This is the first act from the play Benefits. If you would like to use this play or just read the rest of it then please email here.
ACT: 1 SCENE: 1
(OPENS IN THE JOB CENTRE MAIN OFFICE IS BEING SHOWN
AROUND. IT IS VERY BUSY AND THERE IS UNDERSCORE OF GENERAL OFFICE SOUNDS THAT RUNS ALL THROUGH THE PLAY.)
CATH: You must be Grace; you’re late.
GRACE: Sorry, no, I don’t think so.
CATH: Well, we all started at 8am. You have to really, once those Job Centre doors open it’s chaos until we close. Plus, we all have to come in the front door now since that incident out back, and by 9am the drunks have already started to gather, so 8am is best.
GRACE: Oh, right, it’s just that HR told me to arrive at 10am on my first day.
Something about this giving everyone a chance to get settled before I show up for my induction.
CATH: Yes, HR, they’re not based here anymore so why would they care? They used to be in here but, according to them, they “out-grew” their office space. If you ask me, they just got sick of the constant smell of tramp and decided to go elsewhere. I’ve been to their building, they even have a coffee machine that doesn’t spit scalding water at you just for getting too close.
GRACE: I would prefer start the day with a coffee rather than a slightly pointless scolding. Also, are we allowed to use the word “tramp”? I’m sure in my induction pack there was a list of words best avoided, and I think that was on there.
CATH: They gave you an induction pack? That’s very fancy, when I first started they showed me where the biscuits were kept and gave me a layabout, sorry I’m guessing that’s a banned word too, I mean “client” to work with.
GRACE: That must have been a long time ago?
CATH: (CATH GIVES GRACE A DIRTY LOOK.) Are you saying I look old?
CATH: Though this job will do that to you. How old are you now,? 23? 24?
CATH: Well, I wasn’t much younger than you when I started and look at me now. Of course that was thirty years ago but still, by the end of this week you’ll be lucky if you can pass for less than thirty. Of course, by that logic you’ll be dead in a month. Though we don’t talk about death around here, not after the incident the other week with the petrol. That was a close one, best forgotten now though.
(JANE WALKS UP BEHIND CATH AND GRACE AND MAKES THE PAIR JUMP.)
JANE: Cath are you bending this poor girl’s ear? She doesn’t want to know about the petrol incident, wow that stuff goes up like a bomb when you put a match to it. Still, that’s not important.
Perhaps you can go find Grace a chair so she can join you at your desk. (CATH SLOPES OFF).
I have this for you.
(JANE HANDS GRACE A ’TRAINEE’ BADGE)
You’ll need this today, some of our clients are real… characters and they do tend to go easier on you if they know you’re a trainee. Saying that, they might just take advantage of you if they see you’re a trainee.
GRACE: Oh that doesn’t sound great.
JANE: I wouldn’t worry about it, you’re with Cath and she doesn’t stand for any messing about. I shouldn’t say this but we don’t normally pair new starters up with Cath. Don’t get me wrong, she’s okay and all, and I have to say she makes wonderful cakes for cake-day-Fridays, but she’s been here a long… long time and we’d hate for you to pick up any of her bad habits.
GRACE: I’m sure I’ll be fine. She seems very nice. On the training last week they
told me that I had to watch out for The… “old guard” I think they called
JANE: Yes, “old guard” that’s a good way of putting it. There are a few like that around here. They all know the job inside out, but they have just lost a little respect for the system. Still, I’m sure you’ll do great and it might do Cath some good to see her job through a fresh pair of eyes.
(JANE HANDS GRACE OVER TO CATH WHO IS SITTING AT HER DESK. THERE IS VERY LITTLE SPACE AND GRACE HAS TO SQUEEZE IN AT THE SIDE OF HER. JANE CHECKS A CLIPBOARD SHE’S BEEN CARRYING AND RUSHES OFF.)
CATH: Sorry there isn’t much space, but you certainly don’t want to sit on that side, that would just get awkward once the clients start to arrive.
GRACE: This is fine, cosy.
CATH: Cosy? I’m not so sure about that. It’s cost saving bunkum, that’s what it is. Really you should have your own desk but we’ll make the best of it. So what did JANE have to say about me? Did she warn you about my bad habits?
GRACE: No, she said you were great. She said you make wonderful cakes.
CATH: Well that is true. There aren’t many round here who’d turn down a slice of my chocolate mud pie. But then most of them are comfort eaters and who can blame them given what we deal with every day?
GRACE: I’m sure it can’t be that bad.
CATH: Really, you don’t think it can be that bad? Oh, you are in for a treat! It’s one sponger after another. Look around you. Look at them all. Most of them are lazy wasters and the other half can barely speak the language.
GRACE: Isn’t that racist?
CATH: Is it? I’m not so sure, I think if something’s true then it doesn’t count as racism. And actually, it’s probably way more than half of those who come in here who have no grasp of the language.
GRACE: I’m sure that can’t be true.
CATH: I think it is. Not their fault of course.
CATH Of course not, we just have such a lax system that it appears to let anyone in. We give people “job seekers allowance” and expect them to find work. What a joke that is; other than very basic stuff how does someone seek work if you don’t speak a word of English?
GRACE: Surely, it’s our job to educate them?
CATH Not at all, it’s our job to get them out of this office as quick as we can. Ideally by finding a way to stop their money.
GRACE: I’m sure that’s not in my job description.
CATH Did that come in your induction pack?
GRACE: I’m guessing you don’t have a copy.
CATH: That’s not important right now. Though no, I don’t have a copy. My original point was that it’s madness for these people….
CATH: Yes these, you know which people I mean and It’s madness really, that so many don’t learn the language. If I went to live in another country I would learn their language.
GRACE: Can you speak any other languages?
CATH: Of course not, but then I don’t live in another country. Though I tell you what, before I’d expected free money from anywhere, I’d expect them to want me to speak their language. This is all irrelevant of course because what other country is stupid enough to dish out state benefit to foreigners?
GRACE: I’m guessing you’re a Sun reader?
CATH: If the Sun says it like most of us are thinking then I am – I’m not though, mostly because it’s full of dross and pictures of surgically enhanced housewives. But still, I hold to my opinions.
GRACE: I guess given how long you’ve worked here you’re experienced enough to not
let your opinions impact on your work.
CATH: I treat everyone the same way!
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