As I mentioned in my post a couple of days ago, after the performance I was told that the end of the stage version of A Matter of Life and Death varies nightly. The script that I’d ordered arrived today, and the first thing I did was to look at how the ending was written. As it turns out, it’s different again from the version I saw, probably explained by the “Note on the text” at the start of the play:
This is the text of a devised show. We began with the screenplay of the original film. Some scenes were rewritten and taken into workshops at the National Studio where they were re-improvised and rewritten again. A new draft was taken into rehearsal, where many scenes were once again rewritten in response to the work of the acting and design company. Although some dialogue has been placed in square brackets to indicate that it is optional, this text is probably quite close to what will be spoken during the show’s run at the National Theatre, but even then it will be subject to continual evolution and change and the occasional inspired improvisation on a nightly basis.
So here are the last few pages of the script. Note that one of the differences with the film that I didn’t mention in my writeup is that June is transported fully to the courtroom.
WOMAN [of Coventry]: Don’t you think they should let some of us go back instead of you? A few of us? One of us? Rather than let you go back so you can enjoy falling in love?
WOMAN: If the rules are to be broken, why shouldn’t they be broken for us?
PETER: You’re right. Some of them should go back.
Can’t be helped about the parachute. I’ll have my wings soon, anyway, big white ones. Bob? So long Bob. I’ll see you. I’ll see you.
JUNE’S VOICE: Hello G for George. Hello, G George. Hello, G George.
DOC [REEVES]: Stop! We have to do something. His condition’s critical.
SHAKESPEARE: He is dying. That is all.
JUNE: Peter! I love you, Peter. You’re life and I’m leaving you.
SHAKESPEARE: But don’t think that his love will die with him. His love and this story will live to be told again long after he is dead. It is already the perfect love story.
FATHER: Welcome home. You will soon be at peace.
DOC: Peter. Peter. Don’t listen to them.
JUNE bursts into the court room.
JUNE: Enough! A life for a life. I’ll take his place and you can send him back! Take me not him! Take me not him!
She mounts the escalator and starts climbing.
PETER: Stop. Stop her!
He tries to follow.
JUDGE: Restrain him!
JUNE: You’re safe! You’re safe, Peter.
JUDGE: Stop everything!
Everything stops except JUNE running. She collapses. The escalator carries her down and slows to a halt. She is delivered at the feet of the JUDGE. PETER escapes from his restrainers and goes to her. In their unity they are oblivious of the Court.
Now. How does the Court find?
The RECORDER consults with the CHORUS.
RECORDER: For the defendant, your Honour.
Love cannot mend the horrors of the war we’ve fought. But if we are ever to recover our human dignity, then everyone who survives must find a still place in their heart where a new and simple love can grow. This man and this woman have found that already.
JUDGE: Very well.
He writes a new date on the term of life and shows it to the DOC.
Does this seem fair to you gentlemen?
Goodbye Peter. Good luck. Goodbye June.
[FATHER: Goodbye Peter. I wish you the best in love and life. I will wait for you here.]
CONDUCTOR: Goodbye Peter. I’ll get you in the end.
Magically PETER is back in the hospital, JUNE is at his bedside. Enter DR McEWEN and MR ARCHER.
McEWEN: How is he? Were we in time?
ARCHER: His chances are about even.
The BOY takes a coin out of his pocket and flips it in the air.
IF IT’S HEADS:
The room is a normal hospital with busy NURSES and AIRMEN recuperating. They are talking and laughing. A new emergency arrives and the medical staff immediately swing into action: saving lives is commonplace.
PETER: I won my case.
JUNE: I know.
IF IT’S TAILS:
The room is a normal hospital with busy NURSES and AIRMEN recuperating. They are talking and laughing. JUNE is sitting beside PETER’s body. He is dead.
JUNE: Peter. Peter. Peter. Peter. Peter.
ARCHER: I’m sorry. We did everything we could.
1. Reading this through again, Dr A’s Life on Mars comparison makes even more sense; the confusion of real-world medical emergency and other-world metaphysical crisis is much more intense than it is in the film, and very reminiscent of that series.
2. I have no idea why the script refers to Frank Reeves as “Doc”.
3. June climbing the escalator was different in the version I saw; on Wednesday, she climbed up the stand by the judge, and he told her that she’d proved her love for Peter.
4. I am pretty sure, although not absolutely certain, that the court recorder’s final speech is different. I remember the line about finding a new place where love can grow, but I don’t think he declares a verdict, and I distinctly remember lines about how any finding must take into account the essential randomness of life and death in wartime. I’m not sure if those were delivered by the recorder or by another character. Then there was the coin toss — although, as I say, we were told that on a previous night it had gone to an audience vote.
5. Otherwise, the ending is as abrupt as I remember.