Robert Sim's 'Tangle Bells' (2010) is a tale of young love, class barriers and the twists of fate. It takes place in Lerwick between 1913 and 1927.
Robert Sim says: The play arose out of an interest in how Shetland was affected by the First World War; and in particular how quickly prosperity before the War turned to unemployment and poverty after it. The title is taken from a poem by J.J. Haldane Burgess, a key figure in Shetland writing both before and after the Great War.
TANGLE BELLS, SCENE 6
SINCLAIR a successful Lerwick businessman
NAN SMITH a young lass who works in Magnus’s shop
Nan and Magnus’s son Geordie are in love, and their relationship, though not common knowledge, is serious.
LATE OCTOBER, 1916, MORNING. STORE ROOM OF SINCLAIR’S GROCERS. NAN ENTERS WITH A BROOM AND BEGINS TO SWEEP THE FLOOR AND GENERALLY TIDY.
AFTER A MOMENT, MAGNUS ENTERS FROM BSR.
MAGNUS: Ah, Nan, lass.
NAN: (STARTS A LITTLE.) Oh, good morning, Mr Sinclair.
MAGNUS: Oh, du shouldna be sae formal wi me, lass! We’ve kent each idder a braw few years noo!
NAN SMILES THINLY AND CONTINUES SWEEPING. MAGNUS STROLLS TO THE TABLE AND SITS, WATCHING HER.
MAGNUS: Aye, I can mind when du first started here – a peerie slip o a thing! But I could see dan at du was a herd wirker. Something wir Geordie could learn fae dee!
SHE DOESN’T ANSWER AND HE LOOKS AT HER FOR A MOMENT, THEN SMILES.
Du’ll be fine, my lass. A’m sure at whatever du taks on in life du’ll manage. Have a brak, Nan, and come and hae a saet.
HE INDICATES THE OTHER SEAT AND THEN REACHES INTO HIS POCKET AND TAKES OUT A PAPER BAG. AS SHE TURNS TO SIT, HE OFFERS HER THE BAG.
Hae a sweetie, Nan.
SHE TAKES A SWEET AND SITS, SOMEWHAT RELUCTANTLY.
Does du enjoy wirkin here, Nan?
NAN: Of coorse, Mr Sinclair. (SHE MOVES UNEASILY IN HER SEAT.)
MAGNUS: Ah, weel – dat’s da main thing. (HE SITS BACK EXPANSIVELY.) Du keens, A’m braaly prood o dis business. Hit’s been built up oot o naething, really. Does du keen, I sometimes pinch myself an winder hoo I got to whaar I am da day. I wid never a tocht, as a peerie boy in Northmavine, dat I wid ever be in charge o an enterprise o dis size!
But dat’s da wey hit gengs, Nan. Herd wark never did onybody ony herm. I’m sure du’s doin dy best at da scule as weel as here!
SHE STARTS TO SPEAK BUT HE CARRIES ON.
An dat’s da wey o hit noo, Nan – study, no labourin lang oors ahint a shop counter!
HE GETS UP AND WALKS A FEW PACES AWAY AS HE SPEAKS.
Dis is no a gude time in Shetland’s history, Nan. Du’s a bright lass – I’m sure at du appreciates dat. Since da start o da War, hit’s been – difficult fir wis aa.
PAUSE. HE STARES INTO THE MIDDLE DISTANCE.
NAN: I – I do keen whit you’re spaekin aboot, Mr Sinclair. Dere’s puir Mrs Robertson, at wis a neighbour o wirs.
MAGNUS REALISES THAT SHE HAS SPOKEN.
MAGNUS: Eh? Oh, aye, I keen wha du means. Her man lost his job joinerin tae da herrin stations in Unst, is dat no right? (NAN NODS.) Aye, dat wis a few year ago.
NAN: It wis maybe three year sinsyne. I mind hit because my mam got me to help wi Mrs Robertson’s peerie bairn, when it wisna weel. It hed scarlet fever, I tink. But she didna keen dat at first.
MAGNUS: Oh, aye, I mind noo. Did da bairn no – (HE COMES TO AN ABRUPT HALT. HE SHIFTS UNEASILY.) Aye, weel, dat wis very sad.
NAN: Hit wis because dey didna hae da money to pey da doctor – or so my mam says. Hit’s wrang!
MAGNUS: Aye, Nan, life can be unfair. (HE WALKS FURTHER ACROSS THE ROOM AND TURNS AGAIN.) An dat’s why du hes to stick in at da scule, like I say.
I keen dy folk doesna hae a lok o money. But du’s a bright lass and I’m sure du will fin a good man to marry. (NAN LOOKS AWAY AND BITES HER LIP. MAGNUS WALKS BACK TOWARDS HER AS HE SPEAKS AND RESUMES HIS SEAT OPPOSITE HER.) I hoop du disna mind me sayin dis to dee, Nan, but, du keens, Mrs Sinclair and me dunna want Geordie juist to bide here. He’s wir wan and onnly bairn and we hae ambitions for him – as I’m sure dy folk haes fir dee. But Geordie keens dat – study, study! An den on to university. I’m sure he has it in him to mak a minister – or a doctor or such. Maybe wan day he’ll come back here an look after da folk o Lerwick – whether hit’s dir boadies or der sowls!
HE GETS UP STIFFLY.
Weel, weel, Nan, hit’s been fine spaekin ta dee again. I’d better awa in an check da stock.
HE EXITS BSR. NAN WATCHES HIM GO.