Year of the Strangers by Marsali Taylor

Characters

THE KAPLINSKI FAMILY
DAWID [pronounced Daveed], the father
ANIELA, his sister
MACIEJ [pronounced Matchay] aged 10
CLAUDIA [pronounced Clowdia], aged 14
NATALIA, aged 16

DOUGLAS TAIT, aged 11
CARRIE TAIT, his sister, aged 16

OTHER SCHOOL PUPILS:
HELENA GEORGESON, aged 11
JADWIGA [pronounced Yadweega] aged 11
MICHAEL GEORGESON, aged 11
KENNY LEASK, his best friend, aged 11
MEGAN WILLIAMSON, aged 14
KARA LEASK, aged 14, her best friend and Kenny's big sister

JOHN SHEPHERD, a teacher in his late twenties.

EXTRAS: MARIA - a Polish guest at the Christmas feast
A Chorus of Carollers, dressed in Nativity clothes - shepherds, kings, etc.
Other children in school scenes.

Running time, approx 50 minutes.

This is a lovely play to do for a Christmas show. It covers a year, starting with a Polish Christmas just before the Kaplinski family leave their home and ending with Christmas in their new home. This second Christmas shows a blending of the two traditions: British and Polish. In between, we see the Kaplinskis' difficulties and triumphs as they settle in to a new country. We see the way the other children accept [mostly] and welcome the newcomers.

It is necessary to have a cast of at least 14 and would benefit from extras, though characters not used in certain scenes could double. If 14 play this, then all the British cast would be Maria and the carollers in the Polish scene at the start. Other children in the classroom would be imagined.

The play was originally written following actual experiences in the Shetland Isles. However, it is perfectly possible to set it anywhere in the British Isles. There are two scenes in which Polish and Shetland traditions are compared. These I have kept as written. You would need to change the traditions for local ones from your own area. This would be a fun extra to do, in any case, involving all the cast's ideas. The play is suitable for a cast of 10, 11, 12 or 13 year olds. [English Years 6, 7, 8]

Sample Pages from the script

Extract 1

SCENE 1 CHRISTMAS EVE

The stage is split between the Tait household on one side and the Kaplinskis on the other. In the centre is a Christmas tree. The tree is decorated on the Tait side traditionally - baubles, tinsel and a fairy on top. The Kaplinski children - Maciej and Natalia - are decorating their side in the traditional Polish way: handmade hearts, stars, animals; decorated eggshells, shiny apples, walnuts and unlit candles with a glittering star on top.

Behind them, Claudia is kneeling on a chair to look out of the window. The table centre is laid with a white cloth and best china. In the centre is the oplatek on a plate of hay. The oplatek is the sacred wafer, or bread, blessed by a Priest, which is passed around - shared - by all the participants at the Christmas meal. Aniela is just giving the silver candlesticks a last polish. At the back of the stage, an old-fashioned dresser with a Nativity scene on it.

Three chairs form a sofa on the Tait side. A TV and lamp are placed on a stage block. Carrie is watching TV - a travel documentary - playing softly. The table at the back has a laptop on it. The lights fade on the Kaplinski side. Douglas, Kenny and Michael come charging in.

DOUGLAS
Carrie, can we watch the football in here?

MICHAEL
Your Mum said we could.

CARRIE
I'm watching this.

BOYS
Awww ...

CARRIE firmly
I got here first.
The boys accept this and come down front.

CARRIE
Why can't you watch it in the kitchen?

DOUGLAS
Mum's listening to Christmas carols from some church somewhere.

KENNY
And she's doing something to the turkey.

DOUGLAS
So she wants us out from under her feet.

MICHAEL
Why does Christmas make adults so cross? It's brilliant.

CARRIE
Brilliant for us. We don't have to worry about it.

MICHAEL
What's to worry about? Shove the turkey in the oven, leave it there.

KENNY
Peel a few sprouts.

CARRIE
Peel a sack of potatoes.

KENNY
Roast potatoes! We only ever get those at Christmas.

CARRIE
Make little sausages and bread sauce and trifle and Christmas cake.

DOUGLAS
Yes, please.

CARRIE
Calculate when everything has to go on so it's all cooked at the same time.

MICHAEL
Spend Christmas day rushing around getting red in the face.

DOUGLAS
I can't wait, I really can't.

MICHAEL
Christmas Eve always takes so long.

KENNY
What are you getting?

DOUGLAS
I'm not sure, but I hope it'll be my own DVD player with a flat-screen TV.

MICHAEL
I want the new Scotland strip.

KENNY
I think I'm getting a quad.

DOUGLAS
Oh, wow!

MICHAEL
Amazing! Can I have a go?

KENNY
I'm not sure, but Dad said I'm not to go in the shed at all.

DOUGLAS
That's so cool.

KENNY
I'll have to share it with my brother, though.

Lights cross-fade to the Kaplinski side of the stage.

SCENE 1B Christmas Eve in the Kaplinski household.

MACIEJ
There. Finished.

ANIELA
It's beautiful.

CLAUDIA
It's still snowing.

ANIELA
That means a lucky year. A good omen.
Maciej comes over to look at the table.

MACIEJ
How many courses have you made us this year, Aunt Aniela?

ANIELA
Twelve.

CLAUDIA
Twelve! We've never had that many before.

MACIEJ
Not even when Mum was alive.

NATALIA
I thought it had to be an odd number.

ANIELA
Twelve for the twelve apostles. Besides, if this is to be our last Christmas here in Poland, well, I wanted it to be a special one, with all the traditions.
A brief silence. The children look uncertain. Maciej wanders round the table.

MACIEJ
Two, four, six. Are we having a stranger? ...

Extract 2

SCENE 4D The Tait house.

Douglas is watching TV on sofa. Carrie enters and drops down beside him.

CARRIE
I'm knackered. Absolutely knackered.

DOUGLAS
Why?

CARRIE
I was looking after the Polish girl, Natalia.

DOUGLAS
Maciej's great. He plays striker for his school team and he's really good.

CARRIE
How did you find that out?

DOUGLAS
I asked him. All the words are the same - pass, goal, team, striker, all that.

CARRIE
They can't be the same.

DOUGLAS
Well, he knows them. 'I in team-school, striker,' he said.

CARRIE
So he's one of the gang already.

DOUGLAS
Kenny went on a bit about what his Dad says. I shut him up.

CARRIE
Good.

DOUGLAS
So why was Natalie so knackering? Isn't she nice?

CARRIE
I think she's really fine. Clever, too. That makes it harder in a way. For her, I mean.

DOUGLAS
Why?

CARRIE
Well, it's like - it's like - you know the kind of reading books the nursery class would be given, with hardly any different words?

DOUGLAS
Where is Spot? Is he in here? No, not in here.

CARRIE
Yeah. We spent the day talking like that.

DOUGLAS
So did I. Now. English. Jotter.

CARRIE
Half the words I used, she didn't know the same word. Maths, mathematics. Plane, aeroplane.

DOUGLAS
But he was brilliant at break.

CARRIE
We couldn't even begin to actually talk to each other.

DOUGLAS
Girl talk. [Dodging out of reach, then putting on girly voice.] Do you have a boyfriend?

CARRIE
Boys just grunt at each other anyway. I wanted to ask her all about what her life was like in Poland and what her parents did.

DOUGLAS
We did talk. He said our playground was good. At his school he just had grass, no climbing frame or multicourt.

CARRIE
He said that?

DOUGLAS
He did this [Gestures.] and said green. Then he pointed to the multicourt and said, 'Good. Poland no.'

CARRIE
I'll just have to keep trying.

Extract 3

SCENE 5A MARCH.

On the route to school.
Claudia is standing in one corner, looking miserable. Kara and Megan watching from the other side of the stage.

KARA
The Polish girl's looking very long-faced today.

MEGAN
Sssh, she'll hear.

KARA
I haven't seen her smile all week. Why did we have to get landed with such a sour-face?

MEGAN uncertainly
She's just shy -

KARA
She's stuck up. Look, I'll prove it. You watch - I'll ask her if she wants to come shopping with us on Saturday.

MEGAN
I should ask. It's me looking after her.

KARA
I'll ask. To show I'm friendly too. She goes over to Claudia, asks something. Claudia shakes her head. Kara shrugs, returns to Megan.

KARA
Stuck-up. You should give up on her. She doesn't want to know us.

MEGAN
I said I'd look after her, and I will.

KARA
There's no point.

MEGAN
I'll see if I can persuade her.

KARA
Just leave her ...
Megan has already gone. Kara looks irresolute as they talk, but brightens as Claudia shakes her head again.

MEGAN
She still says no.

KARA
Let's go then.

She drags Megan off. Claudia looks after them wistfully.