by Sarah Acton
Fizz crack. Zzzzzuup. Street lights fade in the seaside town of Stoneweld as a power-surge overrides the grid and the harbour is cast into moonlight grayscale. A troupe of Pierrot clowns mime gestures to closed doors of houses as they head down the hill. Hooves clack on the cobbled street, shadows glide down Fore Street. Dogs bark at wrought iron gates of large mansions barricaded against the night.
Eleven o’clock and the people of Stoneweld are wrapped in blankets on the sofa drinking steaming cocoa striking emergency candles. The half face of the moon silver-halos their windowpanes behind the blinking curtains, showering sequins over the sea. Broad Street winding down to the harbour blurs with raindrops.
A bat flips over the cave-silent promenade and the tawny owl turns and closes the door to his hollow. The bobbing East Cardinal buoy nods to the host of the show looking out to sea from his dressing room high above the cliff in the theatre. Five minutes until show time. The mice scurry behind the closed double doors of the theatre foyer from the bar serving ice-creams and drinks. The telephone line sleeps in the bolted office. The money yawns in the safe.
The theatre air is soft and thick as velvet. Dust particles suspended. We hear a scraping low heaving. Beneath the dark proscenium arch the blue and gold curtains open slowly stage left as Back Stage lurches at the pulley rope and reveals…the black-vacuum-depth of the stage. Shuffling in the audience as the audience take their seats. A cough. The theatre is full of sighs and tears and the expectation of combined hundreds of years. Whispers.
Moon Face lighting technician looks down from the Gods. A high bell resonates with one sound. Actors walk on and off stage followed by spotlights of silver.
Enter a solemn looking girl in a white shift and her nurse:
Offstage: In which Alice Darling visits the baths;
Alice: Well, Nurse took herself owff to talk to handsome Mr Gentry who offered her a boiled sweet
Nurse: I was only gone a minute I said
Alice: I had a fainting fit and never revived
Nurse: They always said that she was a weak child
Alice: The judge sentenced her to three years (sobs).
Nurse: Bleedin left me high and dry (she shrugs and someone laughs in the audience)
Enter through the windows from outside dripping seamen:
Offstage: In which the crew of HMS Samson are delivered ashore;
Carl Tatters: I was shovelling coal in the engine room, we went down in minutes
Percy Ball: I was making a tea in the galley fur Captain Nautilus
Captain Nautilus: two sugars and a tickle of rum there boy, steady the nerves
Percy Ball: Arr would I were back in Briztol, hell to it (swigs from the bottle with a shaking hand)
Officer Pembroke: Lord have mercy on us, the town lit up there but no distance, but we’ll drown right enough in shallows of almonded-sleep.
Captain Nautilus (shouting): Make yourselves ready, and God help each one of you
Carl Tatters: Oh Bess, it’s done, marry well!
A bell tolls. Voices echo in a vaulted church, an organ plays For those in Peril on the Sea.
Enter an army regiment of Boer soldiers in drill lines, young men in brown uniform holding bayonets:
Offstage: In which the boys of the regiment offer themselves up (heavy footsteps march across the stage)
Sergeant Failsafe: Run for it, look The Bosch in the eye, fortitude…FORWARDS!
Voices, running, cries, whizzing shells, gunfire, the marching fades to silence.
The men lie on the stage in piles of mud and stench and mist.
Enter a glamorous couple in formal evening dress who sit centre stage:
Offstage: in which Lord Busybody is murdered (a cinema projector whirls, three shots fired, two on screen plus one in the auditorium)
Lady Busybody: (screams, her jewels rattle) Blood! Help! Murder! Horace!
PC Lookaway: There there Lady Busybody, Lord Horace surely wus a powerful man with many enemies so thay say, but we can’t for the life of us find the culprit vagabond whom did this terrible-there deed. No man has left the building and we’ve questioned all inside (excessive weeping).
Dr Foster: Dearest Jemima, now the inquest has been heard and these too-many years have passed, we shall be united.
Lady Busybody: My bosom-sweetheart, how my heart has yeaned to be with you all of my youthfulness. (They sit down to eat a sumptuous wedding feast. Dr Foster chokes on a fishbone and excessive weeping fades).
Enter a cliff which slides towards the audience in landslide, as it flows slowly forwards, men and women and children emerge tumbling from the mud:
Offstage: in which the drowned and burned and stabbed and crushed, and all those long dead of Stoneweld are spat out from the cliff and shout their names to be heard above the surf outside…
Chorus: Oscar, Joseph, Laddie, Scree, Philip Hawkes, Long Harry, Smithie the younger, Lord Busybody of Paine, Alice Stewart, Lidia Faith, Reverend Goode, Hal Rattenbury, Old Horse, Officer Steele, Jack Locke, Ralf Deeds…
The crowd walk down the stage steps in pairs. A jigging two-step is suddenly heard as a swing band assemble and play on stage, and the procession dances in choreographed formation. They pass dancing through the aisles of the auditorium and out of the theatre through the closed front doors.
Offstage: (singing with gusto soprano) THE END
Rapturous applause is heard. Bravos. A high bell resonates with one sound.
The curtains swish closed and the black auditorium swims with phosphorescence; dozens of bright green, white, pink and blue lights sparkle like jewels in a stream. Chairs scrape. Voices laugh and gossip in excited chatter. Horses drag carriages, and hooves clatter up Fore Street. A drunken sailor sings a tender ballad. Pipes smoke. A brush sweeps across a wooden floor. Keys turn. Dogs bark at the wrought iron gates barricaded against the night. Owl opens the door to his hollow and flies out to catch supper. Zzzzzuup. Fizz crack. The orange street lights flash and the electricity on the grid whirls and clicks into action.
© Sarah Acton 2016