Life & Beth: SynopsisCast: 3 male / 3 female
Running time (approximate): 1 hour and 45 minutes - not including the interval
Acting edition: Published by Samuel French
Life & Beth opens on Christmas Eve, in the aftermath of the death of Beth's husband Gordon. It has not been an unhappy marriage, but Beth has - over the years - made every effort to paper over the cracks and present the image of a happy couple, even when it is hinted it has frequently been difficult for Beth to live with a man such as Gordon.
In Beth's sitting / dining room, Gordon's sister, Connie, is singing the praises of her deceased brother to Beth hinting that Gordon was his family's favourite and she was another person living in the shadow of a revered but, it becomes increasingly clear, mediocre man. Connie makes it clear that she - and the rest of the family - do not believe that Beth can cope without Gordon and she is not to raise her hand to do anything this Christmas much to Beth's frustration.
Beth, who obviously has a tense relationship with Connie, is more concerned about the family cat, Flagstaff, who disappeared on the day of Gordon's funeral. Unexpectedly, the local vicar, David, calls to offer his condolences. Connie is obviously taken with David - having practically been stalking his services - and is reluctant to leave him and Beth together. Once alone, we discover David is a gentle and genuinely good man, also bereaved, who strikes up a rapport with Beth as they discuss the almost farcical circumstances surrounding Gordon's death. In the kitchen, Connie is eavesdropping, patently of the belief that Beth is flirting with David, who suggests he say a prayer for Beth. Beth reluctantly agrees - only to be saved when her son Martin and his new girlfriend, Ella, arrive.
Ella is a morose and silent cordon bleu chef who is obviously not happy about the trip and having second thoughts about her relationship with Martin; who believes his father was practically perfect and was the glue that kept the entire family together and functioning. With the entire family gathered together, David gets the chance to say his prayer and asks for help for Beth now that Gordon has gone.
David leaves leading to another tense stand-off between Beth and Connie. Martin, meanwhile, is trying to recreate Christmas as his father would have wanted it, from the pre-prepared Christmas tree to the flashing reindeer for the garden. His ineptitude at anything practical soon manifests itself while Ella prepares a cold collation for tea. As Martin prepares the tree, his and Beth's somewhat differing opinions on Gordon become apparent.
Dinner is finally served, a rather dubious salad concoction; Connie having already began a liquid lunch with gusto. Martin decides to switch the Christmas tree on only for the lights to blow and the living room to be plunged into darkness. Martin lights a candle and at the head of the table, only seen by Beth, sits Gordon. Beth faints.
An hour later and Beth is getting ready for bed on the pull-out sofa in the living room. Light has been restored to the house, although it is Beth who appears to have repaired the damage rather than Martin, who is concerned about Beth's vision of Gordon. Connie has gone to David's midnight mass, but having not returned, appears at 2am in the company of the police who found her drunk and climbing a statue of Oliver Cromwell in the town centre. Her inebriation apparently being a regular occurrence each Christmas.
Eventually Beth is left alone, only to hear a mysterious scratching. She wakes only to be confronted by Gordon sitting at the table again. It soon transpires Gordon is a rather pedantic and tedious man with a high opinion of both himself and his role in the family. Apparently officially summoned back by David's prayer, he intends to look after Beth forever, who is quite adamant in asserting she doesn't need his help and that her life has moved on. The resentments of more than 30 years of marriage begin to surface, irritating Gordon who will not hear anything but theirs was a perfect marriage. Beth goes to sleep with Gordon promising to return tomorrow. Gordon vanishes only to be replaced by Martin, reporting that Connie has been sick on the landing.
Christmas morning sees Martin and Ella packing to go, as Ella has coincidentally received a call to organise a large buffet in two days time. They leave as an apologetic Connie returns, having been to Christmas mass, allowing Beth to finally, although not unkindly, speak a few home truths to Connie. They are interrupted by the arrival of David, who Beth has called. Alone together, she explains about Gordon and asks David to reverse the prayer. Dubious and not believing it is possible to reverse a prayer, he suggests he and Beth should just share a silent prayer to say goodbye to Gordon. As they pray, Gordon appears to tell Beth if she goes through with this, she'll never see him again and he again questions whether she will be able to manage without him. Beth whispers a defiant 'yes' and Gordon vanishes. David leaves and Beth is left alone, except for a scratching. Believing Connie is eavesdropping again, she opens the kitchen hatch only for something invisible to miaow and launch itself around the room, knocking over the Christmas tree before settling down in the cat basket. Beth extends her hand to the spectral cat purring in her living room....
Copyright: Simon Murgatroyd 2009. Please do not reproduce without permission of the copyright holder.