Unsocial Distance

A play for lockdown

(I wrote this way back in April 2020. It needed someone with the technical skills to create it, but the moment has passed, now. Still, it kind of works)

All scenes take place within a screen of a conferencing app such as Zoom, Teams or Skype. All references to ‘Zoom’ can be replaced appropriately.

A window appears, with no video. A microphone comes on with a click, but no video. This is MICHAEL.

MICHAEL:                          Hello? HellOo! Can anyone hear – (to himself) is this on? (out loud) Can anyone  – (to himself again) I don’t think it’s on. How do you –

A small window appears at the bottom. ‘Participant waiting’

MICHAEL:                          What? What does that mean? I don’t know how – oh wait, I have to

The window disappears, and suddenly the screen is split between Michael’s screen, which is still blank, and the face of ANNA, who is mid-twenties. She wears a small headset.

MICHAEL:                          Oh hi! Can you hear me?

Anna nods cheerfully and answers in silence.

                                             Wait, wait, I can’t hear you. I can’t hear you.

She hears this, looks puzzled for a moment and then realises something, does something, and suddenly we hear her.

ANNA:                                I didn’t have the – you know.

MICHAEL:                          Oh, great, I can hear you now. Can you hear me?

ANNA:                                Yes, I can, but I can’t see you. Have you got your cam on?

MICHAEL:                          What does that mean? Where would it be?

ANNA:                                Your cam. You know. Your webcam.

MICHAEL:                          I’m using my laptop.

ANNA:                                It should be automatic, then.

MICHAEL:                          Why do these things never work for me?

ANNA:                                I can hear you. That’s a start.

MICHAEL:                          Yes, I know but – oh wait. What this little thing at the top of the screen is the cam?

ANNA:                                Probably.

MICHAEL:                          But how do I switch it on? I mean, there’s nothing to it, it’s just a bloody little dot, I mean where’s the –

ANNA:                                Hang on, hang on, Mike, I’ve just thought. You need to enable it.

MICHAEL:                          To enable it?

ANNA:                                You have to enable video. On the screen.

MICHAEL:                          It’s at the top of the screen. Above the screen.

ANNA:                                No, no, the screen itself. In the app. In zoom.

MICHAEL:                          Zoom? I don’t think it’s got a zoom, it’s just part of the laptop. I mean where would that be –

ANNA:                                Click somewhere. In the screen.

MICHAEL:                          Oh. OH! Oh wait! Ah. Yes, I think –

Michael’s face fills the screen, from an unflattering low angle.

                                             That’s done it. Oh my God is that my face? I should have shaved.

ANNA:                                Hey! (waves) Hi!

MICHAEL:                          I’m sorry, I’d be better with the video off, I think. Or you would be.

ANNA:                                You want me to switch my cam off?

MICHAEL:                          No, no! No, I mean, you’d be better off if I switched my video off.

ANNA:                                (puzzled) Why?

MICHAEL:                          Because then you wouldn’t have to look at me.

ANNA:                                It’s better with it on.

MICHAEL:                          I’m really not sure I can do all this technology.

ANNA:                                You’re doing fine so far.

MICHAEL:                          Seriously, is that my face?

ANNA:                                Yes, it’s your face. You own a mirror, don’t you? It’s just the same, it just uses more electricity.

MICHAEL:                          I prefer the mirror. This makes me look old. And stupid.

ANNA:                                Wow, what’s your mirror like? (Beat. She grins) Only joking. You look fine.


ANNA:                                So, what’s going on?

MICHAEL:                          What?

ANNA:                                Why have you invited me to this meeting?

MICHAEL:                          I thought we had to.

ANNA:                                Really?

MICHAEL:                          I thought we were supposed to be here for a meeting.

ANNA:                                Yes, but they convene the meeting. You get the invitation and then you join.

Pause as Michael realises he’s made a bit of a fool of himself.

MICHAEL:                          Oh.

ANNA:                                (rushing to save face for him) Still, we got a chance to try it out, didn’t we.

MICHAEL:                          Try what out?

ANNA:                                This? You know. Tele-conferencing.

MICHAEL:                          Is that what it’s called? Oh dear.

ANNA:                                What do you mean ‘oh dear’?

MICHAEL:                          It’s another hybrid.

ANNA:                                What?

MICHAEL:                          Greek and latin mixed. No good will come of it.

ANNA:                                What?

MICHAEL:                          Like ‘television’. ‘Tele’ is from Greek, meaning ‘far away’. ‘Vision’ is from Latin meaning ‘to see’. Same with tele-conferencing.

ANNA:                                (giggles at this piece of abstruse knowledge)Really?

MICHAEL:                          They had to, really. To do it all in Greek would have been ‘telescope’, and that was already taken.

ANNA:                                (playing along) Why couldn’t they do it all in Latin.

MICHAEL:                          Hmmm. It would have been ‘Proculvision’. That would never have caught on.

ANNA:                                I didn’t know you wrote the dictionary, Michael. Bloody hell, I’ve only just noticed all your books. Have you read all those?

MICHAEL:                          (looks over his shoulder then back) I forgot you could see behind me as well.

ANNA:                                Seriously, have you read them all?

MICHAEL:                          What do you think? That I’d buy them for show? Or stockpile them so that I can read them if – I don’t know, for some stupid reason we all have to stay at home for God knows how long?

ANNA:                                I never find the time to read.

MICHAEL:                          You have to make it.

ANNA:                                Haha. How do you do that?

MICHAEL:                          You have to add it to your list of things to do, and do it. Otherwise there’s always something on telly.

ANNA:                                (amused) Is that what you do, then, Michael? Tick it off your little list of things to do?

MICHAEL:                          There’s no need to make it sound utterly ridiculous. God, look at my face! Hear my voice! I’m ridiculous enough as it is.

ANNA:                                Not as ridiculous as this situation.

MICHAEL:                          Actually I’m quite enjoying it.

ANNA:                                But what if you run out of loo roll?

MICHAEL:                          What is this thing with loo roll. I’ll go and buy some more.

ANNA:                                There won’t be any! The shops are emptying! All you can buy is avocados, and that’s only in Waitrose. People are stockpiling, Michael, and it’s what’s causing the shortages.

MICHAEL:                          Nah, I’ve worked it out. Once everyone’s filled up all their storage space with loo roll, there won’t be any more shortages. 

ANNA:                                I don’t know. My nan’s got a whole bungalow to fill.

MICHAEL:                          Yeah, but most people haven’t. Most people have got two and a half kids and no garden. It won’t be loo roll running out that will be the problem in ‘lock down’ (he makes the inverted commas very obvious). It’ll be not throttling one’s loved ones.

ANNA:                                Where are your loved ones, then, Michael?

MICHAEL:                          Oh, I didn’t mean me. If I had loved ones, I’d do my level best not to throttle them.

ANNA:                                You must have loved ones.

MICHAEL:                          Oh, I have, but they don’t live with me. And I’m related to all of them, so  –

ANNA:                                Wait a minute. Wait a minute.

MICHAEL:                          What?

ANNA:                                I’m getting a message. We’re supposed to be in a meeting.

MICHAEL:                          We are in a meeting.

ANNA:                                A different meeting.

MICHAEL:                          Oh.

Cut to:

TITLE: ‘Ten minutes earlier….’

Two faces appear. VICKY is in her forties. HARRY is maybe late thirties.

VICKY:                                 Hi Harry.

HARRY:                               Morning, Vicky. I sent you the –

VICKY:                                 Yes, I saw it Harry, I’ve been thinking about it. I think you’re all wrong.

Harry’s eyebrows twitch slightly.

HARRY:                               Oh really? I’m sorry to hear that.

VICKY:                                 Look, if we offer them a choice between a 20% pay cut, and a 20% reduction in hours, which do you think they’d choose?

Harry looks slightly puzzled.

                                             Well, think about it, in both cases, they effectively get paid for four days out of five, but in the first case they have to work on the fifth day and in the second they don’t. Which would you choose?

Harry nods. He’d anticipated this.

HARRY:                               I thought that would be the point.

VICKY:                                 Erm… unpack that for me.

HARRY:                               Well, look, after this, we’re obviously going to be a leaner firm. You know, lose some unnecessary weight.

VICKY:                                 I guess..

HARRY:                               Well, who would you prefer to keep? The dedicated ones, prepared to work the full week, or those who can’t wait to gain a longer weekend?

VICKY:                                 (sceptically) I’d like to keep the ones who can tell the difference between a good deal and a bad one, and ditch the idiots who can’t.

HARRY:                               (shrugging) Okay. Works both ways.

VICKY:                                 Hmmm. I’ll think about it. Have you thought any more about Anna and Michael?

HARRY:                               Michael.

VICKY:                                 That’s what I thought.

HARRY:                               Definitely.

VICKY:                                 Not Anna?

HARRY:                               No way.

VICKY:                                 Good.

HARRY:                               That’s easy then.

VICKY:                                 I just think Anna is –

HARRY:                               Exactly.

VICKY:                                 And Michael is just so much more –

HARRY:                               He absolutely is.

VICKY:                                 Right. Well, we’d better tell them then.

HARRY:                               Hmm. Okay. They’re not going to like it.

VICKY:                                 Neither am I.

Title: The Previous Evening.

We hear one side of a live telephone conversation. It is Vicky’s voice. Her face fills the screen. She is holding a phone to her ear.

VICKY:                                 That’s it. Has it opened?

                                             No, on the screen

                                             Has it opened?

                                             Well, you know, can you see something on the screen that wasn’t there before.

                                             Oh, that’s good. It says you’re there.

Another window opens. It shows a very close close-up of someone’s clothes.

                                             Can you hear me?

PAM:                                   I could hear you before.

VICKY:                                 No, I mean, is my voice coming out of your tablet?

PAM:                                   Hold on, I need to put it closer to my ear.

The screen zooms to a different obscure view of a shoulder blade or a collar or something.


VICKY:                                 Hello, hello! Mum, can you hear me?

PAM:                                   Hang on, I have to put the phone down.

VICKY:                                 Okay, but Mum…

PAM:                                   Go on, speak!

VICKY:                                 Hello! Can you hear me mum.


                                             Can you hear me? Is it coming out of the tablet?

PAM:                                   (back on the phone) Well, I can hear you, but I don’t know what you’re saying.

VICKY:                                 You can hear me, but you don’t know what I’m saying? That doesn’t make any sense, Mum.

PAM:                                   Well, there’s a sound coming out, but  – wait. I’ll try again. But you’d better hang the phone up.

VICKY:                                 Okay, I’ll disconnect the call. I’ll call you back if it doesn’t work.

PAM:                                   All right. (beat) Go on, then.

VICKY:                                 Okay. Can you hear me now? Can you hear me?

PAM:                                   Well, I can if I hold you up to my ear.

VICKY:                                 Well, there’s no point in that, then, is there?

PAM:                                   Well…

VICKY:                                 I mean, you’re not looking at my face, and I’ve got a view of the side of your neck. Which is lovely, but not really what I want to see.

PAM:                                   Yes. Well, what should I do then?

VICKY:                                 Can’t you try holding the tablet sideways?

The view changes as Pam holds the tablet sideways on her lap. The front of the view is filled with her clothed bosom, and beyond that a very unflattering angle of her face.

PAM:                                   Is that better?

VICKY:                                 Well, at least I can see your face, but –

The view changes back to what it was before.

PAM:                                   I can’t hear you now, though. What did you say?

VICKY:                                 Have you got the volume turned up?

PAM:                                   The volume? Where’s that?

VICKY:                                 Well, on the side of the –

The view changes to a sideways view of the armchair next to Pam, as she has inadvertently flipped from selfie camera to normal camera. Then it moves again as Pam is obviously fiddling with the volume control. Then it goes to a view of her knees.

PAM:                                   Okay, say something now.

VICKY:                                 Now you’ve reversed the camera.

PAM:                                   Oh, I can hear that much better now. Speak again.

VICKY:                                 Mum, you’ve reversed the camera!

PAM:                                   I haven’t! I didn’t touch it. I was changing the volume.

Now there is a great deal of echo and feedback on the line.

VICKY:                                 Maybe turn it down a bit mum. I’m getting feedback (echo:I’m getting feedback).

PAM:                                   Oh, look you can only see my knees now. What’s happened?

VICKY:                                 You’ve switched cameras, Mum. You’re using the back camera instead of the front one.

PAM:                                   Well, how do I fix that?

VICKY:                                 Tap the screen.

PAM:                                   The what?

VICKY:                                 The screen. Tap it.

PAM:                                   Tap it? What for?

VICKY:                                 It should show you a  camera with a sort of arrow on it.

PAM:                                   Yes, there’s a camera.

The video on Pam’s screen stops completely.

VICKY:                                 No, that’s the wrong camera. You’ve switched the video off. There should be another one.

PAM:                                   Oh yes, one that looks like an ordinary camera.

VICKY:                                 That’s right. Tap it.

PAM:                                   Doesn’t do anything at all.

VICKY:                                 Well, yes, you’ve switched the video off. Put it back on.

PAM:                                   What?

VICKY:                                 Click the other camera.

The video comes back on. It shows her face from a very close and unflattering angle.

PAM:                                   And now the other one.

It returns to a view of her knees and the rug beyond.

VICKY:                                 No, now press it again.

PAM:                                   Again?

VICKY:                                 Yes.

PAM:                                   Well, why do I have to press it twice?

VICKY:                                 Because it reset when – never mind, just do it.

The picture goes back to Pam’s face.

PAM:                                   Oh, there we go.

VICKY:                                 Mum, can’t you hold it a bit further away. So I can see your whole face.

PAM:                                   But then I can’t hear you.

VICKY:                                 I thought you’d turned the volume up?

PAM:                                   But you told me to turn it down again.

VICKY:                                 Oh never mind. Are you okay?

She holds it to her ear once more.

PAM:                                   What?

VICKY:                                 Are you okay. How is the lockdown? Now you can’t go out.

PAM:                                   Well, I never really used to go out before. So it hasn’t made much difference.

VICKY:                                 But have you got enough food and things?

PAM:                                   Oh good lord, yes. I’ve got a freezer full of stuff that will keep me going for a year. It’s not going to last a year, is it?

VICKY:                                 Who knows, Mum? Who knows?

PAM:                                   What about you? Are you still going to work?

VICKY:                                 I own the place, Mum. I’m trying to make sure we don’t go under. It’s not easy.

PAM:                                   Still, I heard that the government is going to give everyone money if their employers can’t pay them.

VICKY:                                 Yes. I’m the employer, though. Trying to work out where my money’s going to come from.

PAM:                                   Oh, people will always need you, Vicky.

VICKY:                                 We design fabrics, Mum. It’s not like we’re a supermarket.

PAM:                                   Well, people aren’t going to go round naked, are they?

VICKY:                                 No, but they might wear something they bought last summer.

PAM:                                   So are you having to make lots of people redundant?

VICKY:                                 Furlough, they’re calling it. But frankly, they might never come back off furlough. Yes, I’ve decided that I’ve to to get rid of one of them.

PAM:                                   Oh that’s a shame.

VICKY:                                 Oh, in a way, it’s good to have the excuse. She’s a pretty vapid girl, not much going on upstairs.

PAM:                                   Still, if she’s young at least she can start again.

VICKY:                                 Exactly.

Title: ‘The day before that’

Two faces spring onto the screen, no tech issues, in strong focus with good sound. One is Harry, the other is MIRANDA, early thirties.

HARRY:                               (whispers) Hi.

MIRANDA:                        Hi. Why are you whispering?

HARRY:                               (whispering) It’s a bit tricky. What with ‘you-know-who’ being here.

MIRANDA:                        Your wife? Or Voldemort?

HARRY:                               You know who you-know-who is. 

MIRANDA:                        I would have thought whispering is just going to be more suspicious, Harry. I mean, I’m guessing she’s also speaking to people on Zoom. Are you going to assume she’s having an affair with them? Just pretend I’m a colleague, for God’s sake.

HARRY:                               Well – you are.

MIRANDA:                        I mean pretend that I’m a colleague who you’re not shagging, Harry.

HARRY:                               Well –  you are. Thanks to bloody lockdown.

MIRANDA:                        Perfect then. I’m just a colleague. Let’s talk about work related things.

HARRY:                               Don’t be like that.

MIRANDA:                        Seriously, have you thought about you who you’re going to furlough.

HARRY:                               Michael. It’s got to be Michael.

MIRANDA:                        Michael! But he’s lovely!

HARRY:                               He’s a dick, Miranda, and you know it.

MIRANDA:                        Why?

HARRY:                               He’s such a nerd.

MIRANDA:                        I thought that was the point. I mean, doesn’t he work in the Nerds Department or something? In fact, I thought he was Head of Nerdery.

HARRY:                               Well, there you go.

MIRANDA:                        You can’t sack someone for doing their job well, just because you wouldn’t want to do it yourself. In fact that’s an extra reason for not sacking them. Who’s going to deal with the Nerdery if you get rid of Michael? You?

HARRY:                               He’s not being sacked, Miranda, he’s just being furloughed.

MIRANDA:                        Yes, but we all know that anyone who is furloughed is being lined up for not being taken back on afterwards.

HARRY:                               That’s not true.

MIRANDA:                        Don’t talk to me like I’m just a colleague.

HARRY:                               You just asked me to do exactly that!

MIRANDA:                        You know it is true.I like Michael. I think he’s sweet.

HARRY:                               Well, you’ve just given me another reason to get rid of him then.

MIRANDA:                        Oh you’re a horrible man.

HARRY:                               I know. That’s why you love me.

MIRANDA:                        I never said I loved you. When did you get that idea? Wifey downstairs now is she?

HARRY:                               Yes. Yes, she is.


MIRANDA:                        Well?

HARRY:                               Well, what?

MIRANDA:                        Why have you called then?

HARRY:                               Just to say that I’m missing you.

MIRANDA:                        You saw me last Tuesday.

HARRY:                               I know, but now we’re in ‘lockdown’ I don’t know when we will, and it makes it worse.

MIRANDA:                        We’ll cope. Well, I will.

HARRY:                               Brutal.

MIRANDA:                        Harry, I know what you want. And I’m not doing it.

HARRY:                               What do you mean?

MIRANDA:                        I will not flash my boobs for you.

HARRY:                               Oh please. I’ve told you what it’s like living here.

MIRANDA:                        You’ve had plenty of chances to leave her. Should have jumped while you could. Then you could be living with me during lockdown, instead of her.

HARRY:                               Oh don’t.

MIRANDA:                        Still, you’ve got a nice garden, haven’t you? Might have been a bit claustrophobic in my flat.

HARRY:                               We needn’t have got out of bed.

MIRANDA:                        Except to get eggs.

HARRY:                               And toilet roll.

Expectant pause. Harry looks winsome.

MIRANDA:                        Oh all right. But really quick, okay. And you’re not allowed to record it.

Miranda begins to pull up her top.

HARRY:                               All right. But be quick I think I can hear…

Blackout before she exposes anything.

VOICE:                                Harry, I’m going to – oh my God, who’s that. And are you…? Oh my GOD!

Title: ‘Now.’ Split screen, two different zoom meetings. On the left, Vicky and Anna, on the right, Harry and Michael.

H:                                         Hi, Michael

V:                                         Hi Anna.

M:                                        Hi, where did Anna go?

A:                                         (bouncy) Hi Vicky! How are you? Isn’t this fun?

H:                                         What?

V:                                         Fun?

M:                                        I thought we were all meeting together.

A:                                         Yes, I just love working in my slippers. I’m not even wearing a bra!

H:                                         No, we’re seeing you both separately.

V:                                         Possibly more detail than I need, Anna.

M:                                        Oh. That sounds like bad news for at least one of us.

H:                                         Depends what you mean by bad news.

M:                                        Oh, that sounds like it’s bad news for me.

A:                                         Oh, sorry. I have a tendency to over-share. Still. That’s not a sacking offence. Is it?

V:                                         No one’s getting sacked, Anna.

H:                                         It’s not bad news at all.

M:                                        Good.

A:                                         Oh Good.

V&H:                                   But we have decided that you should be furloughed for the time being.

M:                                        Oh!

A:                                         Oh?

V:                                         It wasn’t an easy decision, and it’s really just until this whole lockdown situation is done with.

H:                                         It wasn’t what I wanted, but you know how it is. I have to do what I’m told.

M:                                        Sure, sure, yes, I understand. So – what does that mean exactly?

A:                                         What does that mean, exactly?

V&H:                                   Well, it means the government will pay 80 percent of your salary until you can work again.

A:                                         Oh. Don’t I have to work, then? I mean, I’ve got Zoom and everything.

V:                                         No, Anna, you can keep your bra off for to foreseeable future!

A:                                         Haha.

H:                                         It means the government will pay you up to 80 percent of your salary until you can work again.

M:                                        Great. So I don’t have to work?

H:                                         You mustn’t work.

M:                                        Perfect!

V&H:                                   Well, I expect you need time to digest this, but if you have any questions, just drop me an e-mail.

A&M:                                  Okay, thanks.

All drop out. V&H appear in a new meeting.

V:                                         So how did that go.

H:                                         Oh yeah, pretty well.

V:                                         Anna seemed pretty happy.

H:                                         Well, I guess she would.

V:                                         I suppose so.

H:                                         Yeah, Michael was delighted.

V:                                         Well, so would you be.

H:                                         Yeah.

V:                                         So, you can meet with him on Monday to talk about how we are going to deal with deliveries, okay.

H:                                         Yes, sure, sure I can do that. Wait. What?


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