Doris Lessing.

Play With a Tiger and Other Plays

Play with a Tiger and Other Plays



Title Page

Play With a Tiger

About Play With a Tiger

Authors Notes on Directing this Play


Act One

Act Two

Act Three

The Singing Door


The Singing Door

Each His Own Wilderness

About Each His Own Wilderness


Act One

Act Two

About the Author

Authors Note

Also by the Author

Read On

The Grass is Singing

The Golden Notebook

The Good Terrorist

Love, Again

The Fifth Child


About the Publisher


This play was first produced at the Comedy Theatre, London, on 22 March 1962, by Oscar Lewenstein, with the following cast:

ANNA FREEMAN Siobhan McKenna
TOM LATTIMER William Russell
MARY JACKSON Maureen Pryor
HARRY PAINE Godfrey Quigley

Directed by Ted Kotcheff

The action takes place in Anna Freemans room on the first floor of Mary Jacksons house in Earls Court, London, SW5

At the opening of the play the time is about nine in the evening; at its close it is about four in the morning

Authors Notes on Directing this Play

When I wrote Play with a Tiger in 1958 I set myself an artistic problem which resulted from my decision that naturalism, or, if you like, realism, is the greatest enemy of the theatre; and that I never wanted to write a naturalistic play again.

Now this play is about the rootless, declassed people who live in bed-sitting-rooms or small flats or the cheaper hotel rooms, and such people are usually presented on the stage in a detailed squalor of realism which to my mind distracts attention from what is interesting about them.

I wrote Play with a Tiger with an apparently conventional opening designed to make the audience expect a naturalistic play so that when the walls vanished towards the end of Act One they would be surprised (and I hope pleasantly shocked) to find they were not going to see this kind of play at all.

But there had to be a bridge between the opening of the play, and the long section where Anna and Dave are alone on the stage, and this bridge is one of style.

This is why Annas room is tall, bare, formal; why it has practically no furniture, save for the bed and the small clutter around it; and why there are no soft chairs or settees where the actors might lounge or sprawl. This stark set forces a certain formality of movement, stance and confrontation so that even when Dave and Anna are not alone on the stage creating their private world, there is a simplicity of style which links the two moods of the play together.

It is my intention that when the curtain comes down at the end, the audience will think: Of course! In this play no one lit cigarettes, drank tea or coffee, read newspapers, squirted soda into Scotch, or indulged in little bits of business which indicated character. They will realize, I hope, that they have been seeing a play which relies upon its style and its language for its effect.



ANNA FREEMAN: A woman of thirty-five, or so, who earns her living on the artistic fringes.

DAVE MILLER: An American, about thirty-three, who is rootless on principle.

MARY JACKSON: About ten years older than Anna: a widow with a grown-up son.

TOM LATTIMER: Who is on the point of taking a job as business manager of a womans magazine. About thirty-five, a middle-class Englishman.

HARRY PAINE: Fifty-ish. A journalist.

JANET STEVENS: In her early twenties, the daughter of an insurance agent American.

Act One

The action of this play takes place in ANNA FREEMANS room on the first floor of MARY JACKSONS house, on a street in London with heavy traffic. ANNA has lived here for some years. There is another room, behind this one, used by her son, now at school; but ANNA sleeps and lives in this room. It is very large and looks formal because it is underfurnished. There are double doors at left-back. When they are open the landing can be seen, and part of the stairway leading up. The house was originally built for rich people and still shows signs of it. The landing and stairs are spacious and carpeted in dark red; the banisters are elegant and painted white. The upper part of the doors are of glass, and therefore the doorway has a dark red curtain, usually drawn back. The room is painted white, walls and ceilings. There is a low wide divan, covered in rough black material, in the right back corner; a window, with dark red curtains, in the right wall; a large, round, ornate mirror, on the left wall; a low shelf of books under the window. The floor is painted black and has in the centre of it a round crimson carpet. There are two stiff-looking chairs on either side of the mirror, of dark wood, and seated in dark red. The life of the room is concentrated around the divan. A low table by its head has a telephone, and is loaded with books and papers, and a small reading light. At the foot of the divan is another low table, with a typewriter, at which ANNA works by kneeling, or squatting, on the divan. This table has another reading light, and a record player. Around the divan is a surf of books, magazines, newspapers, records, cushions. There is a built-in cupboard, hardly noticeable until opened, in the right wall. Two paraffin heaters, of the cheap black cylindrical kind, are both lit. It is winter. The year is 1958. At the opening of the play the time is about nine in the evening, at its close it is four in the morning.

[ANNA is standing at the window, which is open at the top, her back to the room. She is wearing slacks and a sweater: these are pretty, even fashionable; the reason for the trousers is that it is hard to play Act II in a skirt.]

[TOM is standing behind ANNA, waiting, extremely exasperated. This scene between them has been going on for some time. They are both tense, irritated, miserable.]

[TOMS sarcasm and pomposity are his way of protecting himself from his hurt at how he has been treated.]

[ANNAS apparent casualness is how she wards off a hysteria that is only just under control. She is guilty about TOM, unhappy about DAVE and this tension in her underlies everything she says or does until that moment towards the end of Act One when DAVE, because of his moral ascendancy over her, forces her to relax and smile.]

[A moments silence. Then a scream and a roar of traffic, which sounds as if it is almost in the room. TOM loses patience, goes past ANNA to window, slams it shut, loudly.]

TOM: Now say: I could repeat every word youve said.

ANNA [in quotes]: Ive scarcely seen you during the last two weeks. You always have some excuse. Mary answers the telephone and says you are out. I was under the impression we were going to be married. If Im wrong please correct me. I simply cannot account for the change in your attitude hows that?

[TOM looks at her, gives her a small sardonic bow, goes past her to a chair which is set so he is facing half away from her. He sits in it in a pose which he has clearly been occupying previously for ANNA looks at him, equally sardonic. Since the chair is hard and upright, not designed for comfort, he is almost lying in a straight line from his crossed ankles to his chin, which is upturned because he is looking with weary patience at the ceiling. His fingertips are held lightly together.]

[ANNA, having registered the fact that his pose is designed to annoy, goes back to the window and stands looking down.]

ANNA: That man is still down there. Do you know, he comes every night and just stands there, hour after hour after hour. And its so cold.

TOM: Yes, it is Anna, I was under the impression that my attraction for you, such as it is, of course, was that Im rather more reliable, more responsible? than the usual run of your friends?

ANNA: Do you realize that man hasnt so much as moved a muscle since he arrived at six? There he stands, gazing up at that window. And the top half of that house is a brothel. He must have seen one of the girls in the street and fallen in love. Imagine it, Ive been living here all these years and I never knew that house was a brothel. There are four Lesbians living together, and that poor saps in love with one of them. Well, isnt it frightening?

TOM: When you walked into my flat that evening if I may remind you of it you said you were in search of a nice solid shoulder to weep on. You said you couldnt stand another minute of living like this. Well?

ANNA: I asked the policeman at the corner. Why yes, miss, he said, all fatherly and protective, theyve been there for years and years. But dont you worry your pretty little head about a thing, we have our eyes on them all the time.

TOM: I suppose what all this amounts to is that your fascinating American is around again.

ANNA: I told you, no. I havent seen Dave for weeks. Perhaps I should go down and tell that poor moonstruck idiot look, you poor sap, all youve got to do is to go upstairs with fifty shillings in your hand and your goddess is yours?

TOM: And while youre about it, you could take him off for a nice cup of tea, listen to his troubles and tell him yours.

ANNA: Yes I could. Why not?

TOM: Youre going to go on like this I suppose until the next time. Dave or some similarly fascinating character plays you up and you decide that good old Tom will do for a month or so?

ANNA: Tom, its nine-fifteen. Youre expected at the Jeffries at nine-thirty.

TOM: I did accept for you too.

ANNA: Yes you did, and you didnt even ask me first.

TOM: I see.

ANNA: No, you dont see. Tom, until two weeks ago you said you couldnt stand either of the Jeffries, you said, quote, they were boring, phoney and stupid. But now hes going to be your boss its different?

TOM: No, theyre still boring, phoney and stupid, but he is going to be my boss.

ANNA: You said if you took Jeffries job, youd be in the rat-race, stuck in the rut, and bound hand and foot to the grindstone.

TOM: I finally took that job because we were going to be married so I thought.

ANNA: But now were not going to be married youll turn down the job? [as he does not reply] I thought not. So dont use me to justify yourself.

TOM: You really do rub things in, Anna. All right then. For a number of years Ive been seeing myself as a sort of a rolling stone, a fascinating free-lance, a man of infinite possibilities. It turns out that Im just another good middle-class citizen after all Im comfort-loving, conventionally unconventional, Im not even the Don Juan I thought I was. It turns out that Im everything I dislike most. I owe this salutary discovery to you, Anna. Thank you very much.

ANNA: Oh, not at all.

TOM [he now gets up from the chair, and faces her, attacking hard]: Oh my God, you stupid little romantic. Yes, thats what you are, and a prig into the bargain. Very pleased with yourself because you wont soil your hands. Writing a little review here, a little article there, an odd poem or two, a reflection on the aspect of a sidelight on the back-wash of some bloody movement or other reading tuppenny-halfpenny novels for publishers Mr Bloody Blacks new book is or is not an advance on his last. Well, Anna, is it really worth it?

ANNA: Yes it is. Im free to live as I like. You wont be, ever again.

TOM: And worrying all the time how youre going to find the money for what your kid wants. Do you think hes going to thank you for living like this?

ANNA: Thats right. Always stick the knife in, as hard as you can, into a persons weakest spot.

TOM: An art you are not exactly a stranger to? You live here, hand to mouth, never knowing whats going to happen next, surrounding yourself with bums and neurotics and failures. As far as youre concerned anyone who has succeeded at anything at all is corrupt. [She says nothing.] Nothing to say, Anna? Thats not like you.

ANNA: I was thinking, not for the first time, unfortunately, how sad it is that the exquisite understanding and intimacy of the bed doesnt last into the cold light of day.

TOM: So thats all we had in common. Thank you Anna, youve now defined me.

ANNA: All right, all right, all right. Im sorry. What else can I say Im sorry.

[There is a knock on the door.]

ANNA: Come in.

TOM: Oh my God, Mary.

MARY [outside the door]: Pussy, pussy, pussy.

[A knock on the door.]

ANNA: Come in.

TOM: Shes getting very deaf, isnt she?

ANNA: She doesnt know it. [as the door opens] For the Lords sake dont say [she imitates him] I was under the impression we had said come in, if Im wrong please correct me.

TOM: Just because youve decided to give me the boot, theres no need to knock me down and start jumping on me.

[MARY comes in, backwards, shutting the door to keep the cat out.]

MARY: No pussy, you stay there. Anna doesnt really like you, although she pretends she does. [to ANNA] That cat is more like a dog, really, he comes when I call. And he waits for me outside a door. [peeping around the edge of the door] No, puss, wait. I wont be a minute. [to ANNA] I dont know why I bothered to christen that cat Methuselah, it never gets called anything but puss. [sprightly with an exaggerated sigh] Really, Im getting quite an old maid, fussing over a cat If you can call a widow with a grown up son an old maid, but whod have believed Id have come to fussing over a cat. [seeing TOM] Oh, I didnt know you were here.

TOM: Didnt you see me? I said hullo.

MARY: Sometimes I think Im getting a bit deaf. Well, what a surprise. Youre quite a stranger, arent you?

TOM: Hardly a stranger, I should have said.

MARY: Dropped in for old times sake [TOM is annoyed. MARY says to ANNA] I thought we might go out to the pub. Im sick of sitting and brooding. [as ANNA does not respond quick and defensive] Oh I see, you and Tom are going out, twos company and threes none.

ANNA: Toms going to the Jeffries.

MARY [derisive]: Not the Jeffries you must be hard up for somewhere to go.

ANNA: And I think Ill stay and work.

TOM: Anna is too good for the Jeffries.

MARY: Who isnt?

[ANNA has gone back to the window, is looking down into the street.]

TOM [angrily]: Perhaps youd like to come with me, since Anna wont.

MARY [half aggressive, half coy]: You and me going out together thatd be a change. Oh, I see, youre joking. [genuinely] Besides, they really are so awful.

TOM: Better than going to the pub with Methuselah, perhaps?

MARY: [with spirit]: No, I prefer Methuselah. You dont want to bore yourself at the Jeffries. Stay and have some coffee with us.

ANNA [her back still turned]: Its the Royal Command.

MARY: Oh. You mean youve taken that job after all? I told Anna you would, months ago. There, Anna, I told you he would. Anna said when it actually came to the point, youd never bring yourself to do it.

TOM: I like the idea of you and Anna laying bets as to whether the forces of good or evil would claim my soul.

MARY: Well, I mean, thats what it amounts to, doesnt it? But I always said Anna was wrong about you. Didnt I, Anna? Anna always does this. [awkwardly] I mean, its not the first time, I mean to say. And Ive always been right. Ah, well, as Anna says, dont you, Anna, if a man marries, he marries a woman, but if a woman marries, she marries a way of life.

TOM: Strange, but as it happens I too have been the lucky recipient of that little aphorism.

MARY: Well, you were bound to be, werent you? [she sees TOM is furious and stops] Harry telephoned you, Anna.

ANNA: What for?

MARY: Well, I suppose now youre free he thinks hell have another try.

TOM: May I ask how did he know Anna was free? After all, I didnt.

MARY: Oh, dont be silly. I mean, you and Anna might not have known, but it was quite obvious to everyone else well, I met Harry in the street some days ago, and he said

TOM: I see.

MARY: Well, theres no need to be so stuffy about it Tom

[A bell rings downstairs.]

MARY: Was that the bell? Are you expecting someone, Anna?

TOM: Of course shes expecting someone.


MARY [who hasnt heard]: Who are you expecting?

ANNA: Nobody.

MARY: Well, Ill go for you, I have to go down anyway. Are you in or out, Anna?

ANNA: Im out.

MARY: Its often difficult to say, whether you are in or out, because after all, one never knows who it might be.

ANNA [patiently]: Mary, I really dont mind answering my bell you know.

MARY [hastily going to the door]: Sometimes Im running up and down the stairs half the day, answering Annas bell. [as she goes out and shuts the door] Pussy, pussy, where are you puss, puss, puss.

TOM: Shes deteriorating fast, isnt she? [ANNA patiently says nothing] Thats what youre going to be like in ten years time if youre not careful.

ANNA: Id rather be like Mary in ten years time than what youre going to be like when youre all settled down and respectable.

TOM: A self-pitying old bore.

ANNA: She is also a kind warm-hearted woman with endless time for people in trouble Tom, youre late, the boss waits, and you cant afford to offend him.

TOM: I remember Mary, and not so long ago either she was quite a dish, wasnt she? If I were you Id be scared stiff.

ANNA: Sometimes I am scared stiff. [seriously] Tom, her sons getting married next week.

TOM: Oh, so thats it.

ANNA: No, thats not it. Shes very pleased hes getting married.

And shes given them half the money shes saved not that theres much of it. You surely must see its going to make quite a difference to her, her son getting married?

TOM: Well he was bound to get married some time.

ANNA: Yes he was bound to get married, time marches on, every dog must have its day, one generation makes way for another, todays kittens are tomorrows cats, lifes like that.

TOM: I dont know why it is, most people think Im quite a harmless sort of man. After ten minutes with you I feel I ought to crawl into the nearest worm-hole and die.

ANNA: Were just conforming to the well-known rule that when an affair ends, the amount of violence and unpleasantness is in direct ratio to its heat.

[Loud laughter and voices outside HARRY and MARY.]

TOM: I thought you said you were out. Mary really is quite impossible.

ANNA: Its Harry whos impossible. He always takes it for granted one doesnt mean him.

TOM [angry]: And perhaps one doesnt.

ANNA: Perhaps one doesnt.

TOM: Anna! Do lets try and be a bit more

ANNA: Civilized? Is that the word youre looking for?

[HARRY and MARY come in.]

HARRY [as he kisses ANNA]: Civilized, she says. Theres our Anna. I knew Id come in and shed be saying civilized. [coolly, to TOM] Oh, hullo.

TOM [coolly]: Well, Harry.

MARY [who has been flirted by HARRY into an over-responsive state]:

Oh, Harry, you are funny sometimes. [she laughs] Its not what you say, when you come to think of it, its the way you say it.

HARRY: Surely, its what I say as well?

ANNA: Harry, Im not in. I told Mary, I dont want to see anybody.

HARRY: Dont be silly, darling, of course you do. You dont want to see anybody, but you want to see me.

TOM [huffy]: Anna and I were talking.

HARRY: Of course you are, you clots. And its high time you stopped. Look at you both. And now we should all have a drink.

TOM: Oh damn. You and Mary go and have a drink.

HARRY: Thats not the way at all. Anna will come to the pub with me and weep on my shoulder, and Tom will stay and weep on Marys.

TOM [rallying into his smooth sarcasm]: Harry, I yield to no one in my admiration of your tact but I really must say

HARRY: Dont be silly. I got a clear picture from Mary here, of you and Anna, snarling and snapping on the verge of tears it doesnt do at all. When a things finished its finished. I know, for my sins Im an expert.

TOM: Forgive me if I make an over-obvious point, but this really isnt one of the delightful little affairs you specialize in.

HARRY: Of course it was. You two really arent in a position to judge. Now if you werent Tom and Anna, youd take one look at yourselves and laugh your heads off at the idea of your getting married.

ANNA [she goes to the window and looks down]: Harry, come and see me next week and Ill probably laugh my head off.

HARRY: Next weeks no good at all. You wont need me then, youll have recovered.

TOM [immensely sarcastic]: Surely, Harry, if Anna asks you to leave her flat, the least you can do is to [ANNA suddenly giggles.]

HARRY: There, you see? How could you possibly marry such a pompous idiot, Anna. [to TOM, affectionately] Anna cant possibly marry such an idiot, Tom. Anna doesnt like well-ordered citizens, like you, anyway.

MARY: I dont know how you can say well-ordered. He was just another lame duck until now.

HARRY: But hes not a lame duck any more. Hes going to work for Jeffries, and hell be administering to the spiritual needs of the women of the nation through the Ladies Own.

TOM: Im only going to be on the business side. I wont be responsible for the rubbish they [He stops, annoyed with himself. HARRY and MARY laugh at him.]

HARRY: There you are, hes a solid respectable citizen already.

TOM [to HARRY]: Its not any worse than the rag you work for is it?

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