Dead Man Talking

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Humor  |  House: Booksie Classic
A Producer and a Director put on the most expensive Shakespeare production of all time. They rent the biggest theatre in the country and hire the world's most famous actor to play the lead role of King Lear. However, just before curtain up on opening night, he dies.

The single sentence sum-up is: 'A Shakespearean Weekend at Bernie's'

Submitted: October 23, 2015

A A A | A A A

Submitted: October 23, 2015



















Dead Man Talking




Thom Goddard














Thom Goddard

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.

















The Programme


Poppy-Rose Productions



Sir Thomas Betterman


Harry Milne

Danielle Clarkson




King Lear




William Shakespeare




Aurelie Devil

Ray Keaton

Helen Williams





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.






Back Stage








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.


SIMON  Quite.


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.


SIMON  Richard...


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.


SIMON  Richard... 


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’?


Richard laughs. 


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.




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.


RICHARD  Absolutely


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. 

Very grandly

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.


Exit Harry


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?


DANIELLE  Nothing.


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?


SIMON  Fine.


Richard exits stage right.



To the Understudy

Nice outfit


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...


SIMON  Danielle.


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.

Simon! Simon?


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.


Exit Understudy.


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.


Exit Danielle.


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.


SIMON  Richard!


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 bows. 


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?

Ray laughs.


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  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?


RICHARD  Nothing.


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. 




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...


SIMON  What?


DANIELLE  Harry, don’t. Simon, it’s all my fault. I’ve been having an affair with Sir Thomas and with his weak heart...


SIMON  What!!!


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 2020 Thom Goddard. All rights reserved.

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