(Iris’s son Ted has to learn his lines for the class play. Needless to say, it’s about saving the planet. Needless to say, Iris is doing several other things at the same time as rehearsing him.)
Downstairs in the kitchen, Iris was standing at the sink, washing spinach for supper and trying not to get water on Ted’s script, which was balanced on the worktop. The play was one of Miss Kilpatrick’s finest works, a testimony not only to a guilty passion for Gilbert and Sullivan, but also that ability, mandatory for all primary school teachers, to give every member of every class, however unappealing or unsuitable, the chance to shine.
THE GREAT CHAIN OF LIFE
SCENE 1: The Arctic Shelf.
In front of a big mass of ice, many ICEBERGS float on a blue blue sea.
THE SUN: (sings)I’m shining down on the blue blue sea
Everything in Nature depends on me!
But if my heat should get too strong
Everything in Nature will go all wrong!
ICEBERGS (CHORUS) We can see already that it’s going wrong!
Stay with us and you will hear a sorry song!
Enter BABY POLAR BEAR. He looks thin and unhappy.
BABY BEAR: Roar! Roar! I’m so hungry! My Mum spent the whole winter looking after me, and we’re both STARVING MARVIN (Roar!!!) Now she’s left me all alone to go out hunting for seals, and she’s been gone for ages and I’m hungry and lonely. I do hope she finds something for us to eat!
Exit BABY POLAR BEAR, still roaring.
Iris stopped picking spinach and wiped her hands on her trousers to turn the page. ‘You didn’t have any lines in that bit Ted. Shall I skip through until you come in? Oh look, there’s a whale in this scene, I bet I can guess who’s playing him, it’ll be that boy who turns up every morning with a bottle of Lucozade and a bag of square crisps, isn’t it?’
Ted was eating bread and jam at the kitchen table, a copy of ‘FourFourTwo’ hidden on his knee. ‘That’s very fattist of you Mum, JoAnne’s being the whale. Miss Kilpatrick said her chair could be a WhaleChair, cause she can glide about in it. Go on Mum, it’s nearly my bit now.’
SCENE 2 – THE OCEAN OFF THE COAST OF PERU
The sun shines down on a beautiful blue ocean. Flying fish and cormorants (no final numbers yet) are playing ‘It’, chasing after each other and squealing happily.
THE SUN: (sings) Now here is the ocean just near Peru
It looks so beautiful, all clear and blue
But beneath the surface it’s a different tale
Listen to the story of the Minkie Whale!
CORMORANTS/FLYING FISH: (CHORUS)
If the yearly algae bloom should ever fail
Then it will be curtains for the Minkie Whale!
Enter the MINKIE WHALE. She is pale and thin (for a whale). She is looking around her, very upset, as though she has lost something.
MINKIE WHALE: Where are they? I’m so hungry! One day they were everywhere, and the next they’d just disappeared! Has anybody seen my algae? I’m an algae farmer, and I need to eat fifteen thousand gallons of algae every day, or I’ll die!
Ted looked up smugly from his magazine. ‘All those bits Mum where she says ‘algae’ she was supposed to say ‘phytoplankton’ but she couldn’t say it, so Miss Kilpatrick had to change them all to ‘algae’. Nobody except me can say it. Phytoplankton! Phytoplankton! Phytoplankton!’
‘You’re a star, Ted. I think we’ve nearly got to your bit, are you ready?
As the MINKIE WHALE glides about the stage, the POLAR BEAR, the SEAL, the TUNA, the SARDINE and the ZOOPLANKTON all come on to join her. All together, they shout out:
CHORUS OF ANIMALS: ‘WHERE ARE THEY?!’
‘That is truly tragic at your age Mum, talking to yourself in silly voices. What have you lost this time, your marbles by the sound of it.’
Molly stood in the doorway, wearing black jeans and a black tee shirt with ‘The Statement on the Other Side is True’ printed across the front. Iris dropped the script in the sink full of spinach water, and somehow mustered a smile for her daughter.
Molly slouched across to the fridge and opened it. ‘I haven’t eaten anything orange today Mum. I need something orange to help with convergent thinking on my endocrinology essay.’
Ted, who had finally abandoned his magazine and climbed up on the chair to launch himself into his big moment, glared at her. Iris pointed silently at the fruit bowl, overflowing with oranges, as Ted jumped up onto his chair, sending the bread and jam flying, and shouted out:
PHYTOPLANKTON: I’m the phytoplankton, you don’t know me
I spend my life at the bottom of the sea
But I rise each year as an algal bloom
And if I ever didn’t, all life would suffer DOOM!
‘I see William Wordsworth has risen again as writer-in-residence at Gordon Road Primary’ muttered Molly through her orange. But she’d sat down to eat it at the kitchen table, rather than rushing back upstairs. Iris resisted an impulse to empty the spinach bowl over her, and addressed Ted instead: ‘Rise above it, she’s just being Molly. That was really good, what’s next? Oh it’s just the last bit and then the final chorus, let’s just finish it off shall we?’
ZOOPLANKTON: Oh good, now I can eat, I’m so hungry
(chases PHYTOPLANKTON off stage)
SARDINE: Oh, there goes my dinner, luckily there’ll be lots more now
(chases ZOOPLANKTON off stage)
TUNA: Oooh, yum, lots and lots of sardines for my dinner!
(chases SARDINE off stage)
SEAL: That big fat tuna will be just perfect for my babies’ lunch!
(chases TUNA off stage)
POLAR BEAR: FOOD! FOOD! ROAR! (chases SEAL off stage)
‘Go on Molly you’re not doing anything useful, give us a bit of applause.’
Molly raised thin white hands in a single sardonic clap. Iris looked at her sharply. ‘Adolescence is such fun isn’t it, I’m so glad you’re still enjoying it.’ She put a supportive hand round Ted’s shoulder. ‘Come on Ted, let’s hit them with the final chorus’
FINAL CHORUS (TO AUDIENCE)
Dear Humans, we know you don’t mean any harm
But thanks to your actions, our planet is too warm
The penguin and the polar bear may both be sweet
But this guy here suffers most from the heat
Even though he’s tiny, and almost invisible
The Great Chain of life is just not divisible…
‘Can Jack really manage ‘divisible’ do you think Ted?’…’
So please, spare a thought for the great and the small
Before Global Warming destroys us, one and all!
‘Oh good, Malcolm, can you give Ted some applause please, Molly seems to have run out again.’
Malcolm was watching bemusedly from the doorway. Obligingly, he put his hands together.
‘No problem. Bravo! Speaking of being hungry, did you have any intention of producing supper at some future stage, or are we now on such intimate terms with all life forms that it would be impolite to ingest them?’
‘Oh my, is that the time? Sorry, how about some nice sustainable sardines on toast and spinach, that’ll be quick.’
Ted looked worried. ‘I don’t think I can eat a fellow cast member Mum. Specially one higher up the food chain.’
‘Nonsense, it’s perfect Method, metabolising your part. Here, you can set the table. Molly, are you going to grace us with your presence for Omega-3, iron and vitamin B12, all wrapped in a luscious feuillete of domestic comfort and banal chat?’
Molly glowered, but stayed where she was. Ted stopped, knives and forks splayed from his hands. ‘So Mum, if we’re all family, does that mean the worms are family too? In the compost? If it’s our compost? Shall we give them names?’
Molly’s chair banged over as she made a dash for the door. On the back of her tee shirt was written ‘The Statement on the Other Side is False’.
Malcolm righted the chair and sat down himself. Ted came to perch on his knee for a hug. ‘That was pretty fine, old lad, but you left out the end.’
Iris brought the plates to the table. ‘What end would that be? D’you want lemon on your classmate, Ted?’
‘Well, when the Gulf Stream disappears, as anybody who watched that masterpiece of scientific research ‘The Day After Tomorrow’ knows it inevitably will, the oceans will cool down again and the phytoplankton will be fine. It’ll just be us, living in Northern Canada without central heating, who’ll be having a hard time. If I were you Ted, I’d not bother saving that polar bear, I’d go skin him, and make yourself a coat.’