What on earth...?

Occasionally a friend of mine brings together a group of her friends to read a play and have dinner together. She has an amazing costume wardrobe, so of course we all have to dress up, and usually the more absurd we look the better! We arrive and have to read the play and act it right away, without ever having seen it before, so bad acting, especially overdoing it, and helpless laughter are the order of the day.

However, if you get eight friends together to read any play, you will find that certain people have large parts, while others have very little to do. To some extent you can cover this by letting the bit-parts double up with just one actor reading two or more parts. This never seems to work out just right, and sooner or later you run out of ideas for plays.

After a hilarious reading of Agatha Christie's
The Mousetrap which was amazing because it was just so bad, I decided I could do better, and set out to write an Agatha Christie spoof, which had all the clichés and corny bits that a good detective thriller should have (I reckoned). Because I was writing it, I could make all the parts almost equal in size, and also write to the strengths (and weaknesses) of the people I knew would be taking the parts. I also knew that it had to be in two acts, as we usually ate dinner in the middle.

It was a bit confusing, as I went rather over the top with sub-plots and people who turned out not to be who they had said they were, but we got through it, and I even revised it following the advice of one of the players, Jonathan, and added a closing song written by him, which attempted to unravel the confusion of the characters and their motives. The new version was performed by a different group, and was much more successful.

Murder at Hoosh Hall
The Mysterious Stranger
Julia Craig-McFeely

closing song by

Jonathan Souster

First performance: Chipping Norton, England, March 2005. Cast: Mrs Hilda Coffin - Louise Locock; Mrs Edward Hopgood - Anthony Bucknall; Mrs Stephanie Hopgood - Julia Craig-McFeely; Madam Lobelia - Kipper Chipperfield; The Mysterious Stranger - [can't remember]; Dr Arthur Finch - Stephen Harrison; Sergeant Bob Pritchard - Philip Endean SJ; Constable Crimm - Jonathan Souster; Dr Mervyn Alcock - Gary; Nanny - [can't remember her name!]
Revised edition First performance: Chamonix, France; 28th March 2006

The next play was a spoof on Girls boarding school stories from the 1930s and 1940s, and was set in a Swiss Chalet. A group of singing friends were going on a trip for a week and we performed it in the evenings, dressed in dustbin bags for school uniforms and other extraordinary garments for when we had to be the teachers. The girls studied an alarming assortment of ridiculous subjects, and I managed to work in an equally alarming number of school-story clichés and characters, as well as some extremely politically-incorrect remarks. It was fun to be able to be completely incorrect, since it was very much in character for that period.

That was a long play, and really had to be performed over two evenings, though it would probably be all right for length if done 'properly' and without people falling over themselves in helpless giggles all the time.

Crikey, the Chalet School!
(a Chalet School play)
Julia M Bent-Dryer
First performance: Chamonix, France, 30th March-1st April 2006 . Cast: Cornelia Flower/Miss Maud Cluglutcheon (Matron)/Miss Snetchworth - Anthony Bucknall; Daisy Venables/Mr Blairwitch - Lynne Whitworth; Dierdre Smith/Miss Florence Forsythia - Julia CMcF; Elsie Blattersthorpe/Miss Entwistle/A Suspicious Foreigner - Virginia Allport; Genevieve St Geneviève/Maria/Mam'zelle Chouxfleur - Kipper Chipperfield; Heidi von und zu Henkelhofer/Miss Marge Venables - Hugh Sweet; Hilary Wentworth/antoinetta/Signor Francesco Garibaldi/Dickie Venables - Jonathan Souster; Saidee Horsefather/Miss Gertie Radley - John Stillman

My third play we agreed was the best so far: Kipper - the keeper of the wardrobe, and organiser of these events - had a wonderful collection of 18th-century costumes, so I wrote for the characters she reckoned she could dress. I did quite a lot of 'research' into Restoration and Renaissance dramas and comedies, mostly to try and find the clichés of the style that would make it seem right. The language was fairly easy in the end, and a liberal smattering of asides was very much in character. A lot of the more serious plays were written in blank verse, but I didn't think I could sustain that over a whole play, and I also thought everyone would get rather bored with it. As a compromise, scenes where people were supposed to be talking formally to each other were written in rhyming couplets, while the rest was in normal prose.

The Dowager Duchess's Revenge
Another ridiculous and detestable
cross-dressing bodice-ripper
Julia, Countess of Crimplene

First Performance: Chipping Norton, England, ?3 February 2007. Cast: The Duchess - Julia CMcF; The Duke/Pitchfork (the groom) - Stephen Harrison; Emily - Kipper Chipperfield; Bertie - Anthony Bucknall; Betsy/Lord Flottersleigh - Louise Locock; Dr Fotheringay/Arkle (the butler) - Jonathan Souster.

A week's holiday in a Scottish Landmark Trust house was the excuse for play number four - designed to be done in a Scottish Castle, and use all the rooms and battlements. Unfortunately shortly before we were due to go I discovered that the venue was more of a house than a castle, so I had to rewrite a bit....

The Puppy of Portent
The Digital Pomegranate

Julia McCraig-o'Feelaigh-McSquealy

First Performance: The Old Place of Monreith, Scotland, 25 September 2006. Cast: Professor Pneumonia McSturm-und-drang - Anthony Bucknall; Kitty - Kipper Chipperfield; Joe - Jonathan Souster; Durstdale - Mike Sporton; Enid - Jenny Sporton; Scraggy (the dog)/Mrs Consolata Jarvis - Julia CMcF; Constable MacHummock - Agnes Barley.

Since 'The Puppy of Portent' turned out to be the wrong play for the venue, I decided I had to have another go, so on the Wednesday night before we left I sat down to write a spoof Shakespeare (it was an Elizabethan small manor house), and by Thursday lunchtime it was done. That's definitely the fastest I've ever written! It's a short one-act play, and runs for about an hour. There are two 'editions' of this one - the first is the manuscript, with a very good and easily readable 'Elizabethan' script font which looks handwritten. The second is the 'first folio' editon, in a typeface very similar to what would have been used in Shakespeare's time. It all contributes to the atmosphere!

Rosie of Strathclyde
Shakespeare's Titties
Julia MacWobblepike
Prologue by
Souster Johnnie

First performance: Great Ouseburn Nr York, England (read-through), 21 September 2007; Cast: Malcolm, Thane of Macdoodle - Alastair Jamieson; Rosie, daughter of Malcolm - Rosie Jamieson; Agnes, Rosie's Nurse - Kipper Chipperfield; Bertoldo, a suitor to Rosie - Julia CMcF; Fustian, a hired mercenary - Jonathan Souster; Narthex, Rosie's elder brother - Anthony Bucknall.
First staged performance with prologue: The Old Place of Monreith, Scotland, 27 September 2007. Cast: Malcolm - Jonathan Souster; Rosie - Jenny Sporton; Agnes - Anthony Bucknall; Bertoldo - Kipper Chipperfield; Fustian - Mike Sporton; Narthex - Julia CMcF

If you have a group of friends who enjoy the odd bit of craziness and would like to try one of these plays, please contact me using the contact page and I'll arrange to e-mail you a printable copy. I have considered putting links to downloads of the plays on this page, but I'd really like to know if people are using them!