Dead Man Talking
All Star Talent
3 Springfield Road, London, E4 7DJ
SIMON LAMBERTON - A middle-aged, serious man who seemingly knows about money and has handled all the finances for the production. Does not have an artistic bone in his body but is sensible and practical.
RICHARD DAVIES - A middle-aged, excitable and unrealistically positive person who has worked in the theatre for years. This production of King Lear is his first directing role and his thinks of himself as an undiscovered, artistic genius.
UNDERSTUDY / ASSISTANT STAGE MANAGER - A young, jobbing actor. He has appeared in famous plays and musicals but only in the chorus. However, he is a very talented puppeteer who graduated top of his acting class in London. We never learn his name.
SIR THOMAS BETTERMAN / KING LEAR- An elderly, world-famous actor who has won every international award and is seen as the greatest Shakespearean actor of his generation.
HARRY MILNE / KENT - A seasoned veteran of Shakespeare plays, in his 50s, who believes himself to be a great actor but has not had the luck of Sir Thomas Betterman.
DANIELLE CLARKSON / CORDELIA - A young, aspiring actress who has only worked in soap-operas. Married to Harry Milne. She is having an affair with Sir Thomas.
RAY KEATON / FOOL - A washed up comic actor who cannot be serious.
The remaining players are minor characters in King Lear and Act 3.
AURELIE DEVIL - GONERILL
HELEN WILLIAMS - REGAN / THE POST CRITIC
ALBANY / THE TIMES CRITIC
GLOUCESTER / OSWALD
SECOND KNIGHT / SECOND OFFICER
THIRD KNIGHT / MESSENGER
Sir Thomas Betterman
Directed by Richard Davies
Produced by Simon Lamberton
Design by Tom Orrow
Lighting by Ben Biggar
Costumes by Catherine Croft
Act 1 is backstage at the largest, most prestigious theatre in the country.
Act 2 features actual scenes from the evening’s performance of King Lear.
Act 3 is on stage, the show having finished and the audience have departed.
The opening night of the most expensive production of King Lear ever performed.
Scene 1 Act 1, Scene 1 - Throne room of a castle
Scene 2 Act 1, Scene 4 - Clearing in a forest
Scene 3 Act 3, Scene 2 - Moorland
Scene 4 Act 5, Scene 3 - A battlefield after the battle
On stage, after the ‘King Lear’ performance has finished
Backstage at one of the largest theatres in the country.
The stage is covered with props, costumes on rails and
a large throne on a raised platform in the middle of the stage.
Imposing posters for this play, King Lear, feature on
the rear wall, covering old theatrical productions.
The ‘wings’ or actual entrance to the stage for
tonight’s performance is on stage right and
the stage door is stage left.
There are 3 doors along the back wall of the stage.
Each door has a large, gold star on the front
and they are labelled 1, 2 and 3.
The set is silent.
Simon Lamberton, a serious man in a suit, enters stage right ticking off items on a clipboard.
SIMON LAMBERTON Ur-huh. Ur-huh. Ur-huh.
Simon stops in the middle of the stage. Looks around as if enjoying the silence. He smiles.
The stage door swings open stage left. Richard Davies, an outrageously flamboyant man, enters.
RICHARD DAVIES Ahhhh, Simon how wonderful to see you. What a glorious night this is... was... and forever shall be.
Richard throws his hat away. He strides across the stage, puts one arm around Simon and holds him while facing the audience.
RICHARD Can’t you feel it?
There’s not a sound to be heard,
Pause as if listening
a person to be seen
Pause as if looking
or a smell to be...
Pause as searching for what to say
SIMON Sniffed at?
RICHARD No! Nothing can be sniffed at on a night like tonight. There is so much energy everywhere. The air is electric, charged to capacity with creative... ness. I love this time before a performance. The theatre is empty and alive at the same time. The stage is set, like a mousetrap waiting to ensnare its prey - the audience. You and I have done everything to guarantee this production is an artistic masterpiece. This play will be like an on-stage... Van Gogh.
Simon unhooks himself from Richard’s grasp.
SIMON Well, let’s not get too ahead of ourselves.
RICHARD What? Are you joking? Or is this just your serious side talking? Come on, statistical Simon...
SIMON Don’t call me that.
RICHARD We, you and I, are about to make theatrical history with the greatest production of King Lear the world has ever seen. Can’t you picture it?
Richard grabs Simon by the shoulder again and talks to the audience as if he’s talking to the world.
The most celebrated, accomplished and successful actor of the last 50 years has come out of retirement for a role he has called “his Everest”. No-one has ever seen the great Sir Thomas Betterman master the character of King Lear. And tonight they will.
RICHARD Supporting Sir Thomas, a tempting sherpa to his Edmund Hillary if you will, is the critically acclaimed, Shakespearean master Harry Milne. Harry has appeared in every single Shakespeare play, some more than once, and spent five years living in Stratford-Upon-Avon. That’s where Billy the Bard was born, you know. No, no, no, we have put together a cast of stars who will shine. We can’t fail, we won’t fail. Davies and Lamberton’s King Lear is the greatest Shakespeare performance the world has ever seen.
Simon shrugs free from Richard’s grasp.
RICHARD Simon, darling.
SIMON Richard. Sir Thomas Betterman is a global star and household name. But to get him to be in this play I had to make him the wealthiest actor in the country. He is on the most expensive contract in the history of theatre.
RICHARD Worth every penny.
SIMON I can see the artistic, and financial, value in Sir Betterman. The rest of the cast?
RICHARD Hand picked by my keen sense of talent spotting... prowess.
SIMON Hmmm. Not to be blunt but Harry Milne is a dried-up, washed-out, booze-hungry thespian.
RICHARD Oh, meow. He knows Shakespeare though.
SIMON The Fool must be the greatest method actor of all time then as he plays the role constantly - on and off stage.
RICHARD He’s perfect for the part.
SIMON Gonerill was a famous Hollywood actress... 20 years ago.
RICHARD Her fans still flock to see her perform.
SIMON What about this understudy you told me about? When do I get to meet him?
RICHARD Don’t worry. He’s an absolute genius. Knows all the parts. Word perfect. Forwards and backwards. Did his thesis on King Lear.
SIMON And Danielle, I mean, Cordelia, is only famous for that daytime soap-opera. She doesn’t have a thought in her pretty head.
Richard has to think.
RICHARD She’ll attract young men... people, young people... who want to get into Shakespeare.
SIMON Do you know the other day she asked me in which of Shakespeare’s plays appeared ‘fellatio’?
SIMON Luckily, she’s turned out to be quite good.
RICHARD “Quite good”? I thought you liked her.
Simon is embarrassed.
SIMON Erm... she’s very cost effective. So you think we’re ready?
RICHARD Ready? You and I are ready. The cast is ready. The theatre is ready. The only thing that isn’t ready is the audience. They aren’t ready for what they are about to experience and how this play will. Change. Their. Lives. For. Ever.
SIMON Richard, I know you are excited about tonight and you think you know this will happen, and I hope it will happen. But I can’t get away from the hard, financial figures. This production needs to run for sixteen months before it breaks even. Two years before you and I see any money. And three, whole years before we can think about calling “Davies and Lamberton’s ‘King Lear’ a success, a triumph and a masterpiece”.
RICHARD There you go again, bringing ‘raw data’ into my fun.
SIMON Statistical analysis is crucial to success.
Richard mimics Simon behind his back as if he’s heard this 100 times before.
SIMON Half the money might have come from favourable loans accrued due to my money market know-how but the other half is our own. I gave up a successful, very successful, partnership in the financial district and have taken out a second AND third mortgage on my house to pay for this play.
RICHARD Oh, you worry about everything.
SIMON Do you mean to say you have no worries or concerns about tonight?
RICHARD Well, Gonerill’s a bit flamboyant but you know how these French actresses are...
SIMON Richard, you know what I mean. I have complete faith in our cast and your skills as a director. However, if this production is not a success I’m in a lot of trouble.
RICHARD Trouble? At least you had that relative die.
Simon is shocked.
RICHARD I mean, she left you some money.
SIMON I could LOSE EVERYTHING.
RICHARD Well, so could I.
Quietly, to himself.
And I don’t own anything. You’ll lose your house, I could lose my life.
Pause, then speaking loudly to Simon.
But we won’t because this production will be a huge hit.
Although, truth be told I do have one fear.
SIMON Oh my god. What?
RICHARD I shouldn’t have said anything.
SIMON No, no, no. What? Please. You can tell me anything.
RICHARD Sir Thomas was taken to hospital the other day.
RICHARD After the dress rehearsal. He went to that room he’s been renting in the cheap hotel round the corner. I don’t know what for - a lie down maybe. He’s old. Anyway, two hours later someone phones the front desk telling them to call an ambulance. And he was taken to hospital.
SIMON And then what?
RICHARD Oh, everything was fine. Just ‘over excited himself’ the doctors said. Probably nervous about the play. You know how he is, getting so worked up over the role...
SIMON So you’re sure everything’s fine.
Well, there is one more thing.
And that is?
The insurance company called. When you were out - remember you had to put those papers somewhere...
SIMON File our tax documents, yes.
RICHARD Yes, well when you were out, they called.
SIMON And said what?
Quickly and quietly
They won’t insure Sir Thomas in the event of an accident or emergency.
SIMON Excuse me?
RICHARD The insurance company are not insuring Sir Thomas Betterman in the event of an accident or emergency as of yesterday.
SIMON We don’t have any insurance?
RICHARD We do. The theatre does. The show does. Just our leading man doesn’t.
SIMON Oh. My. God.
RICHARD Don’t worry. It’s only until his medical next week. Once the doctor gives him the all clear, everything will be fine.
SIMON But what if something happens before next week?
RICHARD Nothing will happen.
SIMON What if he twists his ankle?
RICHARD We’ll get him a crutch.
SIMON What if he breaks his arm?
RICHARD We’ll get him a sling.
SIMON What if...
RICHARD Simon, Simon. What if - this. And what if - that. You could say ‘What if the world ends tomorrow’
SIMON Then you and I would be bankrupt.
RICHARD Ha, Simon you worry too much. Look - you do what you’re good at, taking care of the numbers, and I’ll do what I’m good at, taking care of the... creativity.
The stage door opens. Harry Milne, a man in his 50s, wearing smart-casual clothes enters arm-in-arm with Danielle Clarkson, a girl in her 20s. She is wearing very casual clothes but her hair and make-up are ready for the show.
HARRY MILNE Creativity? In this theatre? While this production of King Lear is being performed? My, where can one find that?
RICHARD Harry, darling.
HARRY Good evening Richard.
SIMON Hi Harry. Danielle.
DANIELLE CLARKSON Flirtatiously Hi Simon
HARRY Has the half been called?
SIMON The what?
RICHARD to Simon I forget you know nothing about the theatre - the call to say it’s half an hour before the show.
To Harry Any minute...
Voice Over - Ladies and gentlemen this is your half hour call. Half an hour.
HARRY To himself God, I’m good.
HARRY Ah, Simon. Just the man I wanted to see. Now, I realise there is a certain circumspection on our quantum...
Simon looks puzzled
DANIELLE He knows there ain’t much money.
Simon nods in understanding
HARRY However, I must asseverate the contractual stipulations with regard algid aqua in my allowance.
Simon looks at Danielle
DANIELLE The water cooler isn’t working in his room.
SIMON No problem, Harry. I will have the stage manager see to it.
I should think so too.
You know, when I was doing MY King Lear in Stratford-Upon-Avon in what The Times called ‘a quintessential performance of lunacy’...
Simon and Richard look at one another with raised eyes
HARRY We never had to inquire after algid aqua - it was there when it was required.
Speaking to himself
Come, I shall retire. My matriarch shall be among the throng tonight so I must prepare. And it takes substantial preparation to make Sir Littlechap look proficient.
Harry walks towards dressing room Number 1. Tuts and enters dressing room Number 2.
RICHARD Danielle, how are you my darling?
DANIELLE Yeah, alright, thanks.
RICHARD Is Harry ok?
DANIELLE Yeah, he’ll be fine. Once he’s finished that half-bottle of preparation he’ll be right as rain.
SIMON Sorry, what?
SIMON By the way Danielle, I hope you don’t mind me asking, how do you understand what he’s saying?
DANIELLE Easy, innit. Think like a drama queen and you’re there.
RICHARD And being married to him helps.
Danielle glares at Richard and turns to Simon
Flirtatiously to Simon as she sits on the throne, centre stage.
But I’m always on the look out for my next ‘challenge’.
Simon pretends not to notice and goes back to his clipboard.
Richard begins to check a piece of paper on the wall.
The Understudy, a young man dressed in tight black t-shirt and black trousers, runs in looking worried.
DANIELLE And here he is.
UNDERSTUDY Mr Davies, Mr Davies, sir.
UNDERSTUDY John needs you on stage.
UNDERSTUDY The stage manager, sir. He’s having trouble with the castle set.
RICHARD I thought he’d solved this. Simon, everything ok here?
Richard exits stage right.
To the Understudy
UNDERSTUDY Thank you. God, I’m so nervous about tonight. Aren’t you? I mean, I’m not really involved. I’m not doing anything. Except moving a few old props maybe.
DANIELLE Well, you’ve certainly got the muscles for it.
UNDERSTUDY Erm... thank you. But I’m not like you. Up there, on stage, in front of a massive audience.
DANIELLE Yeah, pretty scary.
UNDERSTUDY It must be. I don’t think I could perform Shakespeare on such a grand stage.
DANIELLE How are your other ‘performances’?
UNDERSTUDY I’ve never been in a theatre so big. And with such a big name star.
Take Sir Thomas.
He points to Dressing Room Number 1
I have been watching his performances all my life. When he shook my hand on the first day of rehearsals I turned to jelly. Mistook me for a cast member.
His mastery of the English language, the spoken word and his total character commitment. Obviously as a child I loved him in ‘Cosmic Combat’ - the first, second and third films. His Henry V, you know the Crispen Speech, brought tears to my eyes as a schoolboy. That inspired me to study King Lear at university. His classic, early films that brought him to the attention of the world are as touching and intricate today as they were then. Just being in the same room as the greatest actor who’s ever lived is... humbling.
DANIELLE You’ve certainly done some acting though, haven’t you.
UNDERSTUDY Well, a few puppet shows to earn some money while at college. And I did play Chorus Elephant Number Three in the summer tour of The Leopard Princess.
From stage left, Simon spots the Understudy talking to Danielle. He walks towards them.
SIMON Hello. Hello. Who are you?
UNDERSTUDY Oh, hello, sir. I’m...
SIMON What are you doing here?
UNDERSTUDY Oh, I’m the understudy. I’m...
The Understudy puts out his hand. Simon ignores it in his shock.
SIMON You’re the understudy? Richard!
UNDERSTUDY Erm... yes. I know all the parts off by heart. Lear. Kent. Fool.
You don’t know all Cordelia’s ‘parts’.
UNDERSTUDY And... and could fill in for anyone at a moment’s notice.
SIMON Well, that’s good. But do you have any experience?
UNDERSTUDY Oh yes. I did drama at college and trained as a puppet master - you know ‘Punch and Judy’, ‘Pinocchio’... ‘Basil the Chicken’.
Simon is open-mouthed.
SIMON I wish I hadn’t asked now. Any practical, professional experience?
UNDERSTUDY Yes. I was in the national tour of ‘The Leopard Princess’.
Simon is pleased.
UNDERSTUDY I played Chorus Elephant Number Three. My puppet skills were perfect for the job.
The Understudy sees Simon is becoming angry.
UNDERSTUDY I’m also the assistant stage manager.
SIMON Are you? Excellent.
The Understudy smiles.
SIMON Harry Milne in Dressing Room 2 needs some cold water. Chop, chop.
Exit Understudy stage right.
DANIELLE Flirting Simon...
DANIELLE Simon, I was looking at the poster for this play yesterday...
SIMON Danielle, we’ve been over this. Please take this up with Richard. He’s the artistic half of our partnership.
DANIELLE But Richard doesn’t understand how much I need this play, the role of Cordelia.
Danielle touches Simon’s shoulder, teasing him.
DANIELLE People assume I’m some silly bimbo. Just because I appeared in a soap opera.
Danielle moves close to Simon. He can’t move.
DANIELLE Simon, I desperately need this play to be a success. Then I will be taken seriously as an actress. Marrying a ‘great Shakespearean actor’ hasn’t helped so a starring role in a big production like this will do the trick.
Danielle pushes her body against Simon.
DANIELLE And for my part to be a ‘starring role’ my picture just needs to be a little bigger on the poster. If you can do this for me...
Ray Keaton, an overweight, disheveled man in his 50s enters stage left through the stage door. Simon jumps away from Danielle in relief.
Shouting from off stage.
Richard enters stage right.
RICHARD There you are, Simon. Are you ok?
Richard sees Ray Keaton taking off his coat.
Oh Ray. Nice of you to join us. All ready for playing ‘the Fool’ tonight? (without waiting for a reply) Good!
Simon, can you give me a hand with these finishing touches on stage?
Richard and Simon exit stage right.
Danielle remains on stage. She is still sitting in the throne.
RAY KEATON Well, hello my young lovely.
DANIELLE No Ray, I don’t want to hear any more of your chat up lines or gags. None of the girls do. You’re becoming a pest.
RAY Sure? Come on: I am you and you are me. And YOU (points) never give ME (points) a chance. What about this one - Shakespeare walks into a bar. The bar man says “Get out, you’re Bard”.
Ray doubles over laughing. Danielle is straight faced.
RAY Come on. How about this - A man walks into a library and asks for a book on Shakespeare. “Which one?” says the librarian. “William, of course”.
Ray laughs. Danielle does not.
DANIELLE Finished? Look, why don’t you stop telling old gags everyone’s heard a million times before. Do us all a favour and piss-off.
Ray smiles at Danielle, turns, walks to Dressing Room 3 and enters. Exit Ray.
Enter Understudy. He is running with a jug of water.
UNDERSTUDY Wow, was that Ray. He’s so funny. Always makes me laugh.
Understudy knocks on Dressing Room 2 and enters. Exit Understudy.
The door to Dressing Room No. 1 opens. Sir Thomas Betterman, an elderly gentleman, sticks his head out the door. He looks left and right.
THOMAS Pssit. Pssit. Danger girl.
Danielle looks confused and looks about. She sees Sir Thomas, smiles, jumps from the throne and runs to the door of Dressing Room 1.
In a posh voice
My Lord. What ever can I do for you?
THOMAS Mmmmm, I can think of one or two things. Is the coast clear?
DANIELLE Normal voice Come on out, darlin’
Sir Thomas leaves the dressing room. He is in royal robes, dressed for the play. Danielle takes him by the hand, leads him to the throne and pushes him to sit.
DANIELLE Posh voice Now, how can I serve you?
THOMAS Oh Danielle, my little Danger Girl. You are so... naughty.
DANIELLE Normal voice Not as naughty as you were the other day.
THOMAS Don’t remind me. I thought I was having a heart attack.
DANIELLE Don’t remind me. I thought I’d killed you.
THOMAS Oh, Danielle, you could be the death of me.
DANIELLE We don’t want that. But don’t get so worked up next time.
THOMAS Mmmm, so there’s going to be a next time, is there?
Danielle climbs into Sir Thomas’ lap.
DANIELLE If you behave and do what your Danger Girl wants, then...
The Understudy enters. The Understudy comes out of Dressing Room 2, sees Sir Thomas and Danielle, covers his mouth and quietly rushes off stage right.
Danielle strokes Sir Thomas’ face.
THOMAS But what if someone sees us?
DANIELLE That’s the fun of it. That’s why I’m your ‘Danger Girl’.
THOMAS It’s opening night.
DANIELLE All the more reason to celebrate.
Danielle’s hand moves down Sir Thomas’ body. As the hand reaches his groin, Sir Thomas’ face of pleasure turns to a face of agony.
Sir Thomas cries out.
DANIELLE Oh no. Is it happening again?
Danielle leaps down. She looks around in panic. Sir Thomas is gasping for breath.
Enter Richard. He stays stage right.
RICHARD Danielle! There’s not long to go. Better get your costume on.
Danielle is open mouthed in shock. She nods, walks passed Richard and exits stage right. Richard speaks to her as she passes.
RICHARD Sorry the ladies’ dressing rooms couldn’t be on this side of the stage. But Lord Betterman needed the Number One dressing room and...
Richard shrugs innocently.
RICHARD Ah, Sir Thomas. Good to see you. Practicing those breathing exercises I taught you?
Sir Thomas continues to gasp for breath. Richard moves slowly towards him.
RICHARD I wouldn’t have thought anyone with your experience would need to relax but I suppose it has been almost 30 years since you last trod the boards. Of course, for drama professionals like you and I it’s all about the preparation. When you’re fully prepared in here (points to his head) then, and only then, can you go out there (points to the entrance to the stage).
Richard arrives by Sir Thomas as he finishes speaking. Sir Thomas lurches towards him and Richard catches his arms. Sir Thomas remains seated.
RICHARD My Lord, it would be an honour to help you prepare.
Richard starts to rhythmically move Sir Thomas backwards and forwards in the throne.
RICHARD Is that helping?
Sir Thomas shakes his head in disagreement.
Richard moves him faster and begins to say “Out with the bad” when he brings Sir Thomas forward and “In with the good” when he pushes him back.
Enter Simon from stage right.
SIMON Richard, there you are. We have only 20 minutes before the show and there’s lots to do on stage. Come on.
Richard pushes Sir Thomas to the back of the chair.
RICHARD I’m sorry your Honour. I will be right back.
Richard walks towards stage right. He stops and turns. Sir Thomas is still gasping for breath and now clutching his left arm.
RICHARD Due to all the panic, opening night and all, I may not get to say this later. It has been an honour and a privilege working with you Sir Thomas Betterman. I had Simon go all out to get you for this project because I wanted you. Not for the glory or chance to work with someone famous. The change to share the stage with a living legend. You have made my life complete. If I die tonight, I know I will die... happy.
Sir Thomas reaches towards Richard. Richard takes a step towards him.
Richard turns and walks towards the stage right exit.
RICHARD To Simon Huh, actors! I pour my heart out to him and all he wants me to do is kiss his hand.
Exit Richard and Simon stage right.
The stage is silent.
SIR THOMAS Don’t leave me.
SIR THOMAS Help. Somebody? Anybody?
The Dressing Room 3 door open. Enter Ray. Dressed in parts of his costume but not fully.
RAY Is everything ok out here?
Ray looks around and goes to close the door. At the last second he sees Sir Thomas.
RAY Ah, your Lordship.
RAY Bit bored before the show. Didn’t want to sit in your dressing room? Let me, your great fool, entertain you. And I’m grate-fool for the audience.
Sir Thomas has shakes his head but does not speak.
RAY Have you ever noticed William Shakespeare only wrote comedies or tragedies? Anyone else think he must have been bipolar?
SIR THOMAS Whispers Help me.
RAY There’s more. Shakespeare said to his friend “I think I’m going to stop writing plays and concentrate on poetry instead.” The friend said “You’re just going from bard to verse.”
Ray laughs. Sir Thomas speaks to him in a hoarse voice.
SIR THOMAS Help me, you fool.
RAY Oh, of course. With what.
SIR THOMAS I’m dying.
RAY You want help with your lines? Well, I suppose I’m the right person to come to as you and I share such a special bond on stage. Where have you gone wrong? Which bit have you forgotten? Not too much I hope as you’re the star of the show. Or is it a bit of characterisation? Especially as your character and mine are so close. You know. Character-wise. He nudges Sir Thomas with his elbow. Which one of us is really mad, eh? Which one is really the fool?
SIR THOMAS Shut up and help me. Undo my shirt.
RAY No, no, no. Let me think. The line is “Pray you undo this button”.
SIR THOMAS You don’t understand. I can’t breath.
RAY Are we doing the death scene at the moment? Coz, I’m not actually on stage for that and...
Sir Thomas cries out.
RAY Ok, ok. You really are in trouble. ‘Specially if you can’t remember your words right before a show. Well, I think the line is... instead of “I can’t breath” is: “Why should a dog, a horse, a rat have life, and thou no breath at all?”
Sir Thomas manages to grab Ray with his right hand.
SIR THOMAS Look you idiot.
RAY It’s “Fool” actually.
SIR THOMAS Just find someone who can help me.
Ray shrugs off Sir Thomas’ grip.
Voice over Ladies and gentlemen this is the quarter. Quarter of an hour.
RAY Suit yourself. I know when I’m not wanted.
Ray walks to Dressing Room 3 and exits. As the door to Dressing Room 3 closes, Dressing Room 2 opens. Harry enters. He is dressed and made-up for the show. He is carrying a bottle of whiskey with only a quarter of the liquid left. Harry speaks normally, without being pompous.
HARRY So... I heard some of that. You’ve gone and forgotten the words.
SIR THOMAS Harry, please help me.
HARRY So, the “great” Sir Thomas Betterman has forgotten his lines. On opening night.
SIR THOMAS Harry, you don’t understand. I just need someone to go through...
HARRY ...them with you? Ha, fat chance.
Harry drinks from the bottle.
SIR THOMAS Harry, I need help.
HARRY And you think I’m the man to do it? I learnt my trade. Worked hard at learning the scripts and knowing everything there is to know about Shakespeare. Moving between dreadful productions, in hell-hole towns across the country. Years! Years spent trying to reach the top through guts and hard work. Just so I could become a great Shakespearean actor. And then you came along. “Ooooo, he’s done Hamlet on the radio” they said. “His Henry V made people cry” they said.
Harry drinks from the bottle.
SIR THOMAS Harry, that wasn’t my fault...
HARRY Not your fault? NOT YOUR FAULT? I was ready. Set. Done the apprenticeship and off to the big time. Then you came in, took the lead role and I was left as ‘first back-up’. Laughs I wasn’t even the understudy! Did you know, that role had been cast? And so our lives took dramatically different paths. You left after only 3 months to do that god-awful sci-fi film series... what is it... oh yes, “Cosmic Conflict”. But by then I’d already gone. Not that you would have noticed. I took a jobbing actor role and started on the good stuff.
Harry shows the bottle to Sir Thomas and then drinks the last drops.
SIR THOMAS Harry, please listen...
HARRY No! Now it’s your turn to listen. What did you think? You could just waltz in here and it would all be easy? Just like last time, eh? Do one over on Harry Milne again? I had to go right back and start from the bottom. And I have built a reputation. Ok, I am acting 24/7 - I have to put on that ridiculous voice and drama queen attitude. And I’ve had some success. I’m getting back on top. But it’s history repeating itself, isn’t it? I desperately need this play to cement my reputation as a ‘fine Shakespearean actor’. Without this play I might be finished. And this time for good because I can’t go back to the bottom and start again. NOT AGAIN!
SIR THOMAS Groans No
HARRY And you? Years of being a household name. Star of stage, film and tv. Friend to world leaders. Your golfing buddies and tennis partners are a veritable who’s who of the rich and famous. And that precious little “title” at the beginning of your name. Well, you know what? You’re just lucky Lord Littlechap to me. You can’t walk in here and eclipse me again. This time I’m going to stay and show the world that Harry Milne is, indeed, a ‘great’ actor.
Harry stands drunkenly triumphant.
SIR THOMAS Harry, can you get Danielle? She will understand what’s wrong.
Harry’s look of triumph turns to comprehension.
HARRY Oh my god! OH MY GOD! I knew it! I KNEW IT! You took my career and now you’ve taken my wife?
Harry drops the bottle. He picks Sir Thomas up from the throne. Shakes him and throws him back down into the seat.
Harry turns away upset and exhausted.
Sir Thomas slumps on the throne. He is dead.
Harry regains his composure and turns back to face Sir Thomas. Harry sees something is wrong.
HARRY What are you doing? Stop messing around. I only wish I could kill you.
Harry steps towards Sir Thomas.
HARRY Look, I was only joking. You are ok, aren’t you.
Harry pushes Sir Thomas. Sir Thomas falls forward and is caught by Harry. Harry places him on the throne.
HARRY To himself Oh my god.
Talking sweetly to Sir Thomas Sir Thomas, Sir Thomas.
Harry picks up Sir Thomas’ wrist and counts.
HARRY To himself Oh my god. There’s no pulse.
Harry drops the wrist. Sir Thomas’ arm falls. Harry looks left and right.
HARRY To himself I’ve killed him. Oh my god, I’ve killed the most famous actor in the world. On opening night.
Harry begins to panic.
HARRY To himself Get a hold of yourself. He was an old man and nobody saw you attack him. Nobody saw you. Nobody saw anything...
Harry looks around to make sure he is alone. Suddenly he hears voices.
Off stage right.
RICHARD Finished. And not a moment to spare.
Harry looks around wildly. He realises there is nothing that can be done to hide Sir Thomas. Harry runs to Dressing Room 2 and closes the door quietly. Exit Harry.
Enter Richard and Simon.
SIMON Well, that’s the last of the problems.
RICHARD This is the theatre darling, you have to have some drama on opening night.
SIMON It’s just I’m not used to such problems... dramas. But at least that’s all over and we can just enjoy the show. I’m going to Reception... I mean ‘front of house’ to meet friends.
Richard stops by Dressing Room 1. Simon keeps walking and then stops before reaching Sir Thomas’ body
SIMON Richard. Everything ok?
RICHARD Hmmm? Yes. Just nervous, I guess. My directorial debut. What will everyone think of the play? What will the critics think? What will mummy think?
Simon walks back towards Richard.
SIMON Richard. Don’t worry, you’ve done a marvelous job. You’re a fine director...
RICHARD You haven’t seen me direct.
SIMON Trying to think of something I’ve heard good things. From the cast. And it’s your energy and enthusiasm that has carried this project. Through tough casting, even tougher rehearsals and a punishing schedule you have remained upbeat and positive. Just like at school. And university. Remember? Our little stage productions. Your vision. All I had to offer was hard work. Sweating and slaving away. But you made it all happen.
RICHARD Thank you.
Simon looks at his watch.
SIMON I must go. There’s less than 10 minutes to the show and people will be taking their seats.
Simon turns to go. Richard knocks on Dressing Room 1.
RICHARD Sir Thomas? Sir Thomas? Are you in here?
Simon walks passed Sir Thomas slumped back on the throne, mouth open.
SIMON Oh, no, Richard, he’s here.
Simon does not notice Sir Thomas and carries on towards the stage door. Richard walks over to Sir Thomas.
RICHARD Sir Thomas. Are you ok? Joking You look like you’ve seen a ghost. Sir Thomas?
Richard sees something is wrong.
RICHARD Simon. Simon!
Simon has opened the stage door but stops. He turns, annoyed.
SIMON What is it?
RICHARD I think there is something wrong with Sir Thomas Betterman.
SIMON What? What is wrong?
RICHARD I think he’s dead.
Simon closes the stage door and walks towards Richard and Sir Thomas.
RICHARD Yes, dead! You know... not breathing, heart stopped, passed on, the opposite of alive. DEAD!
SIMON Don’t be ridiculous.
Simon reaches Richard and Sir Thomas. And begins to check Sir Thomas. Richard turns away in tears.
SIMON Joking He can’t be dead. Not now. More serious Not tonight. Panicking Not on the first day of a two year contract.
Oh my god. He IS dead.
Simon staggers a few steps. He is trembling.
SIMON What are we going to do? What do I do? What... what are you crying for?
SIMON Nothing? Pull yourself together. You didn’t know him that well.
RICHARD I’m not crying because of that.
SIMON You’re the director. Think of something. Create something. Direct... what are you crying for then?
RICHARD It’s over.
SIMON You don’t say.
RICHARD No, my life. You may have taken out triple mortgages and whatever practical loans you could find but I had nothing. No house. No car. Nothing to put up as collateral. So I used the one thing I do have left. My life. You borrowed your half of the money from the bank. I borrowed my half from the Marone family.
SIMON Organised crime?
RICHARD Sobs Yes.
SIMON And you’re saying they’ll kill you if you don’t pay it back?
RICHARD Sobs Yes!
Richard slumps to the floor, sitting against the back wall.
SIMON Oh my god. Oh my god. Ok. It’s all down to me. I have to think of a solution. There’s got to be a solution.
Enter the UNDERSTUDY.
SIMON And here it is!
UNDERSTUDY I was just sent here to check if you need a hand with anything.
SIMON Insanely laughs. No. Well, yes. Perfect timing. Now, you told me you know this play off by heart.
SIMON The part of King Lear? Word perfect?
SIMON Excellent. Get changed, you’re going on.
UNDERSTUDY Going on? Where? Out there? Why?
RICHARD He can’t do it. The boy’s keen but he’s a puppeteer, not an actor. Maybe if it was “The Muppets Do Shakespeare”.
SIMON Richard, shut up.
UNDERSTUDY He’s right. I’ve never done anything this big. I don’t know that I can go out in front of all those people.
SIMON Speaking slowly and calmly. This is no time for stage fright. You can go on and you will.
UNDERSTUDY No, no, no. I’ve never actually shown my face on the stage. The funny thing is I’d be ok, and be able to do the whole show, if this really was “Muppets Do Shakespeare”.
SIMON Excellent. Well, I will bear that in mind. But we are doing a real, live version of King Lear. That is the reality. Our leading man, Sir Thomas Betterman, is dead. You are the understudy. You are taking his place.
SIMON I know.
UNDERSTUDY Sir Thomas Betterman is dead.
SIMON And you’re taking his place. On stage. In 5 minutes time.
UNDERSTUDY Terrified, to himself I can’t do it. I can’t go out there in front of all those people. In front of thousands of people.
Simon reaches for Sir Thomas to try and take his costume off. The Understudy stands to one side shaking his head.
Voice over Ladies and gentlemen, this is your five minute call. Five minutes.
Enter Danielle with GONERIL/AURELIE DEVIL and REGAN/HELEN WILLIAMS. They are all in full costume and make-up.
HELEN Was that the five? We’re just going out for a ciggie.
DANIELLE Is Sir Thomas alright?
The three ladies walks across the stage while speaking. Simon and the Understudy step in front of Sir Thomas.
SIMON He’s fine. Just a bit of last minute preparation.
Simon waves the ladies good-bye. Exit stage left Danielle, Helen and Aurelie.
Simon turns back to Sir Thomas to take off his costume. He quickly gives in.
SIMON It’s no use. We can’t even move him due to the dead weight.
Richard laughs. He has stopped crying.
SIMON Richard. Do something. You’re the director!
RICHARD I have a solution.
Richard knocks on the door of Dressing Room 2.
RICHARD Harry, can you come out here please? To Simon and the Understudy Harry will go on in Sir Thomas’ place. And the understudy will take Harry’s role as “Kent”.
Harry opens the door slowly.
RICHARD Harry, something’s happened to Sir Thomas.
HARRY Quickly I didn’t do it.
RICHARD Do what? Any way, we need you to take the part of King Lear tonight. Sir Thomas is... unwell. Congratulations! You’ve got what you wanted, the lead role! Your fans will see you play King Lear.
HARRY I can’t do it.
Richard does not hear Harry.
RICHARD Isn’t this what you’ve always wanted? You’ll be the star of the show. Demonstrate how you are the master of Shakespeare and Sir Thomas isn’t fit to... what?
HARRY I can’t do it. I don’t know the part.
RICHARD But you’re this “great Shakespearean” actor. Imitating Harry “When I did my King Lear at Stratford Upon Avon...”
HARRY When I played in King Lear... I didn’t play the King.
Richard gulps in panic. He says the first thing that comes to him.
RICHARD Ok. No problem. You will be King Lear and the Understudy will feed you the lines.
UNDERSTUDY While I’m playing the role of the Duke of Kent?
UNDERSTUDY On a big stage I’ve never performed on before?
UNDERSTUDY In front of thousands of people?
SIMON Richard, that is clearly not going to work.
Richard begins to cry and slumps again. Danielle enters from stage door.
HARRY I’m so sorry Simon. I’m a fraud. It’s all an act. I’m not who I say I am. I’m a murderer...
DANIELLE Harry, don’t. Simon, it’s all my fault. I’ve been having an affair with Sir Thomas and with his weak heart...
HARRY So it’s true then...
Everyone on stage argues. Excluding the Understudy.
SIMON Richard, do something...
DANIELLE You don’t love me any more...
RICHARD We’re ruined. I’m going to be dropped in the sea with concrete round my ankles.
HARRY To Danielle You slut...
RICHARD Or worse... savaged by the critics.
SIMON Steady on, Harry...
Voice Over This is your beginners call for the start of the show. Beginners.
Everyone is silent.
Enter GLOUCESTER and EDMUND from stage right. They are in full Shakespearean costume and make-up.
GLOUCESTER Everything ok?
ALL reply FINE!
Harry walks up and stands nose-to-nose with Simon.
HARRY I cannot walk out on to that stage unless you tell me what you are going to do.
Trumpets sound for the beginning of the play.
SIMON On you go Harry. Don’t want to disappoint your adoring fans, do you?
Harry is furious but before he can say anything we hear the sound of applause.
SIMON That’s curtain up.
Simon smiles and ushers Harry “on stage”.
Harry Milne (Kent), Gloucester and Edmund exit stage right. Their exit is greeted by applause off stage right.
Gonerill and Regan enter stage left. They talk to each other inside the stage door unaware of what is happening elsewhere on stage.
Our audience can hear the Shakespeare play begin. Richard is still sitting on the floor sobbing.
SIMON Richard. Richard! Get a hold of yourself and think.
RICHARD I can’t. We’re ruined.
Simon picks Richard up.
SIMON You bastard. It’s always been the same, hasn’t it? Ever since we were kids. You were the big shot entertainer.
© Copyright 2016 Thom Goddard. All rights reserved.
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