[a.k.a. "A Comedy of Danger" by Richard Hughes]
The Author was asked by the British Broadcasting Company [in January 1924] to
write a play for effect by sound only, in the same way that film plays are
written for effect by sight only. It is thus the first "Listening-Play," an
experiment in a new medium.
It was first produced by Nigel Playfair, and broadcast from the London Station
on January 15th, 1924.
For direct presentation, it should be acted in pitch-darkness, and is thus
better suited for performance in a room, without a stage at all, than in even
a little theatre.
(All English characters to the mine)
JACK. A young man.
MARY. A young woman.
MR. BAX. An elderly man with a gruff voice and rather a Johnsonian [stilted]
manner of speech.
VOICES. A party of Welsh miners who say a few words and are heard singing off.
The Noises required include an explosion, the rush of water, footsteps,
and the sound of a pick. There must be an echo, to give the effect of the
The Scene is a gallery in a Welsh coal-mine.
[Lights out. An Announcer tells the audience that the scene is a coal-mine.]
MARY. [sharply] Hello! What's happened?
JACK. The lights have gone out!
MARY. Where are you?
[Pause. Steps stumbling.]
MARY. Where? I can't find you.
JACK. Here. I'm holding my hand out.
MARY. I can't find it.
JACK. Why, here!
MARY. [startled] Oh! What's that?
JACK. It's all right: it's only me.
MARY. You did frighten me, touching me suddenly like that in the dark. I'd no
idea you were so close.
JACK. Catch hold of my hand. Whatever happens, we mustn't lose each other.
MARY. That's better. - But the lights! Why have they gone out?
JACK. I don't know. I suppose something has gone wrong with the dynamo.
They'll turn them up again in a minute.
MARY. Oh, Jack, I hate the dark!
JACK. Cheer up, darling! It'll be all right in a minute or two.
MARY. It's so frightfully dark down here.
JACK. No wonder! There must be nearly a thousand feet between us and the
daylight. It's not surprising it's a bit dusky!
MARY. I didn't know there could be such utter blackness as this, ever. It's so
dark, it's as if there never was such a thing as light anywhere. Oh, Jack,
it's like being blind!
JACK. They'll turn the lights up again soon.
MARY. I wish we had never come down this beastly mine! I knew something would
JACK. But it'll be all right, dear; it's only the lights.
MARY. Where are the others?
JACK. They're just on ahead, not far.
MARY. Suppose we get lost!
JACK. We can't get lost, Mary darling.
MARY. I wish you hadn't wanted to drop behind the others! Oh, Jack, I'm afraid
of the dark.
JACK. [sarcastically] ... My mistake! Buck up, Mary old girl; it'll soon be
MARY. And I wish we hadn't left these miners' lamp things they gave us behind!
[Pause.] Listen! [Steps heard.] There's someone coming!
BAX. [distant, muttering] Of all the incompetent idiots, turning the lights
off just when a party of visitors were seeing the place! Call this a coal-
mine! A damned, dark rabbit-hole I call it, a rotten rat-hole, a dratted, wet
smelly drain-pipe ... The dithering fools!
MARY. It's Mr. Bax. ... Hallo!
BAX. Hallo! Who's there? Of all the stupid, meddlesome idiots--
MARY. Oh. Mr. Bax, what's happened? Is it all right?
BAX. Is it all right, indeed! Leaving us suddenly in the dark like this!
MARY. But has there been an accident?
BAX. Goodness knows! I'd expect anything of a country like Wales! They've got
a climate like the flood and a language like the Tower of Babel, and then they
go and lure us into the bowels of the earth and turn the lights off! Wretched,
incompetent - their houses are full of cockroaches-- Ugh!
JACK. Well, I suppose the only thing to do is to sit and wait for the lights
to go up again.
MARY. There's no danger, is there?
BAX. No, young lady, there's no danger; but it's damned unpleasant!
MARY. Oh, I don't know; I'm beginning to think it's rather fun.
BAX. Well, if you can find any fun in breaking your shins in the dark--
MARY. Why, don't you call it fun, being in a pit disaster?
JACK. [quickly] But this isn't a disaster, it's only the lights--
MARY. Of course, silly! You don't think it would be fun if it were a real
disaster, do you? But the lights going out might have meant a disaster -
and think how thrilling it's going to be to talk about afterwards! - I say,
MARY. Let's pretend it's serious.
JACK. What do you mean?
MARY. Let's pretend it's a real disaster, and we're cooped up here for ever
and will never be able to get out.
JACK. Don't joke about it.
MARY. Why not? There's no real danger, is there? Let's get all the
thrills we can.
BAX. Well, of all the morbid-- Young people nowadays--
MARY. I love thrills! - Let's pretend the roof has fallen in, and they can't
get at us.
JACK. [uncomfortably] Very well; but what a baby you are! [In mock solemnity:]
Here we are, my dear, buried alive!
MARY. Oh, Jack!
JACK. Alas, they will never find us!
MARY. Oh, Jack!
MARY. I'm so frightened!
JACK. What at?
MARY. About the roof having fallen in.
JACK. But it hasn't; it's only pretence.
MARY. Yes, but when I pretend, it seems so real.
JACK. Then don't pretend.
MARY. But I want to pretend! I want to be frightened! Only hold my hand tight,
won't you? - Go on.
JACK. We shall suffocate, or starve, or both, my dear, in each others' arms.
MARY. Oh, Jack!
JACK. Even death shall not part us.
MARY. Oh, Jack, don't! It's too awful.
JACK. There'll be articles in all the newspapers.
MARY. [delighted] Oooh! I wish I could read them!
BAX. You can't have your funeral and watch it, young lady.
MARY. Oh, this is fun! I wouldn't have missed this for anything. Won't I make
daddie's flesh creep!
[A distant explosion, with a long echo, swelling in volume.]
JACK. Good God! Mary!
MARY. Oh, Jack! Jack, Jack, Jack, Jack, Jack!
JACK. Quiet, you little fool! Let go! you're throttling me! Let go of me!
[Another explosion nearer, followed by the hiss of water.]
MARY. Oh, the dust! It's choking me! I can't breathe! Oh!
JACK. Stop screaming, you! How can you expect to be able to breathe if you're
screaming all the breath out of your body? Quiet!
MARY. Oh, Jack!
JACK. Pull yourself together! We're all right; we're not hurt.
BAX. No, sir, we're not hurt. But listen! [Water heard louder.] Water!
JACK. [sotto voce] Shut up, you idiot. Don't let her hear.
MARY. What's that roaring?
JACK. It's only the echo.
MARY. Oh, Mr. Bax, can't we find the others?
BAX. I don't think we could, young lady: it wouldn't be much use to us if we
JACK. [quietly and sharply] Oh, good God! Good God! Good God!
BAX. They're no better off than we are.
MARY. Why, listen! that must be them! [Voices heard singing: "Ar hyd y Nos."]
That must be the others. They can't be very far off. Let's call to them.
BAX. Sound carries a long way in a tunnel. But listen. [More singing.] Gad!
those chaps have courage.
JACK. You're finding some good in the Welsh, then, after all?
[The roar of water gets louder.]
MARY. The echo's getting louder! - Oh, Jack, it isn't an echo! It's water!
The mine's flooding! We'll be drowned!
[The voices sing a couple of lines of "Aberystwyth."]
BAX. I wish I had the faith of those chaps, sir. It'd make dying easy.
MARY. Oh, Jack, I don't want to die yet! I won't, I won't, I won't!
BAX. It has got to come some time, young lady; isn't it better for it to
happen now, in your lover's arms? Death might have parted you two, instead of
which he's simply joining you closer together.
MARY. [wailing] I want to live!
JACK. Shut up, you old fool! It's all very well to be stoical about death at
your age, but we're young! We'd got all life before us.
BAX. Can't you keep quiet about it, then, you young jackanapes? Do you think I
want to die, either? But it ain't good manners to talk about it. Where'd we be
if we all started screaming about it, eh? Behave yourself, sir! Those chaps
over there don't want to die, either, but they don't make a fuss about it;
they sing hymns! If you and me don't feel like singing hymns, we can at least
behave like gentlemen.
JACK. Behave like gentlemen, indeed! I tell you, it's all very well for an old
chap like you, who'll die anyhow in a year or two, but it's different for us -
BAX. Well, if you want to make a scene, you shall have one, sir! D'you think
it is any easier for the old to die than the young? I tell you, it's harder,
sir, harder! Life is like a trusted friend, he grows more precious as the
years go by. What's your life to mine? A shadow, sir! Yours, twenty-odd years
of imbecile childhood, lunatic youth; the rest a mere rosy presumption of the
future! Mine, sixty solid years of solid, real living; no mere rosy dream! Do
you think it is as easy for me to leave my solid substance as you to leave
your trumpery shadow?
JACK. What's your life worth to the world? Who's dependent on you? What good
are you to anyone?
BAX. And what good are you, young man?
JACK. One person is dependent on me, anyway.
BAX. You mean that you are loved by this young lady. If you both die, what
loss is that to the world? - Two opposite quantities cancelling out!
MARY. [shocked] Oh, you beast! You cruel beast!
BAX. I must speak, madam, in common justice to my age, since that young cub
has started the subject. The old are always being twitted with their
unwillingness to die. Yet it is the most natural thing in the world that it
should be the young, who haven't a notion of what life really is, who should
be ready to chuck it away for any footling reason that comes along.
JACK. Look here, instead of talking like this, let's do something; let's
make some sort of an attempt to escape!
BAX. What do you propose to do, young man?
JACK. Why, look for some way out. We can't stay down here and drown like rats
in a cage.
BAX. If you start to walk, my boy, you'll start to run; and if you start to
run, you'll get in a panic, and go mad in the dark. I'd rather die with my
wits about me!
JACK. I'd rather not die at all!
BAX. Keeping still is the only thing for us, if we don't want to lose our
heads. Remember, we're goodness knows how far into the side of the hill. What
earthly hope do you think there is of finding our way out?
MARY. Oh, the dark! I do hate the dark! I think I could go more easily if I
could see light just once before it happened.
JACK. Here it comes! Listen!
[Rush of water quite close now.]
BAX. Yes, it will be on us in another five minutes.
JACK. Pray Heaven it finishes us off quickly.
MARY. Oh, think of dying somewhere out in the open, in the sunlight! Me able
to see you, and you able to see me! What bliss it would be!
JACK. It's strange how little chaps wonder what will happen to them after
death. One hardly thinks about it ... yet I don't know: how thrilled we should
be if we met a chap who really knew! - In five minutes we're going to know
ourselves, all three of us. [Laughs unsteadily.] I've always wanted to travel.
Now I'm going to!
MARY. Oh, Jack, my poor dear!
JACK. [in a quiet, childlike voice] Mary, do you know I'm beginning to feel as
excited about it as a child going to the seaside for the first time. Aren't
MARY. Jack, how queer you are! I never looked at it like that!
JACK. Well, I wasn't in any hurry to die; but now it's coming, I feel sort of
proud of myself, as if it was a very wonderful thing to manage to pull off.
MARY. Oh! Jack darling!
JACK. There's only one thing I'm sorry about.
MARY. What is it?
JACK. [rather wildly] I've forgotten the luggage!
JACK. The train's coming, and there's no time to go back for it. [Laughs.]
Who'll feed the parrot?
BAX. Pull yourself together, sir! Keep control!
JACK. It's all right, Bax, I'm not going off my nut. I mean what I say. What
do you think I've got to live for, besides myself and Mary? Why, my work! If
it wasn't for that, Bax, I'd go to death without caring a tuppenny damn! I'd
die just for the fun of the thing, to see what it felt like.
BAX. [sarcastically] I shouldn't worry about that if I was you: the world'll
get on all right without you, never you fear! And what is your work?
JACK. I write. Poetry.
BAX. Good God! and you call that work!
MARY. Oh, Jack, the water's coming! It's over my feet! Oh!
JACK. Courage, darling.
MARY. Oh, Jack, I don't want to die! I hate it, I loathe it! I want to live!
JACK. Don't make it harder, dear: you don't think it's fun for me, you having
MARY. Oh, Jack, it's awful! Only for an hour more! Oh, I do want to live
another hour! - Jack, there was something I wanted to say to you, and I can't
remember it. ... Oh, I must remember ... it'll be too late soon. Oh, Jack!
JACK. Oh, God, can't I be allowed to finish my work!
BAX. Damn your work, sir! Do you think you're the only one dying before his
time? I tell you, every man dies before his time, even if he lives till he's
old as Methuselah!
MARY. Oh, it's up to my knees!
JACK. Don't clutch at me like that, Mary; it won't do any good.
MARY. But the water-- the current's washing me away--
JACK. I've got you! And I've got my other arm round the wooden thing!
MARY. Hold tight, then!
JACK. I've got you tight!
MARY. Oh, if only I could see you!
JACK. Just think of all the things I had meant to do! [Roars with laughter.]
BAX. Shut up about the things you had meant to do, you young cub! Will you
realize we're all in the same boat, and it's as hard for me to die as you - or
worse, by Gad! A thousand times worse!
JACK. You hoary old sinner, can't you prepare to get out of the world instead
of cursing at me!
MARY. Oh, Jack, let's pray.
JACK. Pray if you like, Mary. I can't.
MARY. Oh! Jack, don't!
BAX. [hoarsely] Help! help! I can't die, I won't die! I'm an old man - I
won't, I won't, I won't!
JACK. Hold yourself in, you old coward!
MARY. Poor Mr. Bax! I'm quite calm now; I don't mind dying a bit.
JACK. Nor do I - now it's so close.
BAX. Help me! Help! Help! Help!
MARY. It's no good, Mr. Bax; no one can possibly hear us. The only thing is to
keep calm. It won't be long now.
BAX. Oh, help! Help! Help!
JACK. Tchk! What's that? Listen.
BAX. Help! Help!
JACK. Shut up, Bax; we want to listen.
MARY. It's up to my waist now, Jack.
JACK. My God! It's someone tapping. [Shouts:] We're here! Farther along!
MARY. [calmly] Is it? They'll find our bodies, that's all.
JACK. They'll find us if they're quick enough! [Shouts:] Farther along still!
- That's right!
MARY. They can't possibly be quick enough. Besides, I don't want them to find
JACK. It's a strange thing, Mary, but before I looked on Death as a terrible
thing; and now I am so nearly dead, I wouldn't come back to life for anything.
There's such a lot to find out, the other side.
BAX. Help! Pick quicker, you fools, quicker! We're drowning!
JACK. Stop it, Bax; they won't be in time. Why can't you behave sensibly?
MARY. [quietly] Jack darling, I'll never leave you.
BAX. How do you know they'll let you stay with him, you little fool? What do
you know of death? I tell you death isn't heaven and it isn't hell. Death's
dying, you young dolts. Death's being nothing - not even a dratted ghost
clanking its chains on the staircase.
MARY. My soul's immortal, Mr. Bax; I know that.
BAX. But if your soul's immortal, is your mind immortal? Or is your soul going
to wander about without one, like an imbecile? Eh? - You young fools, you've
never thought! I have! Oh, my God, I have! These last ten years!
[Knocking grows louder.]
MARY. Oh, Jack, it's up to my chin! - Help me!
JACK. Let me lift you in my arms, darling: then when it gets up to my
chin, we'll die together.
MARY. Say it isn't true, what he has been saying.
JACK. No, darling, of course it's not true.
BAX. Hurry up, you dolts, you blockheads! Smash your way in! We're drowning, I
tell you! drowning! Quick, quick!
MARY. Good-bye, Jack dear.
JACK. My God, they must be nearly through! God, this suspense! How much longer
before we know whether we're going to live or die? I don't care which - but I
do want to know!
BAX. Look! There's a light! A hole in the roof! Quick, quick!
[Sound of strong blows, then of coal falling; cheers.]
JACK. They're through!
VOICES. Quick, below there! Catch on to the rope!
BAX. Quick! I'm an old man!
JACK. There's a girl here!
BAX. By Gad, Jack, a near shave! Come along, young lady: I've got the rope.
JACK. She's fainted.
BAX. Never mind; pass her up - she'll be all right.
VOICES. Pass the bight of the rope round her shoulders!
BAX. Well, she's had the thrill she wanted, all right! Give you something to
write about, too, my boy. - All right above there? Have you got her?
VOICES. Ri-ight. Now the next.
JACK. Up you go, quick, Mr. Bax. The water's still rising!
BAX. No, my boy, after you; you're more value in the world than I am.
JACK. Nonsense, sir! After you. You're an older man than I am. Quick, sir, or
there won't be time!
BAX. You've got Mary to think of - now, Jack. - Haul away above there!
JACK. No, no! Lower me! It's me you're hauling up, and it ought to be Bax.
VOICES. We'll have you up first; there's no time to waste. Right?
JACK. I'm all right. Lower away again. Below there, Bax! Catch hold. Have you
got it? [Pause.] Hi! [Pause.] Bax! Bax! - Good God, he's gone!