The curtain opens on the setting of a fancy bedroom-cum-dining room, situated in a 1930s estate in Coventry, near London. There is a black veil curtain covering a four-poster bed at the edge of the room, a French window dressed as a door (leading out onto a rough patio), beside an old-fashioned telephone on a side table and an armoire. The room has a large red mahogany dining table in its centre, with enough seats for eight. The whole room is warm; dressed in colours of reds and golds, every item (silver cutlery, time-pieces on the mantelpiece and sequins on lampshades) seems to give out a shine, but the black veil sticks out ominously against the cosy feel. Even so, the whole atmosphere feels fake.
Already seated at the table are Cynthia Glass (a guest and friend of Daphne Winters), Joshua Newton (her fiancé), Peter Stones( a weedy-looking man with shifty eyes), Thomas Biggins, Ms. Azura Peterson and her sons.
Christophe is already in the room, but over by the side-table and armoire, standing expectantly beside a table of drinks. Some of these refreshments include champagne, whisky, and port wine, in decanters (but the champagne is in an un-opened bottle).
Alexandra comes from offstage, holding open the door (if there is a door), forMrs.Winters), who walks to the table before the maid. Mrs. Winters takes her place at the head of the table, whilst Alexandra walks over to her right, slightly behind. The maid catches Christophe’s eyes and blushes, before sharing a friendly grin with him.
All the seated guests are chatting merrily, but as they see Mrs. Winters enters, they become quiet gradually. The eyes turn to them, Alexandra’s meet Mr. Biggins’ and he smiles warmly. He is the only one (aside from the butler) who notices her.
Mr. Biggins: Mrs. Winters. Come and sit next to me at the head of the table.
Mrs. Winters: Oh, thank you, Mr. Biggins.
She moves, but eyes Azura Peterson warily. Ms. Peterson has not been invited. Alexandra has never met her, but she has seen Ms. Peterson before… Alexandra is curious.
Mrs. Winters (stopping suddenly): And who are you, may I ask?
Ms. Peterson (with authority, arrogantly): I am Ms. Azura Peterson!
Mrs. Winters: The actress?!
Mr. Biggins/ Christophe: Madam, please.
Azura nods, her hair swishing up and down.
Ms. Peterson: Yet, I am, yes.
Mrs. Winters (recovering): Well, it’s very nice to make your acquaintance.
Ms. Peterson (primly): Of course.
Thomas Biggins sits in his seat as Mrs. Winters sits in the head of the table chair, as conversation resumes amongst the others, albeit more subdued. She motions for the maid (still beside the main door to the room).
Mrs. Winters (quietly, but still with authority): Alexandra, drinks.
Alexandra moves across towards Christophe, saying nothing. She looks towards her mistress once or twice, but Mrs. Winters is too busy to pay attention to her maid.
Alexandra frowns as she reaches for the champagne bottle, speaking quickly to Christophe. Their conversation is whispered, in order so that the guests won’t hear.
Alexandra: I thought that you were doing the drinks?
Christophe: I do not know, my dear. It is probably due to the lady’s disorganisation-
Mrs. Winters (rudely, importantly): The drinks, girl, are they coming?
Alexandra: At once, ma’am.
She grabs the champagne bottle from behind Christophe; he eyes her and smiles.
Christophe (off-hand): …besides, I have the guest–list to double check.
Alexandra (annoyed, playful): I believe that was my job to do!
She walks around the table, pro-offering the champagne. Most, if not all, the guests accept. Christophe stays by the phone, examining a sheet of paper with written scrawled across it; he frowns, deep in concentration; the number of guests is not quite right. He looks from the sheet to the table, and back, whilst Alexandra goes round. The guests have no food yet, and she checks to make sure they are comfortable.
Once Alexandra reaches Mrs. Winters again, the woman brushes the maid off, irritably. Mrs. Winters stands, and Alexandra retreats to Christophe as he moves forward.
Mrs. Winters (boldly): Now my friends, it is wonderful to see you all here with me today…
Christophe (quietly to Mrs. Winters): Wait, ma’am…
He shows he the paper. A moment after she reads, she exclaims.
Mrs. Winters: We’re missing one!
Confused, they look around, excluding Christophe, and Mrs. Winters.
Alexandra tiptoes forward, lifting the paper carefully and cheekily from Christophe’s hands. She searches the paper quickly, and an intelligent grin appears on her face. She knows.
The front doors bang open, and a man appears suddenly, out of breath; he’s been running, obviously.
Rhaïd Mahalle: Sorry, I am late, friends; I had a couple of things to…attend to.
Mrs. Winters: You must be Mr. Mahalle; I’m so glad of you to make it! Come, sit down, there.
Christophe walks back to Alexandra (standing just behind the head of the table).
Alexandra (laughing quietly to Christophe): He is right on time, that late character. It fits in with the ‘dramatics’ no, doubt. (Slight sarcasm on the end of the sentence. Alexandra doesn’t think much of her mistress’ idea).
Mrs. Winters: Now, tell us, Mr. Mahalle, who your character is.
Mr. Mahalle: His name is ‘Nigel’, but that is all I am at liberty to say, ma’am.
Mrs. Winters: No matter… No matter. Now, we’ve had a surprise guest, the lovely Ms. Peterson, here (indicating), but I’m sure the maid will be able to whip up a chair from somewhere. Alexandra.
Alexandra (to herself or Christophe): I’m not a magician.
But she still goes out to do her mistress’ bidding. She comes back onstage carrying another chair. Once she has placed it down, Mrs. Winters taps her champagne glass. The guests look up. Christophe rolls his eyes privately; he’s been butler here so long that he knows what’s coming.
Mrs. Winters (excited, but also sly): And now, finally, it begins.