The Cuckoo Clock adapted from the novel by Mrs Molesworth / by Michael Theodorou

AUTHOR'S NOTE: Dedication: For my wife, who first gave me the idea.

'The Cuckoo Clock' is a delightful children's story by the well-known Victorian writer Mrs Molesworth. This stage adaptation attempts to capture the magical nature of the original with its Victorian charm and sentiment while at the same time injecting it with humour and the language more appropriate for a modern audience. All the main characters from the book are included with some additions in the form of choruses, which will give the opportunity for a much larger cast production. It is a very flexible script which can be played by as few as thirty or as many as pupil numbers allow. Each director must adapt the size of the choruses to suit their own needs.

Music: I conceived this piece with piano music in mind and would suggest either the Nocturnes of Chopin or of John Field. There is an excellent CD of the piano music of the Russian composer Anatol Liadov [Hyperion CDA66986] which would also be eminently suitable. There is one song to the moon for Griselda which can be specially composed or left out. There is also an opportunity for choral singing in the butterfly sequences and a piece of music for dance/ movement for the 'moon creatures' and the Chinese mandarins. Again, each school can include as much or as little music as they wish whilst remembering that this is essentially a play with music rather than a musical.

Cast:

GRISELDA
AUNT GRIZZEL
AUNT TABITHA
SERVANT 1
SERVANT 2
SERVANT 3 [DORCAS]
MR KNEEBREECHES
THE CUCKOO [F]
THE CLOCK
THE CLOCKMAKER
SYBILLA
PHIL
LADY LAVENDER
NURSE
MR CROUCH
PHIL'S MOTHER
2 LABOURERS
NARRATOR[S] The narration can be split up between more than one person if desired
CHORUS OF CUCKOOS in the script, 8 are used
CHORUS OF CHINESE MANDARINS in the script, 8 are used
BUTTERFLIES in the script, 8 are used
MOON CREATURES

Butterflies and Cuckoo chorus could be doubled up and Mandarins and Moon creatures, but not Mandarins and Cuckoos. If I were doing the play I would have separate full-time Choruses of Cuckoos and Mandarins, with Butterflies doubling with Moon creatures and some of the smaller roles.

Very small parts, that could be doubled are: Mr Kneebreeches, The Clockmaker, Sybilla, Lady Lavender, Nurse, Mr Crouch, Mother and the 2 Labourers.

The play is ideal for a junior school play, though the author did it with senior school taking adult parts and juniors the other parts.

 

Sample Pages from the script

Extract 1

Piano music. Spotlight up on Narrator who turns and addresses the audience as if telling a story to children. Music fades.

NARRATOR
Once upon a time near an old village, deep in the countryside, there stood a very old house. Such a house as you could hardly find nowadays, however you searched, for it belonged to a time gone by - a time now quite passed away.

Piano music gently up.

Time indeed seemed to stand still in and all about the old house, as if it and the people who inhabited it had got so old that they could not get any older, and had outlived the possibility of change.

Piano music fades gently.

But one day at last there did come a change.

Sound of carriage.

Late in the dusk of an autumn afternoon a carriage drove up to the door of the old house, startling the rooks just as they were composing themselves to rest, and setting them alll wondering what could be the matter.

The Narrator looks at where Griselda enters.

A little girl was the matter!

The Narrator leaves. Griselda has entered, wearing Victorian children's dress and carrying three pieces of luggage.

GRISELDA putting down her luggage and looking about.
Oh.......This house seems very old......Where can everyone be? .....It's as if everybody has died.......Where is everybody?

From the back of the stage three old servants shuffle on.

SERVANT 1
Ah! Be you the young missie that's expected?

SERVANT 2
If so, you're late.

SERVANT 3
We weren't expecting you so late.

SERVANT 1
Where have you been, young miss?

SERVANT 2
We'd quite given up on you.

SERVANT 3
We really had. We were about to go to bed.

GRISELDA
But where are my aunts? You're not my aunts, are you?

All three servants rock with laughter in a creaky manner.

SERVANT 1
Goodness, child, how could we be your aunts?

SERVANT 2
How could you possibly think that?

SERVANT 3
We're not that old, are we?

GRISELDA
What do you mean? [With horror.] Are my aunts older than you?

The three servants rock with laughter as before.

SERVANT 1
Goodness, the child has so much to learn.

SERVANT 2
So much to learn!

SERVANT 3
So much to learn!

GRISELDA
Where are my aunts? ... Where are Aunt Grizzel and Aunt Tabitha?

SERVANT 1
In bed, of course, child, where do you think?

SERVANT 2
Do you expect them to be up at their age?

SERVANT 3
They can't wait up all night for you!

GRISELDA crossly Please be so good as to wake my aunts and tell them that Griselda is here. I have travelled such a great distance and am so tired. Why aren't they here to greet me?

SERVANT 1 We'll take your things, my dear.

SERVANT 2 And take you up to your room.

SERVANT 3 Your aunts will see you in the morning.

GRISELDA Why are you all so old?

SERVANT 1 This is an old house. We are all old here, missie.

SERVANT 2 'Tis time something young came into the old house again.

SERVANT 3 Young Griselda.

ALL 3 SERVANTS Young Griselda from across the sea.

The three servants take Griselda's luggage and shuffle off.

GRISELDA What a very peculiar house! And what very peculiar people!

Extract 2

Energetic bustling piano music. Griselda walks in a circular motion and is joined by the two aunts, Miss Grizzel and Miss Tabitha, who waddle and bustle in a circular motion, swaying from side to side in their full skirts. Griselda stops and turns. The music suddenly stops.

GRISELDA
Oh, Aunt!

GRIZZEL
Yes?

TABITHA
Yes?

GRIZZEL
To whom are you speaking?

TABITHA
To me or to your Aunt Grizzel?

GRIZZEL
I am your Aunt Grizzel.

TABITHA
And I am your Aunt Tabitha.

GRIZZEL & TABITHA together
Well?

GRISELDA
Have you got a cuckoo in a cage?

GRIZZEL
A cuckoo in a cage?

TABITHA
A cuckoo in a cage?

GRIZZEL
What is the child talking about?

TABITHA
What is the child talking about?

GRIZZEL
In a cage?

TABITHA
A cuckoo in a cage?

GRISELDA
There is a cuckoo somewhere in the house. I heard it in the night. It couldn't have been outside, could it? It would be too cold.

GRIZZEL & TABITHA whispering together and looking at each other
So like her grandmother. So like her grandmother.

GRIZZEL
We do have a cuckoo, my dear.

TABITHA
Indeed we do.

GRIZZEL
But it isn't in a cage.

TABITHA
No, indeed.

GRIZZEL
It isn't exactly the sort of cuckoo you are thinking of.

TABITHA
No, indeed.

GRIZZEL
It lives in a clock.

TABITHA
In a clock.

GRISELDA eyes wide open
In a clock?

GRIZZEL & TABITHA together
That's right. In a clock!

GRISELDA
So it's not alive then?

GRIZZEL
Why not?

TABITHA
What do you mean by - not alive?

GRISELDA puzzled
I don't really know.

GRIZZEL with a half smile, looking at Tabitha.
Confidentially I knew a little girl once...

TABITHA
Yes....

GRIZZEL
I knew a little girl once who thought the cuckoo was alive.

TABITHA
Nothing would have persuaded her it was not.

GRISELDA
Who was this little girl?

GRIZZEL & TABITHA together
Ah, just like her grandmother. Just like her grandmother.

The three old servants walk on in their creaky way.

THREE SERVANTS
Just like her grandmother. Just like her grandmother.

ALL TOGETHER looking admiringly at Griselda
Just like her grandmother.

GRISELDA
Wait a moment. Who was my grandmother?

GRIZZEL
Would you like to see the cuckoo for yourself?

GRISELDA
Oh, yes, I'd love to, Aunt Grizzel.

TABITHA
Then you SHALL see the cuckoo for yourself.

GRISELDA
Thank you, Aunt Tabitha.

SERVANT 1
And you won't be disappointed, Missie, you mark my old words.

THREE SERVANTS together
Hee hee hee! Hee hee hee!

Blackout. We hear the music of the cuckoo clock. The lights come up to discover a Chorus of cuckoos dancing to the music in a magical blue light. When the music finishes, the Chorus speak. The number given here is 8 Cuckoos, but this can be adapted as desired.

CUCKOO 1
Did you see that little girl who arrived last night?

CUCKOO 2
Yes, she's frightfully rude and rather plain.

CUCKOO 3
I didn't see her.

CUCKOO 4
That's because you're blind as a bat.

CUCKOO 3
Don't call me a bat, I'm a cuckoo.

CUCKOO 8
We're all cuckoos. Well, at least I know I am.

CUCKOO 6
I am too.

CUCKOO 5
No, you're not. You're a cross breed.

CUCKOO 6
Don't insult me or I'll tell my mother.

Extract 3

KNEEBREECHES
Now, Griselda, pay attention. Twenty-five times twenty-three is the same as saying seventy-nine plus one hundred and eighty-five plus three hundred and eleven, which all together adds up to what?

GRISELDA
Oh, Mr Kneebreeches, please don't give me any more sums to do. My head is bursting with numbers and I fear I have a dreadful headache. Could we not finish this tomorrow?

KNEEBREECHES
Come, come, Griselda, let us not go the way of the snake that crept on his belly all the way up the tree, only to discover that because of his sloth all the fruits of the tree had been picked.

GRISELDA
But Mr Kneebreeches, I'm exhausted. Could I not please have a drink of water?

KNEEBREECHES
Water is to be earned, Griselda, like everything else in life - with the sweat of one's brow.

GRISELDA
But my brow is sweating, Mr Kneebreeches, and I have a fever in my head.

KNEEBREECHES
A fever, my dear?

GRISELDA
Yes, sir. My head is about to explode.

KNEEBREECHES
Ah, yes, by their fruits ye shall know them. But let us be charitable, Griselda. let us stop for five minutes.... [Griselda smiles.] ... And then we'll start long division.

Griselda's smile disappears. Tormented piano music. Blackout. When the lights come up, Griselda is with the two aunts.

GRISELDA
I can't explain it, Aunt Grizzel, but it is all far beyond my powers and I'm always so tired when I get to the 'proving' part of the long division sums and so all that's proved is that something's wrong, and I'm sure that isn't any good. It just makes me cross.

GRIZZEL
Hush!

TABITHA
Hush!

GRIZZEL
That is not the way for a little girl to speak.

TABITHA
... to speak.

GRIZZEL
Improve these golden hours of youth, they never will return.

TABITHA
... never return.

GRISELDA
I hope not, if it means doing sums.

The Cuckoo suddenly starts to strike eleven.

GRIZZEL
Good little cuckoo. What an example he sets you.

TABITHA
His life is spent in the faithful discharge of duty.

GRIZZEL
Learn from him, Griselda.

TABITHA
The faithful discharge of your duty.

The aunts sweep off.

GRISELDA angrily picking up a book.
You horrid little creature. What business have you to mock me?

She throws the book at the cuckoo clock.

CUCKOO AND CHORUS OF CUCKOOS
Oww!

The Cuckoo disappears inside the clock without finishing eleven o'clock.

Extract 4

A very soft distant 'cuckoo' from the Chorus of Cuckoos.

There, I'm sure I heard it. Oh, Cuckoo, please be alive.

Blackout. Light up on the Narrator.

NARRATOR
There was moonlight in the great hall; for though the windows had the shutters closed, there was a part at the top, high up, to which the shutters did not reach, and in crept, through these clear uncovered panes, a myriad of moonbeams, as many moonbeams, you may be sure, as could find their way into the grand room. The goldy silvery cabinet looked magical and the mandarins, I do declare, were nodding. All the Chinese mandarins were nodding.

The music of the Mandarins. Lights up to reveal the Chorus of Mandarins, dancing and nodding in the moonlight. At the end of the music, they all stand in a Chinese-mandarin-style pose. They talk in Chinese accents.

IST MANDARIN
Ah so. That was nice.

2ND MANDARIN
Very nice.

3RD MANDARIN
I enjoy the dancing.

4TH MANDARIN
I do not. I enjoy the singing.

5TH & 6TH MANDARIN
But we do not sing.

4TH MANDARIN
I sing on my own.

5TH MANDARIN
When do you sing on your own? I do not hear you.

4TH MANDARIN
You are deaf.

5TH MANDARIN
I am not deaf.

3RD MANDARIN
I hear you when you sing. I close my ears.

6TH MANDARIN
Do not argue. The way to peace and harmony is not to argue.

ALL MANDARINS
Ah, so.

7TH MANDARIN
In this house there is much trouble.

ALL MANDARINS
Trouble?

8TH MANDARIN
What kind of trouble?

2ND MANDARIN
Cuckoo trouble.

ALL MANDARINS
Ah, so.

Extract 5

GRISELDA
Who are you?

CLOCK
I'm the Clock, of course.

GRISELDA
I didn't know you could speak.

CLOCK
Of course I can. Have you never heard of the speaking clock?

CUCKOO
Don't listen to him, Griselda. He thinks he knows everything.

CLOCK
Well, I know more than you! You can't even tell the time properly.

CUCKOO
Yes, I can.

CLOCK
No, you can't. The number of times you count eleven instead of twelve or ten instead of eleven is perfectly disgraceful.

CUCKOO
Well, it's a much harder job than just ticking all the time. That's all you have to do: Tick, Tick, Tick. There's nothing to it.

CLOCK
Look, do you want me to raise your rent?

GRISELDA
Oh, stop bickering, you two! I thought you were going to show me some pictures, Cuckoo.

CUCKOO
I was, until my demented landlord came out. Why don't you go back inside your box?

CLOCK
Actually, I figure quitre strongly in this story. I just want to make sure you tell it right.

CUCKOO
Oh, all right then. But don't interrupt.

CLOCK
Will if I want to.

GRISELDA
Be quiet, both of you and show me the pictures. [Pause.] Well?

CUCKOO & CLOCK together
You said we were to be quiet.

GRISELDA
Oh, all right then, but one at a time.

CLOCK
I'll go first.

CUCKOO
No, you won't.

GRISELDA exasperated
Oh, for goodness' sake. Clock - you go first.

Extract 6

PHIL
I never 'ave anybody to play with. I'd like to play with you if you're not too big. And you could 'elp me find the cuckoo.

GRISELDA
What do you know about the cuckoo?

PHIL
She called me. She called me lots of times. And today Nurse was so busy, so I thought I'd come. I do believe the cuckoo's a fairy and when I find her I'm going to ask her to show me the way to fairyland.

GRISELDA
She says we must all find the way ourselves.

PHIL
Does she? Do you know her then? And have you asked her? Oh, do tell me!

GRISELDA
You couldn't understand. Some day perhaps I'll tell you - I mean if I ever see you again.

PHIL
But I may see you again. You'll let me come, won't you?

GRISELDA
I'm not certain.

PHIL
And if the cuckoo knows you, perhaps that's why she called me to come to play with you.

GRISELDA
How did she call you?

PHIL
First, it was in the night. I was asleep and I had been wishing I had somebody to play with, and then I dreamed of the cuckoo - such a nice dream. And when I woke up, I 'eard her calling me, and I wasn't dreaming then. And then when I was in the field, she called me but I couldn't find her and Nurse said 'Nonsense'. And today she called me again, so I came up through the bushes. Perhaps if we both tried together we could find the way to fairyland. Do you think we could?

GRISELDA
There's a great deal to learn first, Cuckoo says.

PHIL
Have you learnt a great deal? I don't scarcely know nothing. Mother was ill such a long time before she went away, but I know she wanted me to learn to read books.

GRISELDA
Shall I teach you? I can bring some of my old books and teach you here, after I have done my own lessons.

PHIL
Oh, yes please. And when I've learnt to read a great deal, do you think the cuckoo would show us the way to fairyland?

GRISELDA
I've been looking for such a long time, but I haven't found it.

PHIL
We must ask the cuckoo.

GRISELDA
But I'm sure it would be a good thing for you to learn to read. You must ask your nurse to let you come here every afternoon and I'll ask my aunts.

PHIL
I needn't ask Nurse. She doesn't care what I do, except for tearing my clothes.

GRISELDA gravely
That isn't good, Master Phil. You'll never be as good as good if you speak like that.

PHIL submissively
What should I say then? Tell me.

GRISELDA
You should ask Nurse to let you come and play with me, and tell her I'm much bigger than you and that I won't let you tear your clothes.

PHIL
Very well, I'll say that.

GRISELDA
Now, can you find your way home without scrambling through any more bushes?

PHIL
Yes, thank you, and I'll come again tomorrow afternoon, after I've had my dinner and raced three times around the big field.

GRISELDA
I think it would do if you walked three times around the big field. It isn't a good thing to race when you've just had your dinner.

PHIL
Very well, I'll try to remember. I'm so glad you'll play with me again. And if you see the cuckoo, please thank her.

Phil races off, falls over, picks himself up and then runs off. Griselda shakes her head.