Michael Delahoyde, PhD

Professor of English

Churchill, This is a Chair

Scene i — The War in Bosnia

Julian has been waiting with flowers in a London street for Mary, who arrives apologizing for her lateness. He speaks of the various colors of the flowers, but Mary must change the direction of the conversation: she has “doublebooked” herself (8), having remembered a prior commitment to a concert date. She needs a cab to rush off. Initially, she reports, she thought there’d be time for a drink “but then I was late finishing work and there was a holdup on the tube it stopped in the tunnel for about five minutes people were starting to get nervous you could see from the way they kept on reading or just staring into space but deliberately because they were getting nervous and anyway we can make it another time I’m really sorry” (9). Rescheduling is tricky: “Or Thursday, no wait I can’t do Thursday, Friday oh shit, the week after, any night you like, not Wednesday” (9). They agree to Thursday; “Same place same time?” “Yes,” says Mary, “this is good for me” (10). Mary leaves still apologizing.

Scene ii — Pornography and Censorship

Father and Mother seem concerned that Muriel is not eating her dinner. Father first tries babying her: “Have a special bite of daddy’s” — then threatening: “if you don’t eat your dinner you know what’s going to happen to you” (11). Mother just keeps repeating, “Yes, eat up, Muriel” (11). Muriel never says a word.

Scene iii — The Labour Party’s Slide to the Right

In a third-floor apartment, Ann accuses Ted of being responsible. Ted calls in John and informs him that Ann’s boyfriend “ran on the balcony and jumped over” (12). Ann goes down to see while John and Ted rationalize that, although they came to “give him a smack” (13) for hooking their sister on drugs, they are not really responsible for this. “He might not be dead”; he may have been crazy or high; “Maybe it’s something he was going to do whether we come or not” (14). Neither wants to go look, but John will.

Scene iv — Animal Conservation and Third World Economies: the Ivory Trade

Deirdre has an appointment to go to the hospital on Monday. She says it’s nothing serious but she has to swallow a tube. The first time she had this done she was given drugs. The last time she opted against the drugs, which was initally difficult, “everything taking second place to your body” (17), but subsequently she wonders if the hospital was “just trying to save money” (17). So Polly thinks having the drugs is a good idea. “I probably will. Yes I think I’ll definitely go for the drugs” (17).

Scene v — Hong Kong

In overlapping run-on fragments, Tom and Leo fight over an infidelity. Charlie arrives and incoherent chat about other people and other inconsequentialities introduces a seemingly necessary civility. When Charlie leaves, Leo remarks, “putting on weight” (25) and the two, still in verbal fragments make up.

Scene vi — The Northern Ireland Peace Process

The scene is identical to the second scene (with Father, Mother, and Muriel).

Scene vii — Genetic Engineering

Eric and Maddy have heard a loud noise outside as they head for bed. They wonder if it was a bomb or demolition or a driving accident. They consider taking note of the time and imagine themselves in the near future: “yes we said what was that but we didn’t think anything of it” (30). They refer to the noise having taken place at “ten past one” (30), but Eric says, “it’s near enough half past eleven” (30). Eric won’t have a bath tonight.

Scene viii — The Impact of Capitalism on the Former Soviet Union


It can’t be easy to defy all anticipated ways one would want to find connections between the topical scene titles and the seemingly inconsequential scenes themselves. So lack of connectedness must be part of the vision here, even between the scenes themselves, and including the two instances of the one identical scene with Father, Mother, and Muriel, which plays out as if it is not recognized as being a stultifying repeat of what we’ve gone through before (for them and for other parents probably dozens of times). The Guardian review refers to surrealism, probably because the play’s title and cover allude to Magritte, but the assessment seems off-base. The Daily Telegraph review identifies “a haunting impression of urban alienation, self-obsession and pre-millennial tension,” which is more perceptive.

In the first scene, Mary’s description of the people on the tube when they become nervous — essentially acting exactly the same as when everything is “normal” — also seems key. Willful obliviousness (as with Deirdre going for the drugs) is my guess at the theme. Churchill is gratifyingly pre-post-modern, so she does not create meaningless worlds.

Works Consulted

Churchill, Caryl. This is a Chair. 1997. New York: Theatre Comunications Group, 1999.