The Work: Plays

Whatever Happened to Betty Lemon

1986, Fourth play in cycle of six One Woman Plays. (One Act)


LADY BETTY LEMON, widow of a Labour peer, 'crippled by everything old age brings', receives a letter informing her she's been voted 'Handicapped Woman of the Year'. It appals her. She spends the next 45 minutes rehearsing the speech she will never give and raging on behalf of those handicapped by fear of their priests, charlatans, charismatic politicians, marriage, ignorant teachers and bigoted parents. At a certain moment her motorised wheelchair takes on a life of its own - yet another of her life's vicissitudes. The only surrealistic play in the cannon, and one that the author describes as 'a self-portrait of defiance and despair'.


"Was I ever really a socialist? I called myself one in those days because in those days there was no other name for what I believed. But - ssssh! Don't let on. I never joined! Wasn't a joiner. Couldn't accept majority decisions. Never really liked the majority. Not like Sir James. He loved them. We once went on a goodwill mission to East Germany. Visited a small industrial town. Can't remember the name but I'll never forget the scene. The local councillors gave us tea. Five of them neatly dressed in suits of lifeless greys and browns and blues on one side of a long table, Sir James and Lady Betty Lemon from Dalston Junction with their interpreter on the other side, and little sandwiches in between, all set in a clean, polished, bleak room with photos of grim men on the cream walls. And I remember asking: "Why are all your left-wing leaders looking to the right?" No one thought that funny."