.

Golden light. A piano.

OVERTURE/INTRO - Musetta’s Waltz from La Boheme by Puccini

Light shifts to grey day.

Image of a tomb with memorial stone:


Maggie, in her late thirties, is practicing the opening bars of Waltz in D flat major, op. 64, 1 “Minute Waltz” by Chopin.

Sister Theodora appears, watches, listens.

Maggie messes up the notes.

Maggie: Shit.
Theodora: Back at the old chapel piano, Maggie?
Maggie: Oh. Sorry sister.
Theodora: Are you to play later?
Maggie: Not sure now…..Seem to be falling short of….what was it….“Be your good self…”?
Theodora: “Be your best self….”
Maggie: Oh yes.
Theodora: “The self, God wants you to be.”

Maggie moves away from the piano.

Maggie: Better not play. Don’t want to spoil your celebration.
Theodora: I’m most touched you’ve made it.
Maggie: Of course, for your send-off.
Theodora: How is it to be back again?
Maggie: Could have sworn the corridors were longer….and colder……Everything so familiar….but different…like that inscription added to the foundress’s tomb.
Theodora: What’s been added?
Maggie: “Love knoweth no measure….feareth no labour….maketh
Theodora: Cornelia’s words have been there as long as she has. sweet all that is bitter….”
Maggie: Not when I was here.
Theodora: Certainly.
Maggie: But in my last year for Live Crib I sat right there with the real baby that wouldn’t stop crying.
Theodora: You played Joseph as a very attentive father.
Maggie: Desperate as hell….the infant Jesus howling….me praying with all my might, please please make it quiet….to Mother Cornelia…I could have sworn……behind her bare, blank tombstone.
Theodora: To notice what’s always there we tend to need to be ready for it.
Maggie: How ready?
Theodora: Did the baby quiet?
Maggie: I think so… some point.
Theodora: The crying stays more in the memory perhaps.
Maggie: Was it really half a lifetime ago?
Theodora: Not of my life, to be sure.
Maggie: Do you mind retiring?
Theodora: It’s time.
Maggie: You’ll be missed.
Theodora: I’m glad to see so many of you again and provide the occasion for so much revisiting.
Maggie: Actually, I wanted the chance to say…Well, when I teach…
Theodora: That’s your work?
Maggie: Only part time. But it makes me realise how skilfully, invisibly, powerfully you enabled us all….to somehow come into our own when we had the barest sense of what that might be….
Theodora: It works both ways, you know.
Maggie: Yes yes, I learn incredibly from my students.
Theodora: What do you teach?
Maggie: Music….playing….composition a bit….But the subject is the medium. It’s really about whole person, isn’t it?
Theodora: Such is the Holy Child approach.
Maggie: “Words not actions.”
Theodora: “Actions not words.
Maggie: Sorry for being so out of touch. But your influence does prevail, I promise.
Theodora: I should retire more often - it’s rather gratifying.
Maggie: I wish I could play a piece you deserve.
Theodora: Oh since you’ve come all this way, why not play after all. I mean, what would you say to a student of yours?
Maggie: Well….I’d….I suppose…to…to just enjoy it….
Theodora: Then how about a few turns to warm you up?

Theodora starts playing Verdi’s Waltz In F Major.

Maggie: Now? Beside the altar?
Theodora: What’s amiss if it helps brighten the spirit?
Maggie: I’ve hardly waltzed since school at all…only at the odd wedding.
Theodora: Come now, a little dance for Mother Cornelia in thanks for quieting the crying baby. Ready?
Maggie: Not at all.
Theodora: Right foot back on One……

As Theodora plays, Maggie turns in a rough and ready waltz.

Maggie: Left foot to the side on Two……
Theodora: That’s the way….
Maggie: Oh….I guess that after a couple of glasses of wine….I guess I could brace myself….To hell with it….I’ll play.
Theodora: Yes…the light fantastic toe.

The tomb opens. A figure emerges, wearing a 19th century nun’s habit.

Cornelia: Oh the light fantastic toe.

Cornelia is about to start dancing too.
Suddenly the chapel evaporates.
Pete appears.
The music abruptly stops.

Pete: Where did you stay?
Maggie: In a bed and breakfast.
Pete: On your own?
Maggie: Check it out if you like.
Pete: How was this school reunion then?
Maggie: It was a retirement do.
Pete: Did you go to confession?
Maggie: Hardly.
Pete: No remorse?
Maggie: I told you. It’s over.
Pete: So, are you ready to tell me who he is?
Maggie: It wouldn’t help.
Pete: Is it really over?
Maggie: What else am I meant to say?
Pete: If you see him again……
Maggie: Do you mind if I practice now?
Pete: Practice?
Maggie: Chopin’s Waltz in A-flat Major, Opus 69, Number 1.
Pete: Why?
Maggie: Because sad music makes me feel better.

Maggie starts playing Waltz in A-flat Major, Op. 69 No. 1. by Chopin.

Pete: Because you miss him?
Maggie: Please can I just play.
Pete: You didn’t answer my question.
Maggie: I need to play.
Pete: Is that right.
Maggie: I’m trying my best.
Pete: Are you.

Pete goes.
Maggie continues playing, finding flow.
Getting emotional, she stops. She finds her phone. She sends a text.

Maggie: How is this… any way… best bloody self?!

Maggie’s phone starts to ring.

A PRAYER - opening

A piano.

Aggie appears with a box of matches or lighter and candle. Iris and Theodora appear. Iris holds a letter. Aggie lights the candle.

Aggie: (To audience) If you would like to pray quietly alongside me now, you are welcome.
  (In prayer)
  Mother Cornelia, please support me to find the strength and sensitivity needed to do this well, to communicate all that needs to be shared as clearly and as honestly as possible.
  Please forgive factual changes and anachronisms that, I hope, serve the spirit of your life and work. May they illuminate rather than cloud the truth of things. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to chart your path. I ask that my fears be eased. Please bear with my scepticism…which, I have to admit, feels strong right now…despite everything that has happened……Yes, here I go again, asking if this isn’t just superstitious foolery, age-old delusion for the weak of mind, the desperate, who resort to…..cling to… old worn-out pathetic pleading to some icon or entity that isn’t real? Mightn’t the flame be better used to light a fag to soothe my nerves…I could do with one…..really could right now. I must be bonkers airing this in front of an audience. How many are wondering, “This is a theatre isn’t it? Why am I being prayed at? I mean, she is only acting isn’t she? This is acting praying isn’t it? I mean, it’s not real praying is it?”
  (To audience) Actually, what if it is real praying? My attempt at it. Because, you know what, I’ve resorted to asking for help and giving thanks…well, opening up a conversation with…..what you might call the essence…the Divine….the Eternal……Iris calls it the Universe…whatever.. a lot over the last couple of decades…on and off…off and on….When you’re beyond your wit’s end…when tears won’t even come…..on your knees with it all… reach out….. something from the essence of your being…..pours out ….somehow…..
Aggie: And you know all about that, don’t you Mother Cornelia…..Mother Mary…..because we have each lost….
Aggie: Your sons…my son….