Act One is set inside a large motorway coach going down the M4 to London for a night out at a musical. To begin with the stage is empty except for the flashing of headlights going the other way. Then, gradually, pieces of machinery come in from all sides of the stage and magically form a giant motorway coach, giving the illusion that the audience is inside it, along with the cast. There is a standing ovation from the audience for the machinery, and I should think so, too - not only did it cost half a million to make, it also broke down three times during the dress rehearsal, and everyone backstage is on tenterhooks.
Gradually the coach fills with passengers. Typical of them are Mr and Mrs Fingle, a retired bank manager and his wife from Chipping Norbury.
Mrs Fingle: Ooh, this is exciting, Ted. Fancy going all the way to London to see a show] What's it called?
Mr Fingle: What is what called, dear?
Mrs Fingle: The show.
Mr Fingle: I don't know. They haven't told us yet.
Mrs Fingle: Look on the tickets] The name'll be there.
Mr Fingle: Good idea. (Looks.) It's called This Portion To Be
Mrs Fingle: Is it by Lloyd Webber?
Mr Fingle: It's bound to be, dear. Frankly, as long as it's got lots of singing and dancing . . .
All the passengers take this as a cue for a song.
We're going down the motorway
In two hours we'll be there
We don't know what the show's called
And frankly we don't care
As long as it's got dancing
And the music's very loud
We don't care who is in it
Because we're the theatre crowd]
We'll buy a shiny programme
And have a cup of tea
And one will cost us five pounds
And the other two or three
But as long as it's got music
And the lyrics are in rhyme
We'll come back down the
And say we had a good time]
The passengers now do a spectacular dance up and down the aisle of the coach. As they subside into their seats, the party courier switches on his mike.
Courier: Hello, everyone] Now, just two points to make before tonight's show. One is that when we are in the West End, nobody ever refers to a musical by the full title, OK? You always say Les Mis, or Phantom, or Aspects, or Sunset, right? In fact, nowadays most musicals have titles that are already shortened versions, like Cats or Chess, right? And the other thing is that parking is very restricted near the theatre, so just to be on the safe side we're going to stop in the next mile or two, and get the Tube.
Chorus: When you all go
Down the motorway of life
You with your husband
Me with my wife
It doesn't much matter
Which way we wend
As long as we all
Arrive in the end . . .
Mr Fingle: I thought we dropped that song about two weeks back, when we were trying out on the provincial tour.
Mrs Fingle: You're right] That song isn't meant to be in the show]
Mr Fingle: There's something very wrong here. I'll tell you another thing. The coach is slowing down already, and there aren't any houses round here at all. It's all . . . deep forest. I don't like this, dear.
At this point the driver of the coach, whom until now we have only seen from behind, turns round and reveals that he is Death at the wheel. The courier switches on his mike again.
Courier: Sorry about this, ladies and gents, but we seem to have lost our way temporarily. Luckily there's a house at the end of the drive. We'll ask for directions . . .
There is a flash of lightning, which reveals a ghastly Gothic mansion ahead, with bats flying round the roof, and one window lit by a flickering candle. Little do they know it, but our brave coach party are in for the most terrifying two or three hours of their lives. Well, it could have been worse. They could have got to see that show in the West End . . . .
(Anybody who wishes to put money into this show is asked to send a blank cheque.)