Suspicion / by Marsali Taylor

Cast:

ALETHEA

HER FRIENDS:
SONIA
JANE

OTHER GIRLS:
MARIE
RUTH
BRIDGET
ELSIE

ALETHEA'S MUM
MISS MILLER, THEIR REGISTER TEACHER
SHOPKEEPER
MATHS TEACHER

OTHER PUPILS:
2ND YEAR GIRL 1
2ND YEAR GIRL 2
GIRL 1
GIRL 2
GIRL 3
GIRL 4
GIRL 5

The main cast are Alethea, Sonia, Jane, Elsie, Marie, Ruth and Bridget.

Other characters are small extra parts and can be doubled, sharing characters between five extra people preferably. If used for an examination piece, all main roles are examinable + with doubling, the parts of Miss Miller - with 1 other character; and Alethea's Mum, perhaps taking two other characters.

This makes for a Cast size of 12 minimum, 13 or 14 maximum.

The cast is all female. There is no reason, though, why it could not work as a play, changing some names, for a mixed cast.

The play lasts about half an hour.

Sample Pages from the script

Extract 1

Spot on Alethea, standing centre. She speaks directly to the audience.

ALETHEA
I don't know if you know me. Some of you do. Oh, not to speak to, of course. You've heard about me. [Gossipy.] 'The Peterson girl, the youngest one - you know, there was all that bother at school with things going missing.' Not that anyone ever accused me. That was the worst thing about it...

Lights up on the school. Breaktime. CD playing softly in the background, girls sitting around with packets of crisps and chocolate bars. Alethea goes over to join her friends, Sonya and Jane, on the rostra. Marie and Ruth are sitting on a table, centre; Elsie and Bridget are on the floor, down left.


ALETHEA to the audience
It all began so simply ...

SONIA rummaging in her bag
So I said my little cousin was over and tore the page out, and I'd do it again for tomorrow. Blast! I've left my drink at home.

ALETHEA
You can have some of mine.

SONIA
I could've sworn I put it in.

JANE
So, did Miss Miller believe you?

SONIA
She couldn't prove it wasn't true, could she? [Still rummaging.] That's annoying.

ALETHEA passing her carton
Here.

SONIA
Thanks. Anyway, it's given me another day. I'm bound to finish it tonight.

They freeze. Spot on Alethea.

ALETHEA
That was the first time that any of us missed something. After that, it began to happen more and more...

Dim the lights generally. All three groups have a spot on them; it brightens when that group are speaking and in focus and dims when the focus passes to another group. When a group is in dimmed light, it freezes.

JANE
I thought I had a bag of crisps. I could have sworn I put them in ...

MARIE
I could've sworn I brought you that Clubbing Mix CD. Sorry; I'll bring it tomorrow...

BRIDGET
I had a two pound coin in this pocket. Must've fallen out. Elsie, can you lend me fifty pee?

RUTH
Has anyone seen my purse anywhere?

ELSIE
I've lost the headphones from my Walkman.

SONIA
I had two packets of polos in my bag pocket ...

MARIE
I'm missing my calculator.

ELSIE
I had a tenner in my bag. It's been stolen.

At the word `stolen' all heads jerk round and freeze. The lights come up harshly.

ELSIE
I've had enough of this. I'm going to tell Miss Miller.

She exits determinedly. The others watch her uneasily.

SONIA
There has been a lot of stuff disappearing.

JANE
Bits and pieces.

ALETHEA
Some of it could just be lost.

SONIA
Not all of it.

BRIDGET
Nobody here would go stealing stuff. None of us would do that.

RUTH
Someone would. Someone is.

JANE
There isn't any proof.

MARIE
There's far too much gone: crisps, sweets.

ALETHEA
Janet lost her watch.

SONIA
Alan had a 'Lethal Weapon' video disappear from his bag.

MARIE
Keith's Walkman went missing.

Pause. They all look uneasily in the direction Elsie went.

SONIA uneasily
She's been gone a while.

ALETHEA
You know what it's like. It's break.

JANE
Yeah, you have to stand at the staffroom door for at least three knocks before anyone even gets up to answer.

Laughter. Another pause.

MARIE
Well, I'm going to start carrying my bag round with me.

RUTH
Me too.

JANE
You could put it in your locker.

BRIDGET
That's such a pain - having to go back to your locker every two minutes.

SONIA
Better than getting your stuff taken.

Extract 2

Lights dim. Classroom, break time. All except Alethea, gossiping.

MARIE
... so the assistant stopped her and made her open her bag.

ELSIE
Well?

RUTH
No, nothing. But the assistant hesitated for ages.

MARIE
As if she wanted to make her turn out her pockets and all.

RUTH
Then she just gave a shrug and opened the door for her.

MARIE
Shut it really hard behind her ...

RUTH
.. as if to say, don't you come back here.

MARIE
She was red as fire.

SONIA
They're always like that in there.

JANE
I've never had to turn my bag out for them. There must have been something.

SONIA
We've been into Lerwick a million times with her and she's never taken anything.

MARIE
That you've seen! She wouldn't tell you, would she?

SONIA
No ...

MARIE So, why were you two not in Lerwick with her then?

SONIA
I was ... I was ... we had family over.

JANE
And I had no money.

MARIE
You could have borrowed some. Anyone who brings tenners to school these days has plenty to spare... [Miss Miller enters behind her.] ... though they may not like questions about where they got it.

MISS MILLER
An interesting remark, Marie.

MARIE
Oh, miss, we were just talking.

MISS MILLER
Well, come and explain it to me. The others watch dismayed.

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 most obvious intention of the play is to make us think about the consequences of rumour/ gossip / the drawing of hasty conclusions. It is very easy to condemn someone, on the flimsiest of evidence - not so easy to repair the damage such condemnation causes. Alethea, wrongly suspected of pilfering from friends and others at school, finds her whole life has been blighted. Though cleared, though everyone says 'Sorry', there will never be mention of her name without there being a shadow of suspicion with it, a shadow of that scandal. The damage has not just been within the school environment but in the whole small community in which Alethea has spent her entire life.

The play leaves us powerfully aware of the consequences on Alethea, by using direct address to the audience. Her character is the only one that speaks to the audience in this way - making us see things from her point of view.

A secondary theme in the play is how peer pressure affects the lives of the school children. Under peer pressure, even Alethea's closest friends start to waver. Just when Alethea needs them the most, they fail to support her.

The play also takes a swipe at something that is not just applicable to the closed environment of a school - the horrible enjoyment people glean from scandal and the suffering of others. The girls' gossip is positively gleeful. Once the snowball of gossip starts to roll, it gathers speed and starts to add on even the most far-fetched and ridiculous losses - blaming everything on Alethea. It quickly spreads to the community and Alethea finds herself becoming a social pariah, all the more hurtful because at first she does not understand why.

Although the play ends on an up-beat note, with her former friends apologising and trying to make it up to her, we are made aware, through Alethea's last monologue, that nothing will ever be quite the same again.

CHARACTERS

The girls are all very 'normal' - friendly, happy, close to each other. There are no particular 'baddies' and 'goodies.' All seem very similar and the skill in production will be to try to differentiate between them. Care should be taken not to stereotype; the important thing in this play is to keep the characters and speech realistic.

MARIE - is quicker than the others to cast suspicion. She seems to take more pleasure in casting aspersions and likes the gossip and interest this arouses.

ELSIE, too, is quick to jump to conclusions - quicker than many of the others. Once the gossip starts rolling though, there isn't much to choose between the characters.

JANE and SONIA, Alethea's best friends, are the slowest to believe - they keep affirming her innocence, though, particularly in Jane's case, this becomes more hesitant as the play progresses. Jane is the first to believe in Alethea's guilt - but it is Sonia whose betrayal is the hardest for Alethea - Sonia, who is the special friend. Much of the second half observes Sonia's progression into doubt of Alethea and her own guilt at such feelings. This adds interest to her character and must be emphasised by the actress. Her horror when she realises that it was all a mistake is not put into words. Jane is the one to put their guilt into words - because she is less deeply affected perhaps. Sonia is silent for some time at the news that Elsie has found her tenner and that it was all a mistake. The actress must put over her look of total shock, horror and guilt that she should have betrayed her closest friend so. Her silence speaks louder than words could do. From now, Sonia's words drop like stones - words of self-condemnation and condemnation of all Alethea's supposed friends.

Other characters, too, are merely vehicles to show the theme of the play. They are not finely drawn, fleshed out people - but nonetheless, the style of playing should be as realistic as possible. None of these people are 'bad' people. In fact, since they are so 'normal', this should emphasise the theme more clearly: this kind of thing happens all the time and it can happen to anyone in any environment- even to you and to me.

SETTING

Raised area at back for classroom - permanently set

Classroom - Two tables, six chairs, set up stage left, angled to face diagonally down towards down stage right. Teacher's desk to bottom of raised area, stage right. Chair behind it.

FURNITURE MOVING CUES

PAGE 4
Bottom of page. Cue - Bridget -'I suppose - 'Remove table front centre, with CD player. Or remove only CD player - Bridget take it off - others reset table as teacher's desk bottom of raised area, stage right.

PAGE 14
Nearly halfway down page. Cue: Alethea -'But that was - before.' Assistant brings on light rack of goods for shop. Set in front of raised area, centre.

Bottom of page. Cue: Alethea opening bag. As lights dim, assistant takes rack off again.

PAGE 15
Threequarters of way down page, Miss Miller comes on carrying her chair, to place it centre.

PAG E 16
Miss Miller removes her chair again as she exits.

LIGHTS

The lighting is pretty simple, though it is quite a 'busy' cue plot. No fancy colours are necessary. Warm interior lighting [straws and pinks] could give way to a harsher, bleaker whiter light as the play progresses - if desired, and there are enough lanterns available.

Area A - classroom and whole stage [Note that raised area and front of stage need to be on separate circuits.]

Area B - whole area in front of stage as corridor.

Area C - area in front of stage, reduced to central part - not the full width as in the corridor. Make sure there is some spill onto edge of front raised area, so that it can be used at times for one person to sit on.

In addition, you will need:

1.Front centre special spotlight for Alethea

2.Three pools of light, big enough for two or three people: edge of the raised area towards stage right; on table set in front of raised area center; downstage left, front of stage.

LIGHTING CUES

PAGE 2
Beginning of play. Bring up special spot front centre.

End of this first speech. Cue: Alethea -'That was the worst thing about it...' Bring up stage lights, Area A whole stage - to bright.

wo thirds of way down page. Cue: Sonia -'I'm bound to finish it tonight.' Lower stage lights to dim, leaving three pools of light centred on the three groups of students: Alethea, Sonia and Jane edge of the raised area, stage right; Marie and Ruth, sitting on table centre; Elsie and Bridget - sitting on floor down stage left.

Writer suggests brightening each area and dimming others when someone in an area is speaking - but this seems to me to be unnecessary, especially as it means a lighting change every line. The same effect will be gained by disciplined freezes of those in the light when not speaking.

PAGE 3
Near top of page. Cue: Elsie -'It's been stolen.' Wait a beat for the reaction to that word and then bring up whole stage, Area A lights to harsh bright.

PAGE 4
Bottom of page. Cue - Bridget - 'I suppose - ' Lights fade gradually to dim as everyone exits. Hold till front table removed. Then bring back up to bright over whole Area A again.

PAGE 6
Top of page. Cue: Miss Miller -'Now, Sonia, about your homework...' Start to fade lights to dim on back raised area. Keep at half - so that characters remain visible - brighten front of stage,Area B, corridor.

PAGE 7
Third of way down page. Cue: Jane - But nor would any of us...' All lights to dim and then brighten again over whole stage Area A.