Day of Reckoning

So far as I know, Pam Valentine’s 1999 comedy Day of Reckoning has never been professionally produced, and indeed it has all the hallmarks of a play tailored for the ‘am dram’ market, where production budgets are typically limited and casts often have a gender balance weighted toward the feminine. Of Day of Reckoning’s eight roles, all but one are women, of various ages and temperaments, and the play only requires a single set, a village hall somewhere in England.

The action revolves around the committee that organizes the annual church fete, and features the usual brew of frustrated egomania and procedural anality that one typically finds in such bodies. Many of the characters have vices and secrets, so there’s also a fair bit of poisonous local gossip spinning the story round. The village fete itself is the eponymous day of reckoning when all the secrets come out: the drunken, adulterous vicar finally acknowledges that he has lost his faith, the kindergarten teacher is expecting a teenage hoodlum’s baby and the committee chair turns out to have murdered her burdensome, geriatric mother. But the conceit of the play is that most of the actual events, and some of the more vivid characters, never appear onstage: the committee, dressed for the fete in fairytale outfits, spend much of the second act looking out of windows as various disasters occur, escalating from a deflating bouncy castle to the pregnant schoolteacher having a miscarriage to the arrival of the police to break up a riot…

Marjorie, the local lesbian, makes a play for Angela, the schoolteacher, in a production at Rye.

Marjorie, the local lesbian, makes a play for Angela, the schoolteacher, in a production at Rye.

In the first act it’s looking in through a window that starts one important strand of the action. Ethel, the gossipy shopkeeper, was delivering a box of groceries to her fellow committee member Sally Martin when she noticed a strange car in the drive. So she thought she’d better have a look round, which consisted of peering in through the living room window. Sally wasn’t there. What Ethel saw was the husband of the house, who’s not usually in during the day: ‘Major Martin. And this woman. He was on the settee and she was stretched across him.’ Dismissing an optimistic suggestion that the woman might have been a relative of his, Ethel elaborates:

ETHEL: Laid across his lap she was, drawers round her ankles, skirt round her ears.

MARJORIE: What was he doing?

ETHEL: Chastising her. With a hairbrush. Bristle side down.

MARJORIE: Bloody man needs gelding!

Ethel couldn’t stay to watch because she had frozen food to deliver, but as she drove off, Sally arrived and walked in – which means she must have found her husband administering the bare-bottom chastisement to another woman. ‘It never did us any harm, a good spanking,’ says another committee member, but Sally is obviously shaken and on edge. Her husband, it later emerges, routinely ‘plays away’, but catching him in the act propels her into a decision: she will do the same herself – and at the end of the act the sexual tension between her and the vicar erupts into a kiss.

As theatrical spankings go, this is about as marginal as you can get. It happens offstage, before the start of the play, and involves two characters we never actually meet. The woman being spanked plays no further part in the story and is never even identified. But in motivating Sally’s affair with the Rev. Geoffrey Morris, it’s also a vital element of the plot: as the play goes on, gossip about his wife reaches Major Martin’s ears, whereupon he reports Morris to the Bishop and ruins the man’s career (which might, in fact, be the best thing for it anyway). So although it’s not a spanking scene that will ever appear in any production of the play, there’s always a slim chance that it might one day be illustrated on a publicity poster for it.

Yes, this is a play about the tedium of committee work, so poster ideas will often reflect that:

Day of Reckoning poster

But it’s also a play about guilty secrets and private obsessions, about the other things people are thinking about when they’re bored with committee work. I imagine a poster with the members around the table, each with her own ‘thinks’ bubble to show whatever it is that’s preoccupying her. So lesbian Marjorie will be thinking wistfully about Angela, Gloria in the chair will be thinking of her mother, and Sally… Well, I’d hazard a guess that the contents of Sally’s ‘thinks’ bubble would look something like this:

Day of Reckoning not the poster

Whether any ‘am dram’ society would ever manage to get that displayed in the local library is, of course, quite another matter…

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