The Chance of a Lifetime / by Jo Hardy
The play was originally played by a cast of four, doubling the roles of Narrator and Watcher. The Newsreader, Radio Announcer, Eyewitness, Mother and Child were divided up and played by the four.
However, there is enough to do for a cast of five still to be examinable: four girls and a boy perhaps, though both Narrator and Watcher, separate characters in this casting, could be boys, given more to do by doubling as Announcer., Newsreader, Eye Witness and Child.
Only Jamie needs to be male.
The play is about twenty minutes long.
Sample Pages from the script
Scene 1, Thursday Night.
walking slowly onto the stage and looking round This is where it happened. This very spot. And it was on just such a night as this. Just this kind of misty dusk when travellers pull their coats tighter around themselves as they hurry home. It was an evening for hot drinks, warm fires and good company... It was a time for honest people to stay indoors and tell tales of witches and goblins... It was on just such a night as this...
Enter Jamie, Ruth and Claire, obviously in a hurry. Claire is wearing a hea vy coat but it is clear that she is `dressed up.' Ruth is without a coat and obviously frozen. She looks glamorous.
We'd better hurry or we'll be late. The gig starts at eight.
Well, it was you we all had to wait for. I thought you were wanting to make a fashionably late entrance. You must have tried on every outfit in your wardrobe.
And your sister's. And you must be absolutely frozen. I don't know why you didn't bring a coat.
Yeah, well. You wouldn't. Come on.
Anything you say, Ruth. Anything you say...
They all leave. A shadowy figure crosses the stage and follows them.
We will never know why these three were singled out. It must have been some vast eternal plan. But, for whatever reason, they were watched until they were out of sight and then the watcher waited patiently for their return.
The Narrator leaves as the Watcher re-enters, shadowed and furtive. The voices of Jamie, Ruth and Claire are heard in the distance and he retreats deeper into the gloom. Enter Ruth, alone.
obviously nervous but trying hard not to show it Stop fooling about. I know you're trying to frighten me. Well, I'm not frightened so it isn't working... so you might as well give up and come out. [A beat] I know what you're doing; Claire, you're trying to play a trick on me because you're jealous... over David. [There is silence.] It was obvious you were trying to get his attention but he was only interested in me. He likes his girls to be well dressed. [It is clear she is losing confidence.] He said he liked my gold ear-rings and perfume and he didn't like his girls to look cheap...
Her voice trails off uncertainly as she looks around for them. The Watcher comes out of the shadows.
So you like to wear gold, do you?
Who are you?... Well, yes, I do actually. David said... But who are...
Who am I? I too am a lover of gold... see... [He holds out a heavily ringed hand.]
Wow! Are all those real gold? ... And is that a real diamond in that one? You must be worth a fortune!
Is that what you desire? A fortune?
'Course I do. That's why I left school early to get a job. But it isn't very likely. Unless I win the lottery of course.
THE WATCHER That can be arranged.
Oh yeah! [She laughs.] I could wait a long time to get to be a millionaire that way!
Until Saturday. [He produces a folded newspaper from under his clothing.] Tomorrow is Friday. If you knew the winning numbers today...
I could buy a ticket tomorrow and fill in all the right numbers. But I can't do that because...
Here are your numbers.
A Sunday paper. Last Sunday's? [Pause while she looks at the date.] You... You can't mean next Sunday's...?
The Watcher nods and then walks silently away while Ruth turns to the back of the newspaper where she knows the lottery results will be. She reads quickly.
Sunday 16th! Next Sunday! [She bends the newspaper in half and looks closely at the numbers.] And here are all the numbers.
Claire, I'm so sorry. [A beat] It must have been awful. Tracey told me about all the screaming and the smoke, and the bodies and things. [A beat] I'm glad you're O.K.
Yeah. Tracey said so. It's horrible. Poor Jamie. [She looks closely at Claire.] You really liked him, didn't you? [Claire nods.] And I know he fancied you. [Claire looks up.] He told me. [A beat] Hey. Don't cry. [She clumsily puts her arm around Claire and genuinely tries to distract her.] I can cheer you up, you know. In a few days time, when you're feeling a bit better, we'll go out, me and you. [She is so gentle that Claire smiles gratefully.] We'll go shopping. [A beat.] I'll buy you something fantastic to wear. [No response.] Anything you want. Spare no expense. [Still no response.] I know it must be awful and I'm really sorry. I really am. And I can't enjoy my big win... you know...
with an effort Oh... it worked, did it? ... The newspaper... I'd forgotten...
Yeah. I did everything just right; the numbers were what it said they would be. I'm going to be rich... but of course, I'm not thinking about that right now. [She takes the newspaper out of her bag and throws it onto the bed.] I don't expect I'll ever get my news early again.
Claire can't really smile, but as she looks at the newspaper, something makes her turn to the front page. For the first time, the headline is revealed. It screams SCHOOL FIRE and carries a picture of a burnt out building with ambulances outside. She holds it out to Ruth, whose shocked reaction makes it clear that she has not seen it before. There is a long silence as they both try to absorb the enormity of the discovery. It might be possible to project the front page onto a wall or screen so that it can be seen by the audience.
I never... you see, I... I just looked at the lottery numbers. It didn't seem... [She gives up.]
They freeze and Jamie walks forward, stopping to look at the two girls before sitting on the arm of Claire's chair.
We were late for school and Claire and me were both late for Science. Mr Reynolds gave us the evil eye, but we thought we'd got away with it because he was starting an experiment. Claire went to the other side of the lab to join her group and, I remember, she turned round and grinned at me as if to say 'We got away with it.' I sat down on a stool and looked at her again. She was still grinning... I was thinking what I would say to her at lunchtime. I was wondering how I would ask her out. You see, we'd always gone out together, Ruth, Claire and me. I wanted this to be different - a different sort of 'going out.' Without Ruth. Definitely without Ruth. I never got to ask her. There was a noise, anc smoke, and screaming and... [He shrugs.] ... it was all over. ... I was worried about that newspaper, you know. With reason, as it turned out.
He looks at the two girls again, then walks slowly to the back of the stage. Claire and Ruth unfreeze.
You wouldn't let us look. You were only interested in the money and - all the time - this was on the front page. We could have warned them. We could have made them listen. Jamie wouldn't...
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 about a group of friends, one of whom, Ruth, is met by a shadowy figure and tempted by him to accept a copy of a newspaper which will give next Saturday's lottery numbers. Ruth uses the numbers to ensure a win but fails to look at the rest of the paper, which tells of a terrible tragedy at the school disco, killing a large number of students, including one of her best friends. When she realises that she could have warned people, she cannot enjoy her winnings and it is clear she will suffer from guilt for the rest of her life.
This is a kind of morality play about the dangers of greed - and perhaps of putting too much trust in the supernatural. Ruth, the character who is led astray by the `Watcher', a shadowy figure who may represent Fate, the Devil - or just a personification of Temptation - is brutally punished for falling into the trap of greed. Yes, she gains more money than she could ever have dreamed of, but she cannot enjoy it, because of the loss of her friends and her own self-respect. This has the familiar ring of many medieval stories - showing that these work just as well in a modern context.
It is harder to pin down the role of the other characters, who are the unwitting victims of Fate and the means of punishing Ruth. Perhaps, as Jamie himself says near the end, there could have been no way of preventing the tragedy. Who would have believed Ruth if she had said beforehand there would be a terrible fire? Given this, it is clear that Ruth is being punished for what reason? To make her a better person perhaps. The Watcher sums it up in his last speech. Ruth has learned above all not to trust a gift without asking herself what was in it for the giver.
This idea of 'you don't get something for nothing' is a very modern moral - not a medieval one. It seems to suggest that if she had not been tempted by greed, the chain of events which leads to Jamie's death would not have been activated. In this case it was a punishment devised by the Watcher, and saying 'no' would have saved lives.
Whatever the answer, it is one of those plays that would need discussion by the group undertaking it, to decide on the 'meaning' for them.
An impartial `character'. A good mood-setting and story-telling voice needed. Needs to establish through face, body and voice an atmosphere of mystery and suspense.
a mysterious non-human figure, who may be the Devil, Fate, Death - or whatever you choose. Powerful voice needed - but avoid a 'witchy' spooky voice. Keeping the voice slow and deep should be enough to set up the supernatural idea without being too obvious.
is the girl who is tempted by greed and falls for the lure of easy money. It is clear from the start of the play that Ruth is massively insecure. She is just the type of person to believe that money might solve all her problems. Already, she is addicted to lovely clothes and jewellery and believes that she can attract men through making herself look sophisticated and 'not cheap.' Unlike her friends, who are still at school, Ruth has left and become a secretary. Probably, she is already realising she is in a trap where she is unlikely, unless she marries a wealthy man, to become rich through her work. Her bitchiness to her friends and her seeming cockiness conceal a deep insecurity. Actually she is jealous of them.
Through the course of the play, Ruth develops. She is genuinely gutted by Jamie's death and concerned for its effect on Claire. She really means to comfort her and it is a generous remark to say that Jamie told her he fancied Claire. The former Ruth would not have said this. The security and pleasure of the money has given her back her self-esteem and from the rock of this security she can afford to unleash her generous side. Of course, she doesn't yet know that the headlines of her paper tell of the fire. She simply has not looked at anything but the lottery numbers.
When Claire points out that perhaps the tragedy could have been avoided, Ruth is horror-struck. this is the last we see of her - but enough to suggest how the rest of her life will be, Because we saw what a much nicer person Ruth with security could be, the punishment is doubly hard.
Play Ruth as not a very likeable person - voice brassy. Regional accent. 'I'm better than you' attitude and gestures. Contrast this with a quieter nicer side when she comforts Claire; all her annoying mannerisms should be dropped here.
is about sixteen - like the other characters. She has been best mates with Jamie for a long time and secretly she would like it to be more than just a friendship between them. She has stayed on at school to do A levels. Ruth, Jamie and her have always gone out together and were obviously a close trio at school, but now Ruth has left Claire doesn't like the way she's changed. Claire is fed up with the way Ruth looks down on her and Jamie, as if they were kids.
This attitude should reflect in Claire's voice and body language, which will be impatient and 'oh, for goodness' sake' when talking to Ruth but alter to a comfortable companionship when with Jamie. Try to build in the odd look to indicate that she likes Jamie more - but keep it subtle! At the end, when she is shocked by the death, she should melt with Ruth, and start to warm to her until she sees the headline - when she becomes the instrument of Ruth's torture - her voice hard and angry. It must be clear she will never forgive her.
is an uncomplicated nice and bright boy of about sixteen, like Claire, just starting out on his A level course. From his monologue, given after his death, it is clear that he feels more for Claire than he has let on - an irony since Claire too feels the same. This serves to underline the unfairness of his death; the pair would have been ideal for each other. Jamie does not rail against his fate. His calmness about it sets the tone for a reasoned analysis of events - would it not have been just the same if Ruth had never had that newspaper? Probably. The speech here should be soft, a little sentimental about Claire - a tone he would never have used in life. In his dialogues with Claire earlier, he shows easiness and a sense of fun. Like Claire, build in one or two moments when we understand he feels more for Claire than he is letting on. Once again this must be very subtle. Like Claire - only perhaps even more so - he has no time for Ruth. In fact, he wishes she were not there, so that he could be alone with Claire. This should be obvious in the barely held-in impatience of his tone when speaking to Ruth.
The other characters appear only once and are not developed enough to be given characterisations. Use the appropriate urgent tones for Newsreader and Announcer, who are reporting on a tragedy. Mother, Eyewitness and Child can be much more emotional. Their accounts must underline the horror for us.
In such a short play, this must be kept very simple. Lights can set the scene and the mood. All that is needed to play this script is an empty space, preferably in a studio setting, against black curtains. An armchair needs to be set towards one corner of the stage and a bench, suitable for a bus-stop towards the other corner. There is no need for anything else, but I am suggesting you add a small single rostrum at the back centre of the stage.
If you use the screen idea, this needs to be set behind the rostrum at the back of the stage.
Having said that lights are needed to make the settings, there is no need for this to be complicated. Basically, three areas are needed - the woods at night; the bus-stop and Claire's bedroom. The three settings can overlap, so long as the lights for the woodland setting exclude the seats in each corner.
Area A = the woods at night. The atmosphere is mysterious with shadows in the edges, but nonetheless the characters must be visible - especially as this is by far the longest scene in the play. Aim for a dappled effect - perhaps by using gobos with different size holes cut in them. Onto this basis, add random pools of light, as if moonlight is striking through trees. These pools can be used like spotlights for the actors - and they must get used to moving into them as early as possible. Use some light blue colours and darker blues for an interesting moonlit feel. The light will only cover the centre of the stage, including centre front and centre back. Thus the edges and corners [where there are seats] are in darkness. The edges of the light should not be abrupt but go gradually into shadow. Have a brighter strip of light at the front of the stage.
Area B = the bus-stop, set in one of the Downstage corners. The light should spill up to the centre of the stage, giving a sense of space. This should be bright, daylight. Warm pale yellowish and white.
Area C = Claire's room. An armchair, angled outwards is where Claire sits. Arms to the chair allow others to perch. Give a sense of spare again - and the loneliness of Claire by lighting most of the stage for these scenes - at least up to the centre of the stage and even beyond.
Area D = single spotlight on centre raised rostrum at back.
Area E - single spot on Claire's face as she sits on the chair in her bedroom.
Area F [and G if Watcher and Narrator are separate characters] Spotlights on front opposite side to Claire's chair [plus front centre if G required].
To add to the horror of the fire, it would be an advantage to have moving coloured lights [colour wheel or similar] plus a couple of follow-spots if you have them.
Experiment with back-projection of slides onto the screen at the back, if you are using this. You will need: woods; flames' ; a grainy obviously newspaper image of a burned out building and headline 'SCHOOL FIRE HORROR.'