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The Perfect House: plot synopsis

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Mar. 17th, 1981 | 10:00 pm

“The Perfect House” is a television play that tells the story of a casting agent, who finds her home taken over and used as a safe house by a terrorist group. Michael Gothard plays Dieter, one of the terrorists. The production can be viewed at the BFI's Reuben Library, South Bank, by prior appointment.

Part 1

The play opens with the agent, Victoria Gainsborough (Ann Lynn), having a discussion with her house-guest Didier (Brian Protheroe), a young independent filmmaker. He wants to use her phone, but Victoria, fed up with people taking advantage of her, sends him off.

We get a brief glimpse of her day, as she discusses casting issues with a colleague, then she is in a taxi, during the rush hour. The taxi driver complains of delays, which he blames on “those bleedin’ Arabs again, shooting at each other”, and Victoria ends up travelling by Underground.

She arrives at a party, where she meets Juan Garcia Gomez (Marcelo Romo), whom she assumes is also in the film business. She is immediately attracted to him, but – inter-cut with her flirtations with Juan – we see flashbacks to a scene that recently took place on her doorstep. A man with long blond hair, wearing octagonal-framed glasses, and carrying a red folder, says – in a German accent – “Good morning. I’m from the town hall”, and then, “So, there are no other tenants?” In this first iteration of the scene, the man’s face is very close to the camera.

A scene at a bar follows. While Victoria is talking shop with a film producer, she is pleased to see Juan again, apparently by chance, and contrives to pass him a note inviting him to visit her.

Later, back at her house, while a TV newscaster heard in the background talks about how, “refugees from a holocaust which were Jews, made refugees of a nation which was Arab”, Victoria discusses her budding romance on the phone, with a friend. The doorbell rings, and once again, she remembers the man who came to the front door, saying, “Good morning – I’m from the town hall.” She goes to the door, and lets Juan into her home.

She is convinced she has seen him somewhere – before the party where they first spoke – but Juan denies this, and almost immediately starts asking probing questions about her situation, and the layout of the house. He even takes an interest in her security arrangements, and offers to bring locks for her windows. Disregarding her slight misgivings about Juan, Victoria is soon in bed with him.

Meanwhile, Didier returns to the house, and goes upstairs to the room where he has been staying.

Victoria is woken by a memory of the man from the town hall, saying, “So you need this big house all for yourself? Wonderful for all the homeless families.” She sits up in bed, and remembers him saying, “When will the builders be finished here?” and “We have not received your electoral roll from.” Then the camera pulls back, and shows Juan, wearing dark glasses, standing near the other man’s van.

Despite this suspicious stranger in her bed, Victoria lies down and goes back to sleep, but next morning, as they have breakfast, she tries to find out more about him.

Juan tells her that he is from Buenos Aires, and asks whether his brother – who is interested in cinema – can come and stay at her house. He also asks to borrow her car, and Victoria is so smitten with him, that she accedes to his requests. He seems to know where the garage is without being told.

Victoria then goes to see Emma Sloane (Cathleen Nesbitt), at whose party they met, but all she finds out is that Juan seems to know more about her than he should.

Part 2

At the beginning of part two, Victoria talks to her older colleague, Marjorie (Anna Cropper) about Juan. Marjorie advises caution.

Later, when Victoria goes to a restaurant with Juan, she asks him what he actually does in London, and how he came to be at Emma’s party, but he fobs her off. When she presses him for answers, he flatly denies doing any work for the council. Even now, the worst she suspects is that he is using her to try to get his brother a film career.

Juan insists they leave the restaurant before they have finished their meal, and leads her firmly towards a taxi; the driver says they can’t get through because someone has been shot – an Arab he thinks.

That’s when Victoria realises that they are being followed; Juan says their pursuers are friends of his father. Fed up of being lied to, Victoria demands to know what trouble he is in, but she gets no answers.

They arrive at her home. As she is going up the stairs, a man comes down them, as if he owns the place; it’s the man who came to her door, claiming to be from the town hall. Victoria demands to know who he is, but he just says something to Juan in Spanish. This is Dieter (Michael Gothard), and he is not from the town hall; he is working with, or for, Juan.

Juan goes upstairs, and Dieter comes down, forcing Victoria to back off. Another man, Ziggi (Kevin Costello) also appears from upstairs.

While Dieter looms in the background. Juan asks Victoria for dressings, and tells her his brother is here. They then have a private talk, and Juan tells her that his brother can’t walk, and is lying down. Victoria is having trouble making sense of things.

They go into the bedroom and find Dieter tending Juan’s wounded brother, Pancho (Francisco Morales); Pancho has obviously been shot in the stomach, but Juan tries to persuade Victoria that he has been in a road accident. Victoria realises that the men holed up in her house are responsible for today’s shooting.

Dieter calls to Juan – whom he addresses by his middle name, “Garcia!” – and gives him news of his brother. “He’s not going to make it. We should leave him, and get out, now.”

But Juan won’t hear of it. He demands antiseptic, and tells Dieter to tear up some cloth, and use it to stop the bleeding, and Dieter gets on with it. Juan is clearly the leader of the group.

Juan reveals to Victoria that in Europe, her house has a reputation as a free place to stay! Victoria tells him to get the wounded man out, but he just tells her to shut up.

Back in the room where Pancho is lying on the bed, Dieter says “His temperature is going up and up.” He goes to stand in the doorway, looking concerned, while Juan goes to tend to Pancho.

Later, in the kitchen, Ziggi finds something to eat in Victoria’s fridge while Dieter checks and loads weapons with brisk efficiency. Victoria asks what will happen to her. Dieter goes to stand by the door, looking defensive. As Juan argues politics with Victoria, Dieter listens, and drinks fruit juice from a carton.

Meanwhile, Victoria’s lodger, Didier, has snuck into the house by his usual route, and is moving quietly about the house.

Juan tries to make Victoria understand his agenda. He is concerned about inequalities in the world, where “all these countries cream off the assets” from the poorer countries, and repress their peoples. He wants to stage terror incidents, so that the oppressors will have to become repressive in their own countries, to “bring political consciousness” to their people.

All this time, Dieter looks on, listening, but not joining in. He seems more concerned with practical matters than with helping convert his leader’s girlfriend to the cause, and in any case, Victoria is only interested in getting on with her own life.

Didier looks into the dying man’s room, then goes to hide, just in time to avoid Ziggi, who is on his way up the stairs, while Juan gives Dieter some items, with which he goes out.

Victoria’s biggest concern seems to be that Juan has abused her trust, rather than fear of her life, and in fact, no real threat has been offered to her. Juan reveals that he used to be a lawyer, defending political prisoners, but now he has come to the source of the oppression.

Dieter calls from upstairs: “Garcia!” He has found Didier lurking in the house, and in the general confusion, Didier escapes out of a window. Juan demands Victoria’s car keys. Dieter and Ziggi carry the injured man down the stairs, cradled between them. Dieter tells Juan “He asked to be left behind”, but Juan insists they take him with them.

As they all depart, presumably in Victoria’s car, Victoria tearfully tells Juan, “You’ll never change anything.” Juan retorts that Special Branch will soon come and lock her up, just for being involved with him.

In the final scene, Victoria speaks with Marjorie again. She makes no mention of having attracted the attention of the authorities, but she looks around, in a rather paranoid manner. This incident has spoiled the house for her – a house that both she and the terrorists thought was ‘perfect’ – and she doesn’t think she will ever trust her own judgement again.

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