Finding an extra level

Tuesday 27th March 2012

KNEW they’d find it difficult, but Andy turned in such an astonishing performance they kept it going until lunchtime. Never repeated it; not even with adults. Have done the ‘stuck in a lift’ and ‘train stops in tunnel’ improvisations, but everyone accepts dramas like that finish with some sort of rescue.

There can be no happy ending, however, for those forced to spend the rest of their lives in an underground bunker: not an easy concept for teenagers to grasp, let alone portray.

Everyone liked Andy. His sister, brother and parents all had faces with permanent smiles. Not many people knew he had asthma. Father drove a comfortable taxi.

The idea came from Mordecai Roshwald’s Level 7, an uncompromising science fiction novel, published in 1959. The first person diarist has to press the buttons when nuclear war breaks out. Not even those deep underground survive.

We’d spent a couple of previous lessons talking about creating realistic characters: names, ages, backgrounds; no Fred Bloggs clichés, please. Andy’s was a boy aged about ten. From memory, I also asked them to wear suitable items of costume.

“You have all been chosen at random. The accommodation is of the highest possible standard. In the event of war, you will be in an extremely privileged position.”

I locked the drama studio doors, sat apart and watched, answering their occasional questions with a firm aloofness. Initially, it lacked any sense of tension. They were too accepting, too unruffled, mostly just looking at each other, unsure what to do or say.

Suddenly, Andy burst into tears. Others in the group tried comforting him. His despair ignited a common anger. There was talk of smashing windows, of attacking the man in charge. It was becoming scarily real. I was worried about his asthma.

Then the bell rang. Everyone stopped what they were doing and went off for lunch.

“You okay, Andy? I hope that wasn’t as awful as it looked.”

“No, it was great. We going to do it again?”

Exit, smiling his permanent smile.

 

 

 

 

 

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