A Brief History Of Women: Synopsis

Cast: 3 male / 3 female
Running time (approximate):
2 hours ten minutes - not including the interval.
Availability: A Brief History of Women is not currently available for production.
Acting Edition: A Brief History of Women is published as part of the collection Alan Ayckbourn: Plays 6 by Faber.

A Brief History of Women is set on the ground floor of Kirkbridge Manor, a Georgian country house, with four separate areas denoted (initially parts of the hall and main staircase, study, ballroom and terrace). Over the course of the play, the house changes function with the type of rooms altered accordingly.
Despite the fact the dividing walls are invisible and the doors to the rooms mimed, the sound-proofing is extremely effective and we only hear what Spates hears.

Part 1: At Kirkbridge Manor, 1925

Characters

A Brief History of Women is written for a cast of six (3m / 3f) with all but one of the actors doubling roles.

Anthony Spates (17-77)
Lord Edward Kirkbridge (65) *
Dr Wyn Williams (50) *
Dennis Dunbar (50) *
Gordon (50) *
Captain Fergus ffluke (27)
Desmond Kennedy (30)
Rory Tudor (27)
Jim Seabourne-Watson (30)
Lady Caroline Kirkbridge (38)
Miss Eva Miller (40)
Pat Wriggly (40)
Caroline Seabourne (97)
Lady Cynthia (20)
Miss Urusla Brock (25)
Jenny Tyler (22)
Tilly Seabourne-Watson (27)
Mrs Reginald ffluke (50)
Miss Phoebe Long (45)
Gillian Dunbar (45)
Ruby Jensen (40)

* / † / ‡ / / † played by the same actor
An autumn evening at Kirkbridge Manor where the engagement of Lady Cynthia Kirkbridge, step-daughter of Lord Edward Kirkbridge, and Captain Fergus Ffluke is being celebrated.
Antony Spates, 17, is an occasional footman at the manor from a local farming family. Cynthia's mother, Caroline, has become increasingly drunk and irritated that her husband, Lord Edward Kirkbridge, is apparently shunning the party. Her anger boils over and she barges into his private study and they argue, culminating in Caroline accusing him of being a homosexual. Incensed and agitated Kirkbridge goes to strike her, but Spates stops him as the elder man suffers a stroke.
Kirkbridge is taken to his room and Caroline assures Spates he is not to blame, even if he will lose his job. She enquires about him and asks him if he finds her beautiful. She moves to kiss him, but is interrupted by the news Kirkbridge has suffered a second stroke and is unlikely to survive.
Realising her own future is uncertain - she is not in the will and Cynthia's engagement has been cancelled as a result - Caroline urges Spates to make something of himself in a changing world and consider further education. As he leaves, she impulsively gives him his first kiss.

Part 2: At Kirkbridge Preparatory School, 1945
Bonfire night 1945 and Spates has - having taken Caroline' advice and financial help - returned as a teacher to what is now a school. He is in a 'clandestine' relationship with the French teacher, Ursula, but the Headmaster wishes he would be either more discreet or formalise it. Spates would like to, but Ursula is still affected by the death of her husband, Jimmy, during the war.
Leading the bonfire celebrations is sports teacher Des, formerly in munitions and who makes his own fireworks. He reveals the fireworks will end with the Magnesium Magnificence and a massive rocket.
During break, Spates tells Ursula he wants things to move on, but she reveals Jimmy visits her at night and has promised one day they'll be reunited in a blinding light. Spates thinks this is doubtful on all accounts.
Come the bonfire display, Ursula is suddenly overcome and tries to make love to Spates. As his trousers come down, the Magnesium Magnificence erupts, illuminating Spates and Ursula in front of the school. Appaled, the headmaster berates them both, but Ursula wanders off convinced Jimmy has returned. As the finale rocket takes off, she grabs on and everyone watches horrified as the rocket and she explode in the sky above.
Spates resignation is demanded and the next day he leaves the school.

Part 3: At Kirkbridge Arts Centre, 1965
It is December 1965 and Spates is now the Administrative Director of the Kirkbridge Arts Centre, currently preparing for its annual panto; a labour of love for director, panto dame, writer Dennis. Rehearsals that evening are not going smoothly and Dennis's long-suffering wife, Gill, discovers the front-end of her panto-cow is injured.
Gill and Spates go to watch Dennis and his principal boy, Pat, rehearse the panto's opening scene. After losing their lead man, Rory, because of the 'offensive' script, Dennis and Pat leave to rehearse their duet, leaving Gill and Spates together.
Gill encourages Spates to reveal a little more about his life, but reveals more of her unhappy marriage. They later interrupt Dennis and Pat, who have been indulging in slightly more than a musical duet. An upset Gill realises her marriage is over and she accompanies Spates as he closes the centre for the evening. In the theatre, Gill asks the MD to play the panto-cow music and, as she teaches him the cow dance, a spark is kindled…

Part 4: At Kirkbridge Manor Hotel, 1985
A summer evening at Kirkbridge Manor Hotel where Spates, retired but covering for the current manager, welcomes Tilly and Jim Seabourne who have brought their 98 year old, wheelchair bound grandmother, Caroline Seabourne, to stay.
Spates, it transpired, married Gill - who died a couple of years previously - and lives with his stepdaughter and their husband. The condescending couple ask if Spates worked at the Manor when Caroline lived there before asking her if she remembers Spates. She says she gave him his first kiss, much to their disbelief.
Left alone, Caroline asks Spates to take her into the garden to look at the house. Caroline tells him houses never forget people and asks if he can hearing the house talking. He says no, but as she takes his hand, he hears the faint music of the panto cow dance. They are left listening to the house and their memories.

Article by Simon Murgatroyd. Copyright: Haydonning Ltd. Please do not reproduce without permission of the copyright holder.