Breath / by Nikki Atkin-Reeves

Cast:

1.PROWL
WOLF

2. SCUTTLE
MISS MUFFET
MRS MUFFET
SPIDER

3. SNEAK
URSULA
GOLDIE
PRIMROSE

4. WHAT'S THE TIME. MR WOLF?
MRS WALL
VOICES 1 - 5
PIED PIPER

5. SPY
MILLER'S DAUGHTER
RUMPLESTILTSKIN


Written originally for a cast of seven, this is the minimum number for which it is suitable, if you are going to retain the ensemble / physical theatre feel of the piece. The ratio of boys to girls is: 2M, 5F.

Doubling for this number would be: M 1: Wolf / Pied Piper. M 2: Spider / Rumplestiltskin. F 1: Miss Muffet / Mrs Wall. F 2: Mrs Muffet / Miller's Daughter. F3, 4 and 5: Ursula, Goldie and Primrose respectively.

The maximum number that it could be stretched to is 11: 4M and 7F, with all parts separated. Any number between these two would work as well.

This play would make a good examination piece. Running time is approximately half an hour.

Sample Pages from the script

Extract 1

Ursula is becoming very uneasy and spends this section trying to escape from the clutches of the sisters.

PRIMROSE
Oh, yes, Goldie; I forgot about Terry. He came to fit the wardrobe, didn't he? [To Ursula.] Or was he the one who mended the chair? You know, that chair was just right, neither too hard nor too soft. I don't know how you can bear the other chairs; I wouldn't give them house-room.

OLDIE
Did your husband know about Terry?

Ursula makes a run for it but is caught by Primrose.

PRIMROSE
Now I really must insist that you give us an opinion on our new duvet. Up you come.

They move as though to an upstairs room.

GOLDIE
There now - what do you think?

URSULA
It's very nice.

PRIMROSE Of course it's nice, it's just like yours.

GOLDIE
Not quite, Primrose, not quite. [To Ursula.] Slip in.

URSULA
What?

GOLDIE correcting her faux genteel manners
Pardon?

PRIMROSE
Slip in. Go on, right in. Under the covers you go! [Ursula slips in under the covers as she is prodded under by Primrose.] Pop your clothes off - you'll feel more comfortable. [To Ursula, aggressively.] I said, take your clothes off. [Shouts.] Now! [To Goldie.] She's very liberated, our neighbour; she sleeps 'au naturel.' [To Ursula.] That's a girl - all of them. [Ursula removes clothing from inside the duvet] Good. [To Ursula, who is lying terrified beneath the duvet] Turn over onto your stomach.

URSULA
Please let me go. Your duvet cover is beautiful. Now please let me go home. I'm expected.

GOLDIE
Tut tut, you're telling fibs.

PRIMROSE
Little white lies.

GOLDIE
'Of course there's no one else, Stuart, it's just that I think we need our own space.'

PRIMROSE
'No, I'm not trying to get rid of you, Terry, it's just that I have to be up early in the morning.'

GOLDIE to Ursula
Feeling nice and comfortable? Bed linen soft? No friction? Good. [Ursula tries to get up.] No, stay there. I want to ask your opinion on something else. [Pause.] What does the bed smell of? [Pause.] The bed, what does it smell of? [Longer Pause.] Anything?

URSULA quite softly
No.

GOLDIE
You'll have to speak up, my dear; my sister is a little hard of hearing.

URSULA louder
No.

PRIMROSE No what, dear? Speak up, you're mumbling.

URSULA
No, the bed doesn't smell of anything.

GOLDIE
Did you hear that, Primrose dear, our bed doesn't smell of anything. [To Ursula.] And that's the difference between us, my dear. You see, your bed does smell. [To Primrose.] What does her bed smell of, Primrose? [To Ursula.] How can you sleep in that, you dirty cow? [To Primrose.] What does her bed smell of? Tell her. Nice and loud, so the neighbours can hear. Tell them all about her smelly bed.

PRIMROSE
Your bed smells of piss. [Pause.] You've got a lover; you keep a five-year diary; you eat the middles out of custard creams and bourbons; you put Poundstretcher goods in Waitrose bags; you left your husband for a seventeen-year old ...

They begin to bounce on the bed, Ursula struggles to get out.

GOLDIE
You bite your nails when you're on the telephone; you watch Breakfast TV; you leave crosswords unfinished; there are cobwebs in your bathroom; you pick your nose and eat it; your Mum died last year; you've got piles; you snore ...

GOLDIE and PRIMROSE together
And your porridge is never just right! Ursula escapes.

GOLDIE
Got her keys, dear?

PRIMROSE
All safe.

GOLDIE AND PRIMROSE together
Lovely ...

4.WHAT'S THE TIME, MR WOLF?

Starts as if a continuation of the previous scene. Ursula has exited and as the dialogue between Primrose and Goldie comes to an end, she puts up a 'For Sale' sign. The sign is taken from her by Mrs Wall, who places the sign down on the ground and waves goodbye to Ursula.

Slowly the rest of the cast move towards her, crouching, vulpine. The basis of the scene is the children's game, 'What's the time, Mr Wolf?' There should be a sound of feet, the slow creeping progress towards Mrs Wall. A single voice asks:


VOICE 1
What's the time?

MRS WALL in a kindly manner
Mrs Wall. [Extends her hand as though to shake hands. It is not taken. Still smiling.] One o'clock.

Voice 1 freezes. The others behind follow suit.
Mrs Wall turns back to a mime of putting the house to rights - ironing, hanging curtains, cleaning. The wolves move towards Mrs Wall again, following her in a stream, so that whenever she changes direction she has a stream of wolves in her wake.

VOICE 2
What's the time, Mrs Wall?

Mrs Wall stops what ever she is doing, looks at her watch and then expectantly up at the face of the interrogator, as though expecting to start a conversation.


MRS WALL
Two o'clock. [Still smiling, Mrs Wall indicates the threshold of her house, welcoming.]

Voice 2 freezes; the other wolves follow suit. Voices 3 and 4 tail Mrs Wall stealthily and, when she looks at her most vulnerable, ask:


VOICES 3 and 4
What's the time, Mrs Wall?

MRS WALL
It's half past two. I'm new in the neighbourhood. I don't suppose you could tell me where I can get vacuum bags locally?

Voices 3 and 4 freeze. Mrs Wall moves back to her cleaning but then turns around quickly as though suspicious that she is being trailed. Voice 5 creeps up, then calls:

VOICE 5
What's the time, Mrs Wall?

MRS WALL with irritation in her voice
It's three fifteen. How do you know my name?

Same routine. Voice 5 freezes. Mrs Wall turns her back; the wolves creep after her.

VOICES 1, 2 and 3
What's the time, Mrs Wall?

MRS WALL
It's four o'clock. Look, what's the matter with people round here? Haven't you heard of clocks?

Voices freeze.

VOICE 4
What's the time, Mrs Wall?

MRS WALL
Who are you? Why do you want to know the time? I haven't got anything worth stealing, I've only just moved in - ask anyone. I haven't even got a fridge yet.

VOICE 4
What's the time, Mrs Wall?

MRS WALL with an attempt at humour
Time you got yourself a watch.

Sample Pages from Production Notes

PRODUCTION NOTES + TECHNICAL CUES etc.

N.B. These notes are suggestions only. You may find them helpful to follow; or they may act as a springboard for your own ideas; or you can choose to ignore them entirely!

INTRODUCTION: THEMES, THE PLAY'S INTENTION.

The play is a kind of dramatised panorama of stalking in all its forms. PROWL deals with a 'socially inadequate' man who gets his kicks from looking into people's windows. The Wolf, the 'baddie' in so many fairy tales, is a peeping tom.

SCUTTLE deals with a vulnerable teenager, Miss Muffet, and her bullying mother, whose lack of care leaves her daughter open to abuse from the passing 'spider.' There is a passing suggestion that Miss Muffet is anorexic because of her mother's over-confident and inappropriate sexuality, constantly held over the daughter to make her feel more inadequate. Which is the real predator - the mother or the spider? SNEAK deals with two busy-body snoops, Goldie and Primrose, who have invited their new neighbour, Ursula, to tea. The original story is loosely re-interpreted. Ursula - which means 'Line Bear' in Latin - is still the victim; Goldie and her seemingly innocent sister, the usurpers, who have invaded Ursula's personal space. Holding keys to the house, they have snooped in Ursula's absence and gradually, and frighteningly, reveal their total knowledge of her private habits. Like in the original story - where Goldilocks is a pretty and sweet little girl - the two sisters seem sweet and pleasant, good neighbours. The gradual realisation of their very real infringement of Ursula's privacy, tells us how the original fairy story could be viewed.

WHAT'S THE TIME MR WOLF? shows how vulnerable the single person - Mrs Wall, new to the neighbourhood - is, to bullying and gang intimidation. Not content with that, the scene goes on to show a more subtle form of abuse of Mrs Wall's vulnerability, when the Pied Piper offers to get rid of 'the pests.' The Pied Piper becomes the kind of plausible and very dodgy door-to-door salesman who preys on the elderly and lonely.

SPY centres on a teenage boy who is being stalked by an obsessive schoolgirl. The Rumplestiltskin link is the girl's obsession with finding out her victim's name, by which means she can become closer to him. The thoughts of victim and stalker are juxtaposed to show the distance between his and her perception of events: he is frightened, she convinced he is interested, even loves her.

The ending ties all the ideas together with the Wolf figure again, using the three little pigs story as a starting point. Just when we accept the stalker as 'evil', the play turns our perception on its head agin by showing the mob turning on the wolf/pervert. Stalker becomes victim in one last twist.

This is a clever play which examines our perceptions of stalking and forces us to question them and, hopefully, to reassess them. The use of fairy stories, childrens' games and nursery rhymes gives a deceptively simple structure, resulting in forcing us to re-assess these stories too.

The physical theatre approach in which it is written ensures that the cast are all involved throughout.

CHARACTERS

WOLF
A man of indeterminate age who needs to come over from the beginning as a 'type.' Dodgy macintosh, brown trousers, knitted tanktop - that sort of person. He clutches his briefcase almost prissily on his lap, feet and knees close together. His head is turning all the time, as he leans towards the window - careful mime of rubbing the bus window and craning as the bus moves on.
His voice should be fussy, perhaps a little high. Constant rubbing of his hands or wiping them on a handkerchief or his trouser leg, would suggest sweaty palms.

He should be both pathetic and creepy - frightening because of this rather than anything overt. When he returns at the end of the play, he changes rapidly from a threatening larger-than-life character - aggressive - a potential rapist or murderer - to the pathetic little figure of the opening once more. Creepy, but as much a victim as anyone else in the end. No one has sought to understand him - he is condemned out-of-hand.

MISS MUFFET
is a teenage girl, probably suffering from anorexia. She is timid and self-effacing. Her movements are slight and uncertain, head ducked down, trying to keep a low profile. Voice is soft and lacking in 'bite.' We need to understand that she will fall prey to the spider. She is bullied - and somewhat disgusted - by her mother. Possibly she is trying to disguise or efface her own sexuality - ironically making herself more attractive to the spider.

MRS MUFFET
is her loud and domineering mother. She exudes sexuality - the kind who would sit with her legs open, her whole posture an invitation. Her appetites are large and she should be played with large gestures, loud voice. She is impatient and bad-tempered with her wimpy daughter.

SPIDER
is the least human of the characters in this piece. He is a kind of composite of all scary, shadowy perverts. His movement is scuttly and mirrors the spider's closely. The use of the crutches is important, capitalising on the frightening shapes the actor can make with these extra limbs. His words are far madder than anyone else's in the play and should be played for their non-sensical illogical and frightening qualities - voice jumping between singing, chanting, wheedling, silkily suggesting - always insistent and wearing Miss Muffet down by persistence.

URSULA
is a 'normal' young woman of around late twenties, early thirties. She has left her husband, Stuart, to live on her own. She has been 'seeing' another much younger man, Terry. Recently she has had an operation for piles. It is important that, though more and more of her personal habits are revealed - eating the centre out of custard creams, sleeping in the nude - the actress realises that Ursula is like any one of us. She is as normal as any of us.

Starting out rather stiff and polite, Ursula progresses through unease to terror during the scene. This must be carefully managed - the success of the scene depends on the gradual rise in her fear and understanding.

GOLDIE and PRIMROSE
are almost interchangeable. Initially, they must come over as dear little older ladies, kind and perhaps a little 'batty'. Their gentle sniping of each other at the beginning does not seem threatening. Primrose's hardly repressed laughter when hinting at the 'piles' and Goldie's when mentioning the furnishings and colour schemes should not at first seem threatening. The playing of the characters is a gradual crescendo to real evil. Once it is clear that the two have done their house in the exact decor of Ursula's, the terror escalates rapidly. The scene where they force Ursula to strip and lie under the duvet should be truly terrifying. Rather reminiscent of Pinter's mental torture of Stan in 'The Birthday Party', Ursula is accused of things, all of which are scarcely important really, but which, used as weapons by the evil sisters, reduce Ursula to a gibbering wreck. The two 'dear old souls' literally steal Ursula's whole life and identity and cause their victim's disintegration.

Voices should contrast, so that at the beginning they are sugary and kind but at the end they are sharp and venomous. Movements, too, gather momentum, ending up fast and sharp; they should move surprisingly fast, in a parody of tottering old-lady walks, to cut off Ursula's retreat.

MRS WALL
is sketchily drawn as a character. Her role is to show how vulnerable people are who move to a new area, open to any charletans and aggressors there might be living there. Though married, she also symbolises the vulnerability of the woman left alone in the house all day. Her increasing fear is shown by rising voice and nervous hand movements, voice becoming higher and the patter of her ever longer sentences,as she seeks to come out with ideas that will cover up her vulnerability.

When the Pied Piper comes in she is almost hysterical - that is why she is so rash in her promises. Her relief when she thinks she knows his name, should also come out with an edge of hysteria.

PIED PIPER
is a portrait of a dodgy salesman. Voice and mannerisms are unctuous, slimy, insincerely reassuring. He should put his arm round Mrs Wall's shoulders, touch her reassuringly, lead her downstage, etc. His last 'Yup.' should be triumphant - said slowly, with a slow spreading smile: he's got her!

RUMPLESTILTSKIN
a nervous teen-age boy. He is the son of divorced parents, living with his mother, but increasingly nervous because of the stalking from which he is suffering. Mum works and he is beginnign to feel he should have stayed with his father and Dad's new girlfriend. It is dear that this would not be what he is normally thinking - it is just the fear working on him.

His movements are tight and nervous, voice a little too fast at times, to show his fear.

MILLER'S DAUGHTER is a portrait of the obsessive. She has convinced herself that Rumplestiltskin loves her really and that it's only a matter of time. She is completely out­of-touch with reality.

Her voice should be comfortable and rather sugary, talking about him with a sentimentalised affection that is sickening. Facial expression, smiling with a little secret smile when she talks about Rumplestiltskin, head on one side - spooky, rather empty face.

In addition to taking on at least one character, the actors will need to show their versatility by taking part in all the ensemble, largely movement-based, sections.

SETTING

Setting needs to be bland and adaptable - able to suggest a variety of locations and moods. I would suggest a completely open stage, perhaps just using black curtains. A white screen or gauze near the back, which, through back-lighting, would allow shadows and frightening effects, would be helpful. There would need to be room behind the gauze for characters to pass and mime at certain times. Note that this idea is not essential, though it could be enhancing to the show.

If gauze is used, a single raise block centre back behind it. If no gauze, just place the block centre back.

SOUND CUES

PAGE 13
Sound effect of squeaking unoiled bike - may be best performed live. Keep the sound going, softly, under the whole of the scene - its repetitive and rhythmic squeak can define the scene [and suggest the little pig.] Cut the effect at bottom of Page 16. Cue: Daughter - "I'd just be easier in my mind if I knew his name.'

PAGE 16.
Top of page. Cue; bottom of previous page, Daughter moving towards front of stage. When in special spotlight at front: sound of doorknocker. This can be exaggerated, echoey- a horror effect.

Halfway down page, as Cast begin to chant Fee, Fi, Fo, Fum. Sound of breathing - ragged - behind the whole of Wolf's speech. Cut effect after `...golden tower.'

LIGHTS

Lighting too, is quite simple. It could be done very simply indeed, but becomes a little more complex if using a back-lit gauze.
Areas:

Mainly whole stage, yellowish light.. Go for dappled effect - areas of brighter light and deliberate shadows. Called from now, Area A.

Back strip of stage in front of gauze. Brighter area of light in strip across stage width. Called Area B from now. [If gauze not used, still need this area.]

Central stage area of light in defined square, bright. Called Area C from now. Two circular areas, clearly defined, one on each side of the stage, towards the front. Called Areas D from now.

If gauze/screen used, it will need back-lighting - to create transparency - and low side-lighting and from front, to create shadows on the front of it.

Special spotlight on raised block behind gauze. Golden-yellow. [If gauze not used, still need block at back and special.]

Further special spotlight on front centre chair.