Lights up. 

Jean and Roy are stark naked on the bed.  Jean is lying on her back. Roy is sitting sideways with his back to her.  Neither moves. 

Pause

Roy picks up a packet of cigarettes and takes one out.

Wanna fag?

Yeah.

Roy gives her a cigarette, then lights the cigarettes, his own first

Good that, wannit?

Yeah.      

It is a cold December evening in 1978, the winter of discontent.  They are in Jean’s bedsit in Kilburn and have just enjoyed another meaningless fuck before Roy has to shoot off back to his wife and kids.  Jean’s face is bleak, expressionless.  Roy is bored, eager to go.  He leaves her a can of beer.  A few days later, he returns for another go, but Jean isn’t interested.  He gets angry, violent, but Dawn arrives.  Then Val, his wife bursts in.  They fight and leave, breaking the bed.   Jean and Dawn depart  the scene of desolation and go down the pub. 

Later, they return with Mick, Dawn’s Irish husband and Len, a slow, kindly man who was once sweet on Jean.  They get drunk.  Jean sings Danny Boy, wistfully.  She has a lovely voice.  The others thump out bawdy rhymes and laugh.  ‘Oh, dirty, dirty!’  Dawn squeals. They’re having such a wicked time; such good craik!  Mick and Dawn dance, become amorous.  Len and Jean sit apart, merely observers.  Mick and Dawn leave noisily.  Jean breaks down, tells Len he can stay if he wants to.  But Len cares too much to fuck her and at the same time too much to abandon her.  He kisses her goodnight and settles down in the chair in from of the fire and waits for the meter to run out. 

Last year, an estimated 35% of British people were living alone, many in circumstances as squalid as Jean’s.  But living alone is not necessarily a bad thing.  It can be good to have our own space, to think our own thoughts.  Solitude can be peace, contemplation, balm for the spirit, as long as you know that somebody is there.  Loneliness is something altogether different;  it’s that painful awareness of being alone in the world, that nobody cares, and life has no meaning. 

That’s what Jean suffers from.  It was better when she was able to go out onto the forecourt and chat to the drivers as she was filling their cars.  Now she is behind a screen, she takes the money they pass through the slit, tells them to type their pin in.  Nobody engages; nobody cares. 

There is no human connection for Jean except for her occasional night visitor.   But the callous devastation of it all shocks us to the core.   An act of love that should carry all the meaning in the world is desecrated, violated, forcibly stripped of any affection.  It might have been better if Jean  had been paid; but she had sunk so low, become so lonely that she puts up with any connection, however brutal and exploitative.  This is the Misrata of the soul.  If love means nothing, then what meaning can be found in any other aspect of life.   Why bother?   

‘Whatever’  has become the most hopeless word of our age.  It conveys a complete lack of care and meaning.  Whatever!  If anything goes, nothing has any meaning.            

 

It’s 30 years on since Mike Leigh wrote Ecstasy and the first time he has ever revived a play, but the theme is perhaps more relevant, more shocking, now than  it was then.  Loneliness could be seen as the most prevalent illness of our time, only we tend to call it depression or a variety of other medically unexplained illnesses.  If we are not to fail as a species, we need to find society, community, love and meaning and take it three times a day with meals. 

After a successful run at The Hsampstead Theatre, Ecstasy has transferred to the West End and is currently playing at The Duchess Theatre, Covent Garden. 

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