Plays by David Mercer

After Haggerty

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Gathering together the political and social concerns of an era, After Haggerty addresses with breadth and complexity the politics of theatre and personal liberation at a time when social certainties were being rapidly destabilised.

Bernard Link, a socialist middle-aged theatre critic, has leased a flat in London from Mr Haggerty without having met him. Claire, who is sharp, brittle and American, storms into the flat expecting to find the father of her child, but finds Bernard instead. He is having the flat done up by a couple of jobbing decorators, including an out-of-work homosexual actor. The unhappy cohabitation of this mixture of people is punctuated by excepts from Bernard’s pan-European lectures on Marxist theatre, cryptic telegrams from Haggerty in Paris, and the off-stage squalling of Claire and Haggerty’s baby, Raskolnikov. Then Bernard’s father visits, his reactionary, bigoted views clashing with what suddenly feels like a household.

After Haggerty was first presented in 1970 at the Aldwych Theatre, London.

An Afternoon at the Festival

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

An Afternoon at the Festival is an elegantly-structured and reflective meditation on failure.

Leo Brent is an egotistical, successful and middle-aged film-maker. While he is waiting for the four o’clock showing of his new and last film, he spends the morning with a prostitute, Anita: more to find somewhere to sit down than to sleep with her. Back at the house where the film was set, the star — Leo’s ex-wife Dana — is drinking Chablis with his brother, Howard. The play splices these two disconsolate conversations with scenes from Leo’s new film, set in the Victorian era, about the abrasive and eventually violent relationship between a boy and his stepmother. The suggestion, only voiced by Dana, that Leo’s talent is running out sits at the heart of this subtle play.

An Afternoon at the Festival was first presented by Yorkshire Television in 1973.

The Arcata Promise

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

The Arcata Promise is a study of the grotesque self-pity of an unstable actor, a merciless account of individual self-delusion and failure.

Once a successful actor, Gunge now lives in a grimy basement, arguing with a disembodied Voice and fantasising about violence. Glimpses of him prowling the stage as Richard II are intercut with memories of his relationship with Laura, a young woman who believed his promise of eternal devotion, but became gradually disillusioned as his alcoholism and hostility emerged. The sudden appearance of Tony, a valet, in Gunge’s squalid residence fractures Gunge’s reality and psyche even further, bringing Mercer’s story of tortured attraction to a destructive conclusion.

The Arcata Promise was first presented by Yorkshire Television in 1974.

The Bankrupt

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

David Mercer’s play is a bleakly comic study of the introspective amnesia of Ellis Cripper, who has emerged from his recent dishonourable bankruptcy into a personal crisis, with no idea of how to construct his life.

He dreams of summoning a series of historical figures, who propose a series of abstract and general answers to his existential crisis, but neither their adages nor the analyses of doctors and psychiatrists are satisfactory. The play flickers between these conjurations, and Ellis’s visit to his father, his sister and her husband, who try to offer their own structures of Ellis’s existence. But Ellis would rather talk to worms, invoke Hamlet, and write down his dreams.

The Bankrupt is a darkly effective play about a man’s struggle for significance. It was first presented by BBC Television on BBC1, in 1972.

The Cellar and the Almond Tree

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

The Cellar and the Almond Tree is the second part of a trilogy, sometimes called the Kelvin trilogy, with On the Eve of Publication and Emma’s Time. The play is similarly composed of juxtaposed cuts between past and present, fantasy and flashbacks, this time belonging to the Countess Isabel von Reger, and Volubin (who was known to Robert Kelvin in the first play as Sladek).

Beneath the web of conversation and memory are the harsh and troubling realities of conflict and upheaval in central Europe, as the cellar and the almond tree come to represent the constraints of totalitarian regimes and a disappearing aristocratic way of life. Exploring form with the same fluidity as On the Eve of Publication before it, The Cellar and the Almond Tree is a powerful exploration of socialism and memory.

The Cellar and the Almond Tree was first broadcast in 1970 by BBC Television.

Duck Song

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Duck Song is a comic and half-surreal deconstruction, about collective and profound loss of meaning.

In a comfortable middle-class house in London, sixty-year-old Herbert is throwing walnuts at the cuckoo clock. His seventy-one-year-old brother Maurice is asleep, which is his usual pastime. Herbert was a safe-breaker, Maurice a successful artist. Herbert’s daughter Jane, a psychiatrist, and her unemployed boyfriend Eddie are living with them. Jane’s estranged mother and a native American, Swift Arrow (or Lee), are on their way. And one of Herbert’s old criminal associates is breaking in, looking for his cut.

The mood of crisis and dissolution is suggestive of a society in decline. Then the play flashes into the absurd in the second act, becoming fragmented and bizarre, an unsolvable, uncontrollable puzzle.

Duck Song was first presented in 1974 by the Royal Shakespeare Company.

Emma's Time

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Emma’s Time is the third part of a trilogy, sometimes called the Kelvin trilogy, with On the Eve of Publication and The Cellar and the Almond Tree. In Emma’s Time the fluid cuts between past and present, fantasy and flashbacks show Emma searching for the meaning of her relationship with Robert Kelvin, the socialist writer whose death was the subject of On the Eve of Publication.

Her attempts to come to terms with his psychological and political legacies are followed by a television documentary maker. She visits his mother, his dying brother in Paris, and meets Sladek, otherwise known as Volubin, tracing the international political events which were the landscape of Robert’s life, in a concluding play of great scope and power.

Emma’s Time was first broadcast in 1970 by BBC Television.

Find Me

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Through a story of a poet and a novelist, Mercer studies the position of the political writer in post-war Europe.

Marek, the celebrated Polish novelist, turns up outside Olivia’s house. Olivia the poet, whose older husband was killed in the Second World War in the company of Marek, is writing an article about her guest, trying to pin down the politics and psychology buried beneath his constant drinking and womanizing. Their relationship is strained and sad, and swiftly intercut with footage of WWII air strikes, Olivia with her husband, and her husband’s meeting with Marek. Mercer creates through the interaction of Olivia and Marek a bleak portrait of profound historical consciousness.

Find Me was first presented by BBC Television in December 1974.

Flint

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

The eponymous Flint is a seventy-year-old swinging vicar and romantic Communist, the centre of Mercer’s play about the obsolescence of institutions. The atheistic Flint rides a motor bike, goes bowling, sets fires, and makes love in the vestry in order to avoid his paralysed wife, to the continuing despair of his curate.

The play is a mixture of farce, monologue and moments of violent destruction, undercut by the vicar’s profound awareness of mortality. Through Flint’s hedonistic revolt against convention, and caricatures of figures of the establishment, Mercer explores the collision between the exuberant personal explorations of the Sixties and the inherited power of established institutions.

Flint premiered in 1970 at the Criterion Theatre, London.

The Governor's Lady

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

A strange and elusive short play about governors, gorillas and colonialism.

In a bungalow in Africa, Harriet is talking about her husband Gilbert as if he was still alive. She refuses to accept that he died of pneumonia six months ago, that he is no longer the Governor, and that the colony has become independent. And the servants have run away, Gilbert is smashing tea cups and climbing on to the wardrobe, and behaving in a manner which is rather more ape-like than his wife is accustomed to. For the reactionary Harriet, the impossibility of accepting the prevailing political and social reality leads to her breakdown into an astonishing fantasy.

The Governer’s Lady was first staged in 1965 at the Aldwych Theatre, London, in a programme of short plays entitled Expeditions Two.

David Mercer was born in Yorkshire, the son of an engine-driver, and left school at 14 to become a medical laboratory technician. Before he began playwriting, he joined the Royal Navy and also studied painting and fine arts. Mercer began his career as a dramatist with the trilogy of television plays The Generations (1964). His stage plays include The Governor's Lady, Ride a Cock Horse, Belcher's Luck, Flint (1970), After Haggerty (1970), Duck Song (1974), and Cousin Vladimir (1978). He also wrote the screenplay for the motion picture Providence.