January 13, 2010

Short Play

First complete draft of my Writing for Performance short play. It still needs a name, and all feedback is much appreciated.

The back of the Reeves family’s spacious, detached town house. A glass conservatory with large double doors thrown open onto a large, well-kept garden. The soft sounds of music and laughter drift down from a sophisticated adult party being held somewhere inside the house. The conservatory is stacked haphazardly with cardboard boxes, piled on shelves, furniture and spread across the floor.

Jack enters the conservatory from the back door. He is uncomfortably well-dressed, in his early twenties, just camp enough to make you wonder.

Jack: (nervously) Ellie? (He grows in confidence as he realises the party-makers cannot hear him) Ellie? Ellie?

He notices that the conservatory doors are open and glances around outside, clutching his hands under his armpits to ward off the cold. As he turns to leave, a series of smoke rings emerge from behind a box. Jack considers them for a moment, closes the inner door, reopens it and stamps across the room.

Jack: (gruffly, imitating a much older man) Eleanor, this is your father.

Ellie: Hello Daddy! Would you like a fag?

Jack: (still mimicking Mr Reeves) Why thank you.

He snatches the cigarette from behind the box and darts away merrily. Ellie emerges, outraged. She wears an expensive-looking, elegant cocktail dress accompanied by cheap jewellery. She is holding a large glass of wine and a small decorative handbag.

Ellie: Jack! That was my last one!

Jack continues smoking with ostentatious contentment.

Jack: Liar.

Ellie: Fine.

She takes a cigarette from the bag for herself and runs to Jack.

Ellie: Nicotine kisses?

They hold their cigarettes in their mouths and Ellie lights hers by touching it to the end of Jack’s.

Jack: What about the smell?

Ellie listens a moment to the sounds of the party. There is a shriek of uproarious middle-aged laughter.

Ellie: Doubt it matters. What are you drinking?

Jack: (displaying his glass for her inspection) A celebratory brut.

Ellie: (sarcastically) What are you celebrating?

Jack is at a loss.

Jack: It’s your party.

Ellie: (snappishly) It’s Mummy’s party.

Jack is subdued for a moment, then chokes with laughter.

Jack: Mummy?

Ellie: I wouldn’t be her darling eldest if I didn’t call her Mummy.

Jack: You’re a cruel thing sometimes.

Ellie: She has only herself to blame.

Jack sighs and walks about looking at the boxes.

Jack: Should we be out here?

Ellie: No. This is the dark place. The cave of secrets. (Pause.) There’s no need to be so awkward with me. I’m not going to burst into tears or anything.

Jack: When’s your dad moving out?

Ellie: They didn’t say.

Jack: His stuff looks pretty much ready to go.

Ellie: Mm.

She walks around, turning a few of the boxes to reveal their labels: “Summer Clothes”, “Kitchen Utensils” and “Desires”. Jack finishes his cigarette and looks around for somewhere to stub it out.

Jack: Are you ready to go back inside?

Ellie: Definitely not.

Jack: That’s ok.

Ellie finishes her cigarette. She searches through the boxes, selecting one labelled “Rubbish”. She drops her cigarette-end inside it. After a moment’s hesitation, Jack does the same.

Ellie: Have they been nice to you in there?

Jack: Everyone seems lovely.

Ellie: Huh.

Jack: Did you get a chance to speak to your parents? (Ellie wanders away.) Ellie?

Ellie: Oh, I did. Mummy introduced me to one of Daddy’s dearest old friends. An old Cambridge boy. He asked me which college I was attending.

Jack: So?

Ellie: I informed him that I have already embarked on my voyage through the world of employment. Mummy put her arm around my shoulders. “Ellie’s learning a little bit about working life,” she said, “while she decides what she wants to do with herself in the future.”

Jack: At which point you launched an epic declamation on the merits of art versus academia?

Ellie: No! I was polite. But it was at that point that I decided to leave.

She opens a box marked “Comfort” and pulls out a large beanbag. She drags the beanbag to an empty floorspace and sits on it.

Jack: Is that it?

Ellie nods.

Jack: You didn’t drag me here all the way from London to sit in your parent’s conservatory and /watch you mope all night.

Ellie: No, I dragged you here to help me cope with the godawful pretension that saturates this whole pointless charade.

Jack: If you’re that upset by it why are you even here?

Ellie: Because the Reeves Family Christmas party is a time-honoured tradition. And I’m not upset.

Jack: (sarcastically) Obviously not.

Ellie pulls the “Comfort” box towards her and rummages inside.

Ellie: I’ll find something to make you feel better.

Jack: Should you really be doing that?

Ellie brings a mug of hot chocolate out of the box. It is freshly made, and topped with marshmallows and cream. Jack is visibly tempted.

Jack: I see. Assailing me at my weakest point.

Ellie takes a sip.

Ellie: Mmm, it’s good.

Jack caves in and takes the hot chocolate, gulping down a large mouthful. His upper lip is adorned with a creamy moustache. Ellie laughs.

Jack: I need a spoon...

Ellie: I’ll find one for you!

She jumps up and begins looking through the boxes. Jack hastily licks the cream away.

Jack: You really shouldn’t be doing that. You ought to be inside, showing your mother a little solidarity, not snooping –

Ellie: This is my house. /And all of this is –

Jack: They’re your parents’ things!

Ellie: All of this is my past.

She pulls another box forward. It is marked “Childhood Dreams”. Ellie opens it, and a pillar of golden light erupts from within. They consider it for a moment in awe.

Jack: When your dad was a kid he wanted to be a lamppost.

A series of sounds emanate from the box: galloping horses, a train whistle, the opening theme from Monty Python’s Flying Circus. Ellie closes the box. Another has already caught Jack’s eye.

Jack: Ellie, do you mind if I...?

Ellie: Go ahead.

Jack chooses a box marked “First Kiss” on a high shelf. He opens it clumsily, pulling it forwards so that its contents – a flurry of dried red roses – spill down over him. He jumps back in shock and clutches his hand. Ellie laughs.

Jack: I’ve been pricked! (Sucking his finger). It hurts!

Ellie walks through the conservatory, idly flipping up the lids of boxes. A burst of orchestral music springs from one, the chatter of birdsong from another. She slams the lid hurriedly shut on a third, pinching her nose to avoid an unpleasant smell.

Ellie: Isn’t it strange, to think that all those things which seemed so important and so permanent can boxed up and stacked away?

She stands on a chair and opens a box which is lying on its side on a high shelf. It is labelled “Jodie’s First Christmas”. Strands of tinsel fall from it and are blown across the stage by a cold winter wind. Ellie blows on her hands to warm them and reaches inside the box, returning with a handful of sugared almonds. She pops them into her mouth as she speaks until the mouthful renders her almost unintelligible.

Ellie: It was so cold that year, I was sure it would snow. Dad kept telling me it wouldn’t happen, the pressure was too high or the temperature was wrong, I don’t know... I was five years old, I didn’t care.

She reaches into the box again and draws out two knitted winter hats, one for a child of six years old, the other for a new-born baby. She hands the baby’s hat to Jack.

Jack: How old is Jodie now?

Ellie: Fifteen.

Jack: She looks older.

Ellie: Sometimes I wonder which of us is the big sister and who’s the baby.

Jack (mock surprise): Really? (Ellie ignores this slight.) How is she coping with everything?

Ellie: She seems alright. What’s this?

The box she holds is labelled “Ellie”. She shakes it vigorously.

Ellie: Empty.

Jack: Don’t do that!

Ellie: There’s nothing inside – nothing at all!

Jack snatches the box from her and runs downstage.

Ellie: Don’t open it!

Jack: It’s not empty –

Ellie: Please don’t open it!

Jack hesitates.

Ellie: I just don’t want to know.

Jack puts the box down.

Jack: Your parents will be wondering where you are.

Ellie: They haven’t come looking.

Jack: I think they have other things on their mind. But they’ll still wonder.

Ellie turns away from him to look at another box.

Ellie: This must be one of Mum’s. (Pause.) They’re selling the house, you know.

Jack: It must have been a nice place to grow up.

Ellie: Probably.

The box is labelled “Faces”. It is full of make-up: everyday foundation and mascara, little pots of glitter for night-wear, tubes of face-paint. Ellie sets them out along the floor. A song begins in the party room: a young woman is singing, accompanied by a piano.

Jack: That’s Jodie, isn’t it?

Ellie stops to listen, her eyes shining.

Ellie: Yes.

As the song continues, Jack applies mascara to Ellie’s eyelashes. He puts some blusher on her cheeks. While he is doing this, Ellie draws a tiny flower by the corner of his eye with eyeliner. She puts lipstick on his mouth. She presses her lips to his, twice, to transfer it.

The song ends.

Ellie: It’s my favourite thing.

Jack: Jodie’s voice?

Ellie: I wish I could sing – don’t you wish you could sing?

Jack: Why don’t you?

Ellie: I used to. I don’t know.

Jack rubs the make-up from his face with his sleeve.

Jack: Shall we go and join the party, Ellie?

Ellie: Perhaps we should. Are you ready to have a wonderful time? Where’s your happy face?

Jack: I was born ready.

As they turn to leave, Jack sees the “Ellie” box. He picks it up and hands it to her.

Jack: It seems odd to leave this one, when you’ve pried into all the others which aren’t yours.

Ellie: You open it.

Jack pulls out a large scrapbook, obviously well-used and much read. He opens it.

Ellie: Is that it?

She grabs the box and looks inside, turns it upside down and shakes it.

Ellie: That’s all?

Jack: I didn’t know you did caricatures.

He flicks through the pages. Ellie is frozen.

Ellie: I spent a year with a deck-chair and an easel on the street...

Jack: The cartoons are here, too. The ones from that magazine. (Turns another page.) Ah, here’s your webcomic –

He looks up and hands the book to Ellie. She leafs through it in silence, tight-lipped, then replaces it carefully in the box and closes the lid.

Jack: They printed out every page.

Ellie: I know.

She opens a final box.

Jack: I thought we were going inside?

Ellie throws him a thick winter coat. She takes one for herself and shrugs it on. It hangs loosely from her shoulders, a very obviously imperfect fit. She rolls up the sleeves.

Ellie: No. Let’s go somewhere else. Let’s go somewhere new.

Jack shrugs and puts on his coat. He finds a packet of cigarettes in the pocket and steps outside to light one, pleased. Ellie bends down to the floor, where she finds a fresh red rose in the pile of spilt, dried ones. She tucks it into her buttonhole and follows Jack outside. They leave.

- 6 comments by 1 or more people Not publicly viewable

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  1. You should call it Adventures In Narrative, Part One

    13 Jan 2010, 13:12

  2. Liz

    I love this-the idea of the boxes is brilliant-you could base a much longer playon the same theme-I could visualise the scene and the sound effects- well done.
    Noticed one typo- call me if it is important .

    13 Jan 2010, 20:52

  3. Daniel

    Observation: the same exchange with the make-up (putting lipstick on, and then kissing, the young man) appears in Derek Jarman’s early short film ‘Miss Gaby’ (hmm).

    15 Jan 2010, 17:42

  4. Daniel

    Also: do you not think the pillar of light from the box is a bit much? It made me think we’d stumbled into a seasonal Coca-Cola advert…

    15 Jan 2010, 17:43

  5. No, pillar of light is the best bit. Doesn’t matter if it’s like an advert – it’s a childhood dream, and would be exciting and unexpected to see on stage. See the REM song: ’”you were born to be a camera” and the Talking Heads song: “when i was an angry young man, i dreamt that i was a billboard, standing so tall and proud until i fell in love with a beautiful highway.” whatever

    16 Jan 2010, 04:59

  6. Sylvia J

    I’m sure I’ve read this before, but one suggestion: give Jack an intangible object (eg a London accént) that Ellie wants, and give Ellie a tangible object (eg finished portfolio) Jack wants.

    21 Jan 2010, 21:05

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  • I'm sure I've read this before, but one suggestion: give Jack an intangible object (eg a London accé… by Sylvia J on this entry
  • Why is there hot chocolate in a box?! and if the bean bag was in there then wouldnt it be covered in… by Jo on this entry
  • No, pillar of light is the best bit. Doesn't matter if it's like an advert – it's a childhood dream,… by on this entry
  • Also: do you not think the pillar of light from the box is a bit much? It made me think we'd stumble… by Daniel on this entry
  • Observation: the same exchange with the make–up (putting lipstick on, and then kissing, the young ma… by Daniel on this entry

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