McPherson. The Night alive.

Publisher: TCG, 2016.[1]

Premiere: Donmar Warehouse, London, 2013.


Setting: The drawing room of an Edwardian house. It’s been turned into a bedsit with a sink, hot plate, and tiny toilet room. There are 3 doors—double doors to a balcony with a stair to the garden, a door to the hall and the rest of the house, and the toilet room door. A bed and a camping cot. The room is a absolute, complete shambles with all sorts of clutter, trash, etc.


Characters: Maurice, 70s, Tommy’s uncle; Tommy, 50s, does odd jobs; Aimee, 20s, a hooker; Doc, 40s, Tommy’s associate; Kenneth, 30s, Aimee’s pimp.


[Sc. 1][2] Tommy enters leading Aimee whose nose has bled severely from being smacked in the face by a guy. Tommy apparently intervened, rescuing her. He gives her a cup of tea and suggests she can stay if she wants to. He tells her that he rents his bedsit from his uncle who lives upstairs.


[Sc. 2] Next morning, Tommy is on the phone being ragged out by his estranged wife. Doc shows up with turnips and potatoes he filched from Maurice’s garden. They argue over wages that Tommy owes him. Aimee comes in having been washing her hair when the hot water ran out. It’s clear that all of them are on the bring of destitution (although Tommy has a van and a motor scooter). While Aimee’s out finishing her shower, Doc tells Tommy that he knows Aimee’s “on the game.” Maurice comes in with news that the guard (police) are looking for Tommy for leaving a petrol station without paying. Tommy and Doc leave for work and Maurice calls in Aimee who has been hiding in the hall. He asks her questions about herself, reveals that Tommy is married and that his own wife died 8 years ago after falling on ice. He invites Aimee up for breakfast.


[Sc. 3] Night. Tommy and Aimee have just had sex. Tommy, a very satisfied customer, pays her 40 Euros. She says the guy that hit her was her ex-“boyfriend.” They go to separate beds and are about to sleep when Doc comes in with a black eye courtesy of his sister’s boyfriend. He has a bag of chips and sausage. As they eat and talk, Tommy mentions that Doc’s damaged from glue sniffing. They all dance to Marvin Gaye until Maurice bangs on the ceiling for the noise to stop. Tommy and Aimee leave to check the lottery. Kenneth enters, scaring Doc and asking for Tommy. Kenneth jokes with Doc with threatening undertones, scares him with fake fangs, then hits him with a hammer, chases him into the loo, and beats him until Doc goes silent.


[Sc. 4] Late afternoon a few days later. Tommy on the phone being ragged out by his wife. He’s packing Doc’s stuff in preparation to get him from the hospital. Maurice comes in drunk and yells at him. A phone call, and Tommy leaves to get Doc from the hospital.


[Sc. 5] That evening Aimee sneaks in and steals 3,000 Euros from Tommy’s stash. Kenneth comes in, and they argue about the money. Kenneth can’t really make sense; he’s apparently somewhat insane. Tommy returns. Kenneth rants on incoherently but won’t let Aimee leave. Aimee and Kenneth grapple until Tommy intervenes. He and Kenneth struggle until Aimee kills Kenneth by stabbing him in the back with a kitchen knife. Maurice comes in drunk again. He ignores the body but discovers his vegetables and leaves with them.


[Sc. 6] Two days later. Doc, bandaged and in pain. Tommy comes in bringing his meds. He tells Doc he’s leaving, going abroad. Doc is panicked about what he’ll do. Tommy gives him money and tells him to go to the welfare office. Doc leaves, forgetting his meds. Aimee comes in and says she can’t go to Finland with Tommy because she doesn’t have a passport. They have buried Kenneth’s body at night in a neighboring county. Tommy declares his love for her, but she leaves, and Tommy’s sure she’s going to commit suicide. Maurice comes in and tells Tommy he’s heading for the solicitor’s, leaving the house to him. Doc comes back for his meds, and he and Maurice discuss renovations to be made in the garden, installing a patio, etc.


[Sc. 7] A winter evening. Doc has recovered and is mending some fairy lights for Christmas. Tommy comes in bringing sausages from the stores and telling about his comfortable meeting with his daughter who is now pregnant. He has an invitation from his daughter to her birthday party that evening. Doc goes to get Maurice from a restaurant to come along to the party. Tommy, getting ready for the party, goes into the toilet room. When he comes out, there’s Aimee, looking grand. They stare at each other. End of play.




In spite of including a severe beating and an on-stage killing, the play is basically a comedy. None of the characters are honorable, sensible, or normal. Aimee’s a whore with suicidal tendencies; Kenneth’s a psychopathic, violent pimp; Doc’s a retarded hanger-on; Maurice is a kind but nosy and critical old drunk; and Tommy’s a slovenly scoundrel who mistreats his only friend (Doc). The play, against all odds, ends happily for all the characters except the villain Kenneth. The dialogue is hilarious, full of off-beat observations, illogical quarrels about all sorts of things, etc. In many ways, the dialogue seems to have affinities with Beckett’s in plays like Godot and Krapp’s Last Tape.


Maurice turns out to be a deus ex machina that sets everything right. His decision to gift Tommy with the house is not entirely out of the blue, however, because it’s clear that he raised Tommy, cared for him, indulges him by not demanding the rent that Tommy owes (and certainly could pay), and apparently has no other relatives. But his decision brings about an instantaneous reversal after which everything that was previously fraught, scary, and hopeless is suddenly peachy-keen. Aimee’s return is unexplained and there’s no indication of how she has landed on her feet, why she decided against suicide, or even what her return to Tommy must mean, except that it seems to be a sign of hope.


[1] In The Night Alive and Other Plays.

[2] The play is printed without numbered scenes. There are no editorial indications of scene or act breaks. However, the stage directions indicate passages of time, and the scene indications in this summary indicate those breaks.