The Freshman: Extract

An extract from Act One Scene Four:

Cressida is walking around Christopher’s room in Clare college. Christopher stands to one side.

Cressida: It’s brave of you to have left it so bare. Most people would have covered it up immediately.

Christopher: To tell the truth I can’t afford a lot more.

Cressida: Good. Austerity suits you. And the bedroom’s through there?

Christopher: Yes. Though it’s rather a mess.

Cressida: Don’t apologise. I always distrust people with tidy bedrooms. As though they do nothing there but sleep.

Christopher: Yes.

Cressida: Have I shocked you?

Christopher: No, of course not.

Cressida: You’re blushing. That’s the beauty of fair men. At least one of the beauties. They blush.

Christopher: I know. That’s why I was always bad at lying. My face gave me away.

Cressida: But it’s such an honest face.

Christopher: Not when it’s puffed up red. I could never get away with anything. It was one of the banes of my childhood.

Cressida: Smile at me and you could get away with murder.

Christopher: Don’ t please.

Cressida: Don’t what?

Christopher: You’re making fun of me.

Cressida: Am I?

Christopher: You’re very like Roxane. I suppose that’s why Tristram cast you.

Cressida: Tristram cast me because he wouldn’t dare cast anyone else.

Christopher: Sophisticated. Witty. Teasing.

Cressida: Go on. I’m lapping it up.

Christopher: That’s all.

Cressida: What about you? Are you Christian? A newcomer, wildly attractive. Unsure of yourself. Needing to be pushed.

Christopher: I should never have opened my mouth.

Cressida: So much for type-casting.

Christopher: At least I write my own love-letters.

Cressida: Tell me more.

Christopher: I mean I’m not like Christian having to rely on Cyrano.

Cressida: Are you writing any right now?

Christopher: Ah ha. That’d be telling.

Cressida: So who is she? Do I know her?

Christopher: How could you? You hardly know me.

Cressida: Yet.

Christopher: Are you this friendly with every cast you’re in?

Cressida: Only the leading men. I’m a dreadful snob really. No one below the hero’s best friend.

Christopher: I suppose that just about includes me.

Cressida: For you I’d have made an exception. The moment Tristram introduced us, I had that hot feeling in my stomach. I had to get to know you or I’d have burnt up inside.

(Christopher laughs)

Christopher: What about Hugo? He’s the real leading man.

Cressida: The pied piper?

Christopher: What?

Cressida: We call him that. Little boys.

Christopher: He doesn’t? He seems such a straightforward sort of chap.

Cressida: He eats them up for breakfast.

Christopher: Won’ t he get into trouble?

Cressida: One of these days. That’s the joy of Cyrano – no acolytes. In Malfi we had a chorus of choir boys. Hugo played the Cardinal. He blessed them every night.

Christopher: God!

Cressida: You see what a motley crew you’ve been thrown with.

Christopher: It’s a long way from the school play.

Cressida: Yes. And I could tell you one or two things about the other four shows we did together last year.

Christopher: Four? I don’t know how you manage to fit in any work.

Cressida: I don’ t work; I read English.

Christopher: You can get away with very little?

Cressida: You can get away with nothing at all. Just rehash books you read at school.

Christopher: You’re so lucky, with history you have to work. Tristram said there’d be very few rehearsals. Now we rehearse every afternoon and evening, and with lectures every morning, I have to work at midnight.

Cressida: You’re missing the best hours of the day. You’ll have to change.

Christopher: I love history. I want to be a historian

Cressida: It would be such a waste.

Christopher: You don’t know me. You don’t know how good I am at my work.

Cressida: I know how good you are at other things. I can guess.

(A knock at the door. Tristram enters)

Cressida: Tristram! We were just talking about you.

Tristram: Good. That’s what I like to hear.

(He moves to Cressida and kisses her on both cheeks)

Darling, what have you been doing with yourself? You look raddled.

Cressida: I love you too.

Tristram: Christopher, a present for you. Oxford may have the marmalade, but Cambridge has the cakes. I bought these at Fitzbillies. Two each. (To Cressida) I didn’t buy any for you, darling. I know how you have to watch every calorie or you just flop out all over the place,

Cressida: Thank you.

Christopher: Cressida’s not fat.

Tristram: Not when she wears one of her tents. No. But see her in the altogether. Or have I put my foot in it? Perhaps you already have.

Cressida: That’s enough darling.

Tristram: Or even worse, you were just about to.

Cressida: That’s enough.

Tristram: Well don’t mind me. I’lI take my cakes and vanish.

Christopher: No. We were just talking. Friendlily. Nothing else.

Tristram: When Cressida starts to talk friendlily, somebody’s life is at stake.

Cressida: How did you. know I was here?

Tristram: An informed guess. I must say I like seeing friendships bloom among my casts. It makes me feel so avuncular.

Cressida: Pandarus should be your middle name.

(Tristram laughs)

Christopher: No. You’ve got it all wrong. Cressy just came for some tea. After rehearsal.

Tristram: I know Cressy. She comes for tea and stays for cocoa.

Cressida: Why don’t you go and find some little old lady to push into the middle of the road?

Christopher: To hear you two talk, you’d think you were deadly enemies rather than the best of friends.

Cressida: Oh we’re alright. As long as there’s no ‘ r’ in the month.

Christopher: Do you mean you’ll be squabbling till next May?

Cressida: Oh one of us will have won by then.

Christopher: Won what?

Cressida: Just a little contest to while away the long winter days.

Tristram: And the long winter nights.

Christopher: Well I’m flummoxed. You talk in a private code. You don’t make much concession to newcomers.

Tristram: Oh we’ll make concessions for you.

(He smiles at him. Christopher looks away)

Cressida: Now how about that tea? I’m gasping!

Christopher: Yes of course. Tristram?

Tristram: Do you have any camomile?

Christopher: I’m afraid not.

Tristram: Any tisane?

Christopher: No.

Tristram: Then tea it’ll have to be.

Christopher: I’ll just nip along to the gyp room. I won’t be a mo.

(He goes out)

Cressida: Really, cream cakes. So obvious.

Tristram: You think of something better at five o’clock on a Thursday afternoon.

Cressida: You broke your rehearsal early on purpose, didn’t you? So you could follow me.

Tristram: Poor dears: they were all exhausted.

Cressida: Hugo told me you’d be rehearsing the duel till six.

Tristram: I couldn’t stand the smell of sweat.

Cressida: You’ve never allowed anything to interfere with rehearsals before.

Tristram: When I saw you leave with that poor boy, I had to come. It was either that or calling the NSPCC.

Cressida: I do believe you’re jealous.

Tristram: Of course I am. I found him, didn’t I? One spark in the dross of auditions.

Cressida: And he can act.

Tristram: That’s what I meant. I do have some integrity.

Cressida: Of course. You’ve only one problem. He’s not gay.

Tristram: Have you asked?

Cressida: I’m not sure how straight he is either. I’ve been doing my best ‘I want to slide down your body like butter on hot toast’ act and so far I’ve come up with a blank.

Tristram: So what is he? An amoeba?

Cressida: I expect he has some floozy up in Nottingham. A secretary called Doreen whom he’ll ask down once a term. He’s saving himself for her.

Tristram: Well I don’t intend to give up quite so easily, whatever you do.

Cressida: Oh no. As long as you’re in the running, so am I.

Tristram: You’re really a wicked woman. If it weren’t for me, you wouldn’t give him a second glance.

Cressida: You love it. Admit it. It adds to the thrill of the chase.

Tristram: I mean to have him. That I tell you. I’ll fight dirty.

Cressida: You always do.

Tristram: This time it’s for real.