Tontine / by Marsali Taylor

Cast:

MODERN TEENAGERS:
SHARON
MANDY
ELLIE

THE SILK WORKERS, 1791:
MARIE - a draw-girl
CECILE her pattern-reader
JEAN their shuttle-thrower
ANNE a reeler
THERESE - a reefer
JEANNE - the-unwinder
YVETTE - the cocoon boiler
BERTHE- the new worker
GUY the master and owner of the workshop; a shuttle thrower
CATHERINE - his wife - a pattern-reader
BERTRANDE - his younger sister, Catherine and Guy's draw-girl

OTHER CHARACTERS, 1791:
DENISE his oldest sister
PIERRE-MARIE - a pedlar
MME DUMONCEAU - the companion of a rich customer
A NUN

Written for a cast of up to 17: 3 Male, 14 Female, this is- best done with that number. At a pinch though, the following could be doubled to make a cast of 14: 3 boys and 11 girls:

Two of the modern girls could be doubled to make one character.
A couple of the girls - say Yvette and Therese - could be doubled, though this would weaken the groupings for the pattern dialogue.

Denise and Madame Dumonceau could be played by one actor - but there'd be a quickish change.

The Nun, a tiny part, in any case, would be doubled - most easily with Berthe at the beginning and Marie at the end.

The running time is approx 35 minutes.

Sample Pages from the script

Extract 1

The lights come up on the Hotel Dieu Museum, Lyons. Left and Centre, two high rectangular looms. An aristocrat, Madame Dumonceau, is posed as a dummy in front of the left-hand one. In the background, shadowy figures - lying or sitting - and a white-coiffed nun on a seat near the front, with a ledger in her lap. You're not sure at first whether they're part of the display, until they begin to move as the ghosts of the hospital as it was.

NUN
Name?

MARIE
Marie Dubois.

Marie is registering at the hospital, accompanied by Jean and Berthe. After these introductory lines, the rest is done in dumb-show behind, and at the same time as, the modern scene which follows. The following, then, is done in dumb-show only. Marie gives details, which the nun writes in a ledger. She then unties her boots, giving them to the nun, who brings them down front. Finally, reluctantly, she takes off her shawl and drapes it around Berthe's shoulders. Berthe shakes her head and returns it. A last hug for Berthe, a long look and handshake for Jean, then Jean leads Berthe off, leaving Marie to come forward at the end of the modern scene.

As soon as the above dumb-show begins, three teenagers, Sharon, Mandy and Ellie, come on, looking around They are fashionably dressed, in a mixture of brand names and ethnic stuff. Sharon has a clip-board and pencil.

ELLIE
Come to France, the home of food, wine and fashion - and what do our teachers give us? A morning researching the silk industry.

MANDY
That's fashion.

ELLIE I was hoping for something more recent.

SHARON
looking at the 'dummy' of Madame Dumonceau 'Gown and petticoat of Lyons silk, late 1780s.'

MANDY
Imagine running for the bus in that.

ELLIE
Anyway, what has this place to do with the silk industry? It used to be a convent.

SHARON
A convent hospice. The Hotel Dieu, Lyons.

ELLIE
Whatever.

MANDY
pausing in front of shawls pinned out on a board These shawls are pretty.

ELLIE Shawls?

MANDY
in front of another table Pairs of boots?

SHARON
Notebooks.

MANDY
picking one up Thermidor, year 2:12 francs.

ELLIE
Thermidor?

MANDY
It's really spidery writing...

SHARON
Put it back! it says not to touch.

MANDY
Where?

SHARON
Priere de ne pas toucher, s.v.p.

MANDY
Oops.

As she lets the book fall, a shadow girl, Anne, comes over to pick it up and reads it regretfully.

ELLIE
Thermidor? Year 2?

SHARON
That was the calendar of the French Revolution. I can't remember what month Thermidor was. Year 2 would be 1791 or something.

MANDY
So what's with the notebooks?

SHARON
You can read too, you know.

MANDY
It's in French.

SHARON
English translation below.

ELLIE
already reading Oh, I get it - the silk girls kept a note of their wages... no, the mill-owner did, and when they left, he coughed up.

The nun takes her chair and ledger and exits. Marie moves to the front to take a ladle of water to help her smother her coughing fit.

MANDY
Twelve francs doesn't sound much. Hey, I thought women didn't work then anyway. Get to sixteen, get married, have kids, stay home.

The lights begin to change to the silk factory. The change is slow as one reality gives way to another.

ALL except the modern girls in a staggered whisper The silk workers.

The following dialogue begins softly, gaining in strength. The speakers don't look at Marie who is visibly ill, every move an effort. As they speak, the girls take up their positions.

SHARON
The factories in Lyons were staffed by girls from the country, who began to work in their early teens.

YVETTE
The cocoon boiler. The start of the pattern. Stir the pot.

JEANNE
Fish out the cocoons.

SHARON
They could work for up to fifteen years before they had saved a dowry.

THERESE
Fetch more.

ANNE
Fetch wood.

YVETTE
Don't stop.

MANDY
A dowry?

JEANNE
The unwinder.

SHARON
Money to marry on.

THERESE
Find the thread ends.

JEANNE
Almost too fine to see.

ELLIE
horrified Fifteen years?

ANNE
Pass them to us.

SHARON
That's what it says.

YVETTE and JEANNE
Don't stop.

ELLIE
softer, disbelieving Fifteen years.

The lighting change is now complete.

THERESE and ANNE
The reefers.

THERESE
Twist the threads together.

ANNE
Put the reels in the dye vat.

THERESE
Take them out.

Marie returns to her place.

JEANNE
helping Hang them up to dry.

YVETTE, JEANNE, THERESE and ANNE
Don't stop.

CECILE and CATHERINE
Pattern readers.

CATHERINE
Count the threads.

CECILE
Call out the colours.

YVETTE, JEANNE, THERESE, ANNE; CECILE and CATHERINE
Don't stop.

MARIE and BERTRANDE
Draw-girls.

BERTRANDE
The most skilled.

MARIE
Highest paid.

BERTRANDE
Quick, nimble fingers.

MARIE
Raising the warps.

BERTRANDE
Inserting the threads.

MARIE
Making the pattern.

JEAN
The weaver. Saving to setup on his own. [He comes forward to Marie, smiling.] A girl with a dowry wouldn't hurt.

MARIE
Maybe. [Smiling, teasing him.] Maybe not. Plenty of threads on the loom.

JEAN
Set up the warp. Throw the shuttle.

ALL
Don't stop.

GUY
The master silk-weaver.

BERTRANDE
His sister.

GUY
A family business.

BERTRANDE
Working for her dowry, like everyone else.

CATHERINE
His wife.

GUY
Catherine - the designer. People are asking for our patterns.

BERTRANDE
Sprays of flowers curling over the cloth.

CATHERINE
indicating a box which acts as a cot placed near to her His child. Nicole.

GUY
A daughter.

Ignoring him, Catherine goes over to pick up her baby and cuddles her.

ALL
except Catherine Don't stop. Don't stop. Don't stop.

Extract 2

BERTHE
Marie's ill! How long has she been like this?

ANNE
How long has she been here?

THERESE
She began coughing at Christmas - seven months.

BERTHE
Seven months. What's being done to help her?

ANNE
A revolution.

THERESE
There's nothing to be done.

JEANNE
If I was her, I'd have taken my notebook to Monsieur and asked for my money.

THERESE
She tried to, three weeks back.

JEANNE
And?

THERESE
Monsieur said she'd need to work out her month.

ANNE
And then sent for Berthe.

BERTHE
You mean - this is common?

ANNE
Look at this place. Are you surprised?

BERTHE
I never thought. The girls have always gone from the village - and some return. Nobody told me. I thought the others just stayed in the city.

ANNE
Welcome to reality.

BERTHE
How many of the ones who didn't come back - how many of them are still alive?
The others don't answer.

JEANNE
slyly, to Anne Did you meet your revolutionary friend, Pierre, last night?

THERESE
Better not let Monsieur catch you sneaking out.

JEANNE
He wouldn't care about the sneaking. He'd have a fit about the revolutionary friend.

THERESE
You know how he feels. if the aristocrats go, so do the silk mills.

YVETTE
What would we do then?

ANNE
Pierre's right! [Angrily, she raises her voice. The other groups stop working.] They rustle their silk robes and squeeze the last sou of rent from us, while we die for a dowry!

GUY
Nobody's forcing you to work here, Anne. There are plenty of others to take your place.

Brief pause,

ALL
whispering Plenty of others.

YVETTE
Sisters. Marie, Constance, Danielle.

CECILE
Cousins. Sophie.

MARIE
Berthe.

Another coughing fit from Marie before Group 1 and 3 dialogues begin again.

CATHERINE
Guy - couldn't we let her go?

GUY
What?

CATHERINE
You could pay Marie off, let her go.

Guy shakes his head.

CATHERINE
She and Jean could be together for the time she has left. Or she could go back to the village.

GUY
What's the point in that?

CATHERINE
Her poor mother's lost daughters already. You could let her have Marie home.

GUY
She's not well enough to walk there.

CATHERINE
Each of her two sisters managed several years. Her notebook must be near full.

GUY
Why give her all that money? You see the use she'd make of it. Fancy shawls for a dying girl!

CATHERINE
Sometimes you need to be foolish.

GUY
Look, we can't afford to pay out just now. This political uncertainty... I've too many bad debts.

CATHERINE
We almost never pay out.

GUY
Not if it can be avoided somehow.

They look up as a fashionable lady enters - Madame Dumonceau, a lady's companion, only the next up in the chain but a bird of paradise beside the girls - polonaise looped up, hair powdered. She stops beside Therese and looks her over. Therese bobs a curtsey. The group dialogues cease.

THERESE
This way, Madame.

CATHERINE
My notebook was full when you asked me to marry you.

GUY
You've had a good life here. Your designs have done well.

CATHERINE
And the money stays in the firm. [Pause.] Will you allow Berthe to get Marie's money?

GUY
ignoring her and approaching the visitor Madame Dumonceau.

MME DUMONCEAU
The Countess wishes to see your patterns.

ANNE
Madame! She's a servant - just like us.

GUY
Certainly, Madame.

ANNE
Grovelling to ones like that!

THERESE
And what good will egalite do, if it loses us an order?

MME DUMONCEAU
You may wait upon her. 12, Rue Royale.

BERTRANDE
to Catherine The Countess hasn't paid us for the last order.

ANNE
Some day - some day soon - the likes of her will follow the aristocrats up the steps to the guillotine.

TERESE
What harm has she ever done you?

ANNE
The way they live harms all of us.

MARIE
Buying our silk, you mean?

CATHERINE
to Bertrande They pay eventually.

GUY
At what hour, Madame?

MME DUMONCEAU
Well - now, of course. Who is your designer?

GUY
My wife, Madame.

CATHERINE
rises and bobs a curtsey Madame.

MME DUMONCEAU
You will come too. Bring your patterns.

THERESE
Monsieur orders us - they order him.

MARIE
We're all trapped in the web.

Catherine curtseys. Madame Dumonceau turns and exits, Guy following whilst bowing her out. As Catherine rises from her curtsey she notices the paper on the floor that Guy dropped earlier. She picks it up.

MARIE
I helped weave that robe she's wearing.

CECILE
Does she know what it cost?

ANNE
Does she care?

THERESE
Some do. Madame at home, who ran the school.

JEANNE
Madame Abbesse, who cares for the sick.

YVETTE
She won't do that much longer if Pierre's friends have their way.

CATHERINE
reading from the paper 12, Rue Scribe, near Les Halles, Paris.

JEANNE
Surely now, with the new Assembly, our Assembly - things will change for us.

ANNE
Yes! They're workers too. They know what it's like - you'll see.

CECILE
See what? The Assembly needs money, just like the King did. Threats of war abroad - who's going to foot the bill for the army? How will they pay for the new Assembly building?

YVETTE
What's that to do with us?

CECILE
to Yvette Those cocoons you boil, the silks we weave, go all over the world. People in England, in Spain, in Italy, even in the American colonies - are wearing the cloth your hands have touched.

YVETTE
awed The colonies...

CECILE
And the Government gets money for every bolt of cloth that leaves France. The less we're paid, the greater their profit. Tell your friend Pierre to start fighting that system!

They fail silent as Guy re-enters.

G U Y
Very well. Bertrande, clear that box away.

As Bertrande moves to the baby's cot, Catherine speaks.

CATHERINE
indicating the paper she holds What's this?

Bertrande stops, awkward, looks at Guy.

CATHERINE
Whose address is this? [Pause. Guy is still silent.] Why was Denise in such a hurry?

Guy is still silent. Angry, Bertrande speaks for him.

BERTRANDE
They've gone to Paris.

CATHERINE
straight to Guy Is this true?

GUY
We can't have a child here.

CATHERINE
intensely May God forgive you. [The 'l never will' remains unspoken, but hangs in the air.]

Guy nods angrily at Bertrande who moves to the cot.

CATHERINE
No. [She moves past Bertrande and begins to lift the shawls, folding them carefully.]

GUY
Cecile, you'll take over from Marie. This evening, you'd better teach Anne your work.

Anne stands up reluctantly. Cecile nods and pats the seat beside her. As Anne begins to move Marie rises, barring the way.

MARIE
I'm not that ill. I can keep working.

GUY
The nuns will take care of you.

MARIE
You said a month. There's one more week to go!

GUY
Berthe is here now.