A provocative and darkly comic look at marital relations, pregnancy, romance and fantasy, Penelope Skinner’s The Village Bike premiered at the Royal Court Theatre, London in June 2011, and now comes to the MCC Theater in New York in a new production directed by Sam Gold and starring Greta Gerwig. Here’s how it begins…
Bakery Cottage. Night time.
John is in bed, reading. Becky is taking off her make-up in the mirror.
Becky I just think it’s a shame to live in such a beautiful place and never get to see it. I’m in my car and off to school and why did we even move here if it wasn’t to be a bit more
I don’t know
John What did it say?
Becky One lady owner. Hardly ever been ridden. And it’s good exercise.
Becky It is. Why do you say it like that?
John I think you’re better off with yoga.
Becky It’s to get round on. I can still do yoga.
John As well?
Becky I’ve got to do yoga for my pelvic floor. You don’t want me to end up with a bucket do you?
Becky And this is just to
you know. They’re saying the weather’s going to be like this for weeks. A proper heatwave. I don’t need to rush anywhere, just make the most of being in the countryside. Clean air. Quiet roads. It’ll be good for me.
John OK but let’s go into town. Go to the bike shop.
Becky I already called the man.
Becky He seemed really nice. Lives in that barn on Birdleigh Hill.
John That big refurb?
John ‘Hunter’s Barn’. We looked at a thatch a couple of miles down the road.
Becky Did we? Well anyway he said he could bring it round on Tuesday. It’s got those handlebars
what do you call them?
John I won’t be here on Tuesday.
Becky What? Why where will you be?
John I’m going to Amsterdam on Sunday aren’t I? Regenerative anti-ageing / whatsit.
Becky I thought that was a week on Sunday.
John It’s this Sunday. Can’t he come tomorrow?
Becky He can’t. I asked. His wife’s going away somewhere. What do you call those handlebars?
Becky Yes you do. Something and / something.
John No idea / what you’re talking about.
Becky Like dogs.
John Can’t he come when I’m back? I just
I want to see it.
Becky Awww. No John! I need to start exercising. Look at me!
John Just to be on the safe side.
Becky But it wastes a whole week of holidays! What about if I just get him to bring it? and I look at it? and if I think there’s something wrong with it I won’t buy it?
John How will you know?
Becky I’ll ask the man.
John The man. Is the one selling it.
Becky So what?
John So you don’t know where it’s been. Who’s been on it.
Becky Who’s been on it? Why does it / matter who’s been on it?
John You know what I mean. I just mean
Becky It’s his wife’s! His wife’s been on it.
John So he says.
Becky I said he’s nice. And plus
we know where he lives. If the bike’s shit you can go round his house and sort him out. OK?
John Can’t you just wait till I’m back?
Becky I’m running out of time!
John I’m not / fussing.
Becky Fussing! What did we say yesterday?
Becky Just –
She puffs air out: ‘Let’s all calm down.’
John Sorry baby. Sorry.
They smile at each other.
I bought something else today too.
John Oh yeah?
Becky Want to see?
Becky Don’t laugh.
John Why would I laugh?
Becky I have to put it on. Wait there.
She goes into the bathroom.
John Oh I meant to say. Don’t forget we’re expecting Jenny tomorrow.
Becky Jenny who?
John I knew you’d forget. From the fete. With the husband in the medicine sans frontwhatsit.
Becky Oh God.
She goes into the bathroom. Shuts the door.
John Amazing fellow. They’ve got two. Both boys I think she said.
Becky (off) What?
John We had this great chat about you.
Becky (off) I can’t really hear you.
John And listen, I know we agreed I’d have a go at the pipes in the morning but she told me about this fantastic organic butchers just out past the White Hart. On a farm. Only they shut at twelve on a Saturday apparently so I thought I might head out there first thing? Pick up the meat for the lasagne? What do you reckon?
Becky opens the door. She is wearing a little white nightie. Strikes an awkward sort of a pose.
Becky (off) I didn’t hear any of that.
John I said I want to go to the butcher’s tomorrow morning but I don’t want you to think I’m neglecting the pipes.
showing you this?
John Oh. Yes. New nightie. Very nice.
Becky What do you think?
Where’s it from?
Becky Where’s it from?
John I dunno.
Becky I thought maybe
She climbs on to the bed.
John I’ve got an early start.
Becky It’s not even midnight.
John I’ve got to make a lasagne tomorrow. From scratch.
John I know, I just
Becky You don’t like it.
John I love it. It’s great. I’m just
John hot. Sorry baby. It’s just this weather. Are you upset?
Becky No! It’s fine. I’m just feeling loads better. And it’s the first night of the holidays and I saw this and I thought
but you know. Doesn’t matter.
John I love you very much, you know?
Becky I know. I love you too.
John And you’re very sexy.
Becky Even now?
John Even now.
She gets into bed.
Actually it’s interesting because I was just reading this that Jenny recommended
He waves his book.
and listen to this:
hang on a sec
Becky It’s OK.
John no it’s interesting. Listen. Ah. Here we go: “Between the moment you conceive and the day your menstrual cycle resumes you experience hormonal changes that are more dramatic than at any other time in your life including at menopause” blah blah “yet”
John (no wait) “scientists are only beginning to unravel the impact that this hormonal rollercoaster has on the symptoms you experience during pregnancy and on how your brain functions such as pregnancy-related forgetfulness
mood swings” uh huh “and –“
Becky Piss off.
John wait for it
“changes in your libido.” See?
He snaps the book shut.
Looks pretty good you know. This plan.
Becky Uh huh?
John It’s all like food choices. Getting enough sleep.
Becky I’m already / doing those things.
John How much weight to gain. Exercise? Well you want to do that anyway but this is like integrated into a proper programme to give you the what does he call it? ‘The New Pregnancy Ideal’. So the baby turns out perfect. You know what I mean. Not perfect. Just
OK. Healthy. Normal.
Becky Yeah well. You know. Actually. I don’t need it. Because I’ve made my own programme. And I’m starting it tomorrow. So
John Really? What is it?
Becky Eat peanuts. Drink vodka.
John Very funny.
Becky And ride my new bike. Fast. Down hills.
He looks at her.
I’m doing it
my way. Right?
Becky Thank you.
John But can I just say apparently peanuts are OK now. They changed their minds.
Becky What about vodka?
John Still bad.
Becky You’re a good man. Aren’t you?
John What makes you say that?
Becky You care. You want to look after me.
John I do.
Becky And I appreciate that.
She snuggles into him. They peck on the lips. She puts her head on his shoulder.
Sure you don’t want to
John Ah yes. You reminded me. So I’ll get going on the pipes once I’ve been to the butcher’s. That OK?
Becky How long will that take?
John I dunno. A couple of hours?
Becky Can’t you just go to Tesco?
John No! I’m not getting meat from Tesco.
Becky Fine. / Don’t start.
John If we all cared a bit more instead of mindlessly trudging round Tesco we wouldn’t be in the state we’re in.
Becky I said fine! Just don’t forget to do the pipes. It’s driving me crazy. Waiting for it to happen all the time like
Becky listens for a noise.
on edge in case it starts.
John I know baby, but we’re getting there. It just takes time.
John turns out his bedside lamp.
Becky Are you going to sleep?
John I thought you wanted to.
Becky stares at him.
Becky Doesn’t matter.
John You want to read? I don’t mind.
He kisses her.
She looks at him. Then lies down. Then sits up again straight away.
Becky The handlebars. You ride like this:
She puts out her arms as if holding on to old-fashioned handlebars.
Up and straight and the wind in your face. Makes you feel
I don’t know
From Act One of The Village Bike
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Penelope Skinner’s first play, Fucked, was first performed at the Old Red Lion Theatre in 2008 and was a Time Out Critics’ Choice, before being reprised at the Edinburgh Festival the following summer. She is currently under commission to the National Theatre, the Headlong Theatre and the Royal Court Theatre, where The Village Bike played a sell-out run in the summer of 2011 and was twice extended, winning the 2011 George Devine Award, the Charles Wintour Most Promising Playwright at the 2011 Evening Standard Theatre Awards, and nominated at the 2012 Olivier Awards for Outstanding Achievement in an Affiliate Theatre. She has also written episodes for Channel 4’s Fresh Meat, co-wrote the screenplay for Kevin Macdonald’s How I Live Now, and is the co-author with sister Ginny of the graphic novel Briony Hatch. The Village Bike, Eigengrau and The Sound of Heavy Rain are all published by Faber & Faber.
Author portrait © Manuel Harlan
The Village Bike continues at the MCC Theater at The Lucille Lortel Theatre in New York to 13 July 2014. Read more.