s by Tom Stoppard
occurs in the middle of Dirty Linen
. A Select Committee
of the House of Commons
are meeting to discuss an absurd, spurious scandal
the gutter press
have been getting worked up about, in which it is alleged that a Mystery Woman
has compromised the good name and integrity
of, to put no finer point upon it, 119 Members.
Absurd poppycock, of course, but the six members of the committee have to investigate it to restore the honour of the House. The secretary to the committee is a Miss Gotobed, who is new to parliamentary practice but is quickly working her way through it.
The first member of the committee to arrive hands her a pair of lace panties and adjures her to silence about where they had been having dinner last night, a completely innocent meeting which might be misinterpreted should it reach the press.
In the course of the play every single member of the committee similarly cautions her about their own various breakfasts, lunches, suppers, and tête-a-têtes with her. All perfectly innocent, of course. The deliberations proceed slowly because Miss Gotobed is not at all good at taking dictation. Dictation is not her strong point. However, she does seem to know a great deal of intimate detail about their fellow parliamentarians, newspaper editors, and so on.
She is also on page 3 of this morning's Sun.
The committee adjourn, and two Home Office officials come into the vacant room. This is the play New-Found-Land, where the very elderly Bernard tells the young Arthur about a five-pound note he once won from Lloyd George; but actually they're here to discuss the naturalization of an American. (The outer play was actually written to honour a real American theatre producer being naturalized, but as it showed no signs of mentioning him, Stoppard had to insert the inner play to do the job.) The elderly Bernard says this about Americans:
Americans are a very modern people, of course. They are a very open people too. They wear their hearts on their sleeves. They don't stand on ceremony. They take people as they are. They make no distinction about a man's background, his parentage, his education. They say what they mean and there is a vivid muscularity about the way they say it. They admire everything about them without reserve or pretence of scholarship. They are always the first to put their hands in their pockets. They press you to visit them in their own home the moment they meet you, and are irrepressibly goodhumoured, ambitious, and brimming with self-confidence in any company. Apart from all that I've got nothing against them.
Young Arthur then goes into a monologue
about his dreams for travelling across America in all its pageantry
, and this goes on for page after page. Then the Select Committee from Dirty Linen
come back in and try to reclaim their room.
The pair were first performed on 6 April 1976, with Peter Bowles as the Chairman of the committee.