Sian bursts onto the stage, beaming and waving to the boisterous and humilitainment-hungry audience.
Sian: Thank you! Thank you so much! Woo! I’m Sian Welby and you’re watching Comeuppance, the only show that allows you to get revenge on those professions that wind you up, rip you off, and wear you down! Tonight we shall meet three representatives of such professions – no actors, no celebs, just ordinary folk who work day-in-day-out in these troublesome trades. Each will put their case, then you decide who gets put in their place! What is that place? It is of course our super-sucky yucky Mucky Dip!
While the audience whoops and cheers, a high-set camera surveys the portentous vat. A dense dry-ice fog flows over the rim, intermittently rising and surging as if something is stirring beneath.
Sian gingerly approaches the Dip, brandishing a stethoscope.
Sian: You’ll have to wait until later to see exactly what lurks within, but now, for the first time, we’re going to hear what goes in the dire depths!
Wincing, Sian places the stethoscope against the wall of the vat. Bubbling, gurgling and squelching reverberate around the studio. The music of Chris de Burgh can also be faintly heard.
Sian: [withdrawing stethoscope and sidling away] Now that sounds nasty, doesn’t it? But when it comes to the wrongdoers on this show, we can’t make things nasty enough! Let’s get on with meeting them!
The market researcher
Sian: Languishing in purgatory from the previous episode, we have Gail – a 28-year-old market researcher from Edinburgh.
Sian: Now Gail, we didn’t get very far with your interrogation last week, because every time I tried to ask a question, you responded with a potted survey question of your own!
Gail: [in a sugar-coated voice] I’m sorry to hear that Sian. How should I respond this time: one-word answers, lengthy expositions—
Sian: You’re doing it again!
Gail opens her mouth to speak.
Sian: [snapping fingers together] Np!!
Gail falls silent.
Sian: You actually led last week’s poll for quite a way, so for your own sake you better behave yourself. And after that episode aired, a few people contacted us saying they’ve received cold calls from you, even though they’re registered with the Telephone Preference Service!
Gail: [smugly] Ah, interesting fact: market research isn’t covered by TPS. We’re not selling anything, you see.
Sian: Except that you are! You’re selling the data you collect to other companies, who will more likely than not bombard the poor householder with even more cold calls!
Gail: Actually, the whole point of my surveys is to assess a householder’s socioeconomic status and consumer profile. That way, they can receive more cold-uh… more marketing correspondence regarding what interests them, and less regarding what doesn’t. So one simple, straightforward, 45-minute survey with me, and a lot of those unwanted calls will go away.
Sian: Forty-five minutes!? And what if the householder declines?
Gail: [voice hardens but smile remains painted on] Well, we won’t know what they do and don’t like, so they’ll receive marketing correspondence for pretty much everything!
Sian: [staring aghast] Right, so your approach is “answer my questions, or I’ll unleash a flood of cold calls on you!” That’s not market research, Gail. It’s a protection racket!
The audience boos profusely.
Gail: [looks round sheepishly] More Nectar points, anyone?
Sian: Screw the Nectar points! What people would really like to see is you make a cold call – a cold, sticky, stinky call – into the Mucky Dip!
The audience cheers at the thought. Gail folds her arms and shudders.
Sian: [to the camera] And I’m sure you’re all raring to dial in to make that happen, but please hold on until you’ve seen who Gail’s up against.
The used car dealer
Sian: Next up in tonight’s selection is Ashley. She’s also 28, she’s from Swindon, and she’s been selling used cars for the past five years.
Sian: Ashley, when people are asked to picture a used car dealer, they imagine a man – bad suit, greasy hair, moustache, willing to flog a rust-bucket to his own grandmother! Are you female dealers any different?
Ashley: Well we don’t have moustaches. I have to say Sian, the wheels on this cage are rather squeaky. Have you thought about using cars instead?
Sian: [frowning] Cars?
Ashley: Yes, why not have the contestants drive onto the stage. I have three lovely motors that are perfect for the task. Low mileage, one careful widowed owner, and a great price just for you! And as a gesture of goodwill, I’ll even do a trade-in on these cages.
Sian: We’re happy with the cages, thank you.
Ashley: Price not good enough, eh? [Scratches her head with a world-weary sigh] You’re taking food from my kids’ mouths, Sian… but seeing as you’re buying three together, I guess I can knock a bit off.
Sian: We don’t want any cars! Now let’s get back on topic, shall we? We had an estate agent on a while back, and she was bad enough, but you lot win hands-down for aggressive and manipulative sales techniques!
Ashley: [with an expansive shrug] If we seem pushy, it’s because we’d hate for you to miss out on a great deal! Take, for example, these three cars you’re looking to buy…
Sian: I said I’m not look—
Ashley: What kind of car do you drive currently, Sian? Don’t tell me… you’re a hatchback woman! Fuel economy, ease of parking, zip around town with the boyfriend – I get all that. But why not upgrade to a saloon for a just a little extra. As a lady driver myself, I know you’ll appreciate the personal space and power.
Sian: [exasperated] Stop trying to sell me cars!!
The audience boos and hisses.
Ashley: [with a hurt expression] I realise you have a budget, Sian – don’t we all? Look, I’ll go speak to the manager. Can’t promise anything though…
Sian: I’m the manager here, and we have a lovely vehicle for you! 15,000 litre capacity, automatic transmission, eight previous passengers, and it puts Volkswagen in the shade for noxious emissions! It could be yours to drive away by the end of the show!
The spectators show their keenness for this idea. Ashley folds her arms and pouts.
Sian: [faces the camera] And I’m confident you’re all thinking about handing the keys to Ashley…
Ashley: What’s there to think about?
Sian: [tuts] But before you seal the deal, let’s meet our third… [taps her earpiece] Ah yes, I’m supposed to do a shoutout for a hen party. Are Leah and her crew in the house?
There comes a raucous cheer from a conspicuous group of women in a rag-tag assortment of fancy dress, occupying the first three rows on the left-hand side of the seating area.
Sian: Couldn’t miss you really. But which one of you’s Leah?
A dozen fingers point at a brunette in a devil costume, seated in the middle of the mob.
Sian: Leah, hi there! Are you enjoying the show?
Leah: [smiling shyly] Yeah, I’m having a great time thanks!
Sian: Glad to hear it. Who’s the lucky feller?
Sian: [cupping ear] Sorry, did you say Mike?
Leah and hen party: MARK!!
Sian: It’s not very congenial to chat like this. Why don’t you come up on the stage Leah? Come on, up you come!
Sian: Well you’re walking straight, so you can’t be that drunk. Nice costume!
Leah: Oh, thanks Sian.
Sian: So you’re getting married to Mark. When’s the big day?
Leah: It’s in three weeks.
Sian: Lovely. And where have you travelled from?
Leah: [growing more at ease] The mighty mighty Norwich!
The hen party and no-one else cheers.
Sian: Ah well, never mind. I presume you’re not an agent of Satan on a day-to-day basis, so what’s your occupation?
Leah: I’m a hairdresser.
The audience boos, taking Leah aback.
Sian: Ooohh, they don’t like that! You wouldn’t be one of those really pricey salon hairdressers, would you?
Leah: [defensively] I run an upmarket establishment, if that’s what you mean.
Sian: [stroking chin] Yes, hmm. You see Leah, your friends have told me that you pester them to get their hair done at your salon, and then charge them an arm and a leg for it!
Leah: [glaring down at her friends] I give them a 20% discount!
Sian: Yes, and it’s still very expensive. They also tell me that you “suggest” hairstyles for them, they decline your “suggestions”, and then you do it your way regardless!
Leah: [shrugs] What can I say Sian? I love my friends dearly, but they don’t have a clue when it comes to style. I mean, look at them!
There’s an “oooOOOoo” from the audience. The camera cuts to Leah’s pals feigning offence.
Sian: Hmm, yes, they told me you’re rather snooty like that, and they’ve had enough of it. They think you need… [scratches head] oh, what was it? [Looks to hen party] Help me out, girls. What does Leah need?
Hen party: A COMEUPPANCE!!
The guards wheel out an empty cage. The audience roars while Leah squeals. Her eyes boggle and she puts her hand to her mouth, bending over double. Below, her friends cheer and clap ecstatically.
With a huge grin, Sian holds open the cage door.
Sian: Your friends have set you up good and proper! By the way, that form you signed on the way in – did you bother to read it?
Leah: [through her hands] No!
Sian: That was your agreement to take part! So come on, in you get.
Blushing, Leah reluctantly steps into the cage.
Sian: Bring a change of clothes?
Leah: Umm, I have some at the hotel!
Sian: Oh dear, could be an interesting trip back there!
Leah groans as Sian clangs the door shut. Sian strolls to the front of the stage, rubbing her hands together.
Sian: You know, I reckon our audiences will be a bit less relaxed from now on!
The audience laughs nervously.
Sian: [addressing the camera] So that concludes tonight’s line-up. Three very worthy candidates for a comeuppance, I’m sure you’ll agree, but it’s up to you, the viewers, as to which of them goes in our Mucky Dip. The numbers for voting are up on the screen. If you want to give Gail the full weight of your opinion, then dial 0900 68259 01. If you’d like to send Ashley for a test drive, the number’s 0900 68259 02. Or if you think it should be shampoo and conditioner time for Leah (look at her, she can’t believe this!) then 0900 68259 03 is what you need to dial. We’ll be back at 9 pm for an update, and then again at 10:30 for the main event! Until then, it’s over to you.
Alternative poll link
Poll will close at 10 pm on Wed 18th. Voting allowed once every 12 hours.