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by Bald Man 

Posted: 31 January 2013
Word Count: 2680
Summary: This is my first attempt at writing a script for a play. The play is in three acts, this is the first. Lace up your Doc Martens and go for it. Colin

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by Colin Neville


Peter: Narrator

Other voices, as remembered by him:

Main voices:

Peter’s Mother
Young Peter
The Devil

Secondary voices:

Other male
Other female

The setting is a 14th century English churchyard at night. Peter, the main character and narrator, is an aged man dressed in peasant’s clothes. He looks back over his life; voices from his past are remembered. I envisage Peter, taking just left of centre stage, whilst other characters from his memory either speak their parts from the wings, or act out the scenarios described to the right/centre of stage.


PETER: Well, neighbours, all is still, as it should be in this place of death. But I sense I have your attention.

The new priest tells me of a place between Heaven and Hell, where souls bruised with sin are sent to atone and wait God’s beckoning finger.
Limbo he called it, aye, Limbo, a lonely place of healing penance. He tells me that I can help you gain a place at God’s side if I relate my tale – and you reflect on it a while - of how you used me so ill when you were alive. This is my time now, and your turn to listen.

Well then, this is my story. For even bastard gravediggers have their stories to tell, and you may indeed be interested in its telling, as you all are players in it - particularly you, Simon, and you, Mary. You will know well your individual parts, but here is the whole.


PETER: Mother and I arrived at last.

MOTHER: We’re nearly there. See it over there, by that turn in the brook, our new home now.

PETER: We had come to the edge of the village – Ash Lea – a grassy plain, cleaved from the woodland. It had then, I’d say, 50 dwellings, scattered about the church at its centre. There was a stream flowing along its edge, curving its easy way from the trees. I remember the sun had lost its heat and the bell was tolling the ninth hour.


PETER: Mother told me later that it was the year before the King - the Second Edward – died.
A distant kinsman of mother - the Deputy Reeve for the Manor - had found us a dwelling at the village edge. A cottage of wood, mud and thatch it was, on sweet land that dipped to the stream.

I was still in my green years then, so only have shadows in my mind of the time before this. But I remember another place and a man that came and went, who seemed closer to me than most.

But then comes a dark scene with mother shouting, crying, the man shaking and striking mother. I remember covering my eyes and burrowing beneath the straw.

Then he was gone and we left that place, mother pushing the cart with the chickens, her tools, our few poor things, and with the goat tied to the side. I see her now, stiff and proud, me stumbling by her, walking all the long day to this new place.

But of this former time, mother would not speak. Even as I grew, she would not talk about these times, grew irritated when I did, and I stopped asking, but never left from wondering about the man, I supposed was my father. But I don’t know, not even now, who he was.

MOTHER: This will have to do us. It’s clean enough.

PETER: The house was square - as long as three men. The earth floor was beaten dry and hard, with a cooking space at one end ringed with stones.

We unloaded the few things we had, and our neighbours stood at a distance and watched with blank faces, but none came near that day.

For protection that first night, Mother brought the goat and chickens into the cottage. She made our beds of sacking and straw and I threw myself down and slept.

As the light came through the shutters, I heard the voices of other women gathering outside our door as Mother returned from the privy.

WOMAN: Well, neighbour, where are you from? Why do you come to this place?

MOTHER: I’ve come to work.

WOMAN: Work!


WOMAN: Well, what do you do? And where is your husband?

MOTHER: I make and sell baskets.

WOMAN: Baskets is it. So where is your husband? Is he dead?

MOTHER: My husband is not here.

WOMAN: We can see that! Where is he then?

MOTHER: I do not wish to speak of this. I want to get on with my work. Now, I have much to do. Good day to you all.

PETER: Their silence at Mother’s sharp words made me fearful, even at that young age, of how we would be treated by our neighbours.

But we made our home here. We grew our food and had eggs, milk, cheese from our animals. And there were fruits of the earth to be found in the forest.
Mother went daily into the trees to cut willow for her baskets. Her hands were hard and strong - as strong as any man’s.

But, as I feared, we had split ourselves from others in the village. Mother kept to herself, only talking to neighbours when she had to trade with them – the baker, or butcher, a carpenter to make us safe shelter for the chickens and goat. But she would not join the other women in the evening at the Green.

Thomas, and our nearest neighbour, gave us kind words and help when needed, and mother thanked him, civil enough, although she cared little for Agnes, his crippled wife.

Mother had a stiff way of speaking, even to folk who meant well to us. It was if a melancholy vapour drifted around her that few cared to enter. Why should they, when there are others willing to amuse them?


PETER: Are you enjoying this tale, neighbours? You are quiet, you listen to me. You listen at last.
My days were spent easy enough at first, helping mother with the garden or cutting willow.
In the warm summer months, we sat outside, mother with her baskets, me watching you, who silently watched me.
Sometimes I splashed and kicked along the stream, conscious of your stares, but none of you came near or spoke. I would slide to the edge of the Green to watch you play, waiting, hungry for you to wave me over. But you did not. You would huddle, whispering.

- Where’s his father?
- My father said he was hung for stealing.
- He has none - a bastard - my mother said, sired by a foreigner.
- My father says she was a whore; he said he saw her once in Lyme plying her dirty trade.

PETER: I should have been bolder and strode towards you all, loud with some jest. But I could not. A stone cannot float.
Mother was being drawn into herself more with each passing day, muttering to herself at night when she thought I was asleep, and I was caught too in the web of her queer, silent ways.
She showed me how to plait the willow, but I was wary of her changing moods. She could be patient with my fumbling, but at other times I could see the dark clouds gathering in her face and I would tremble at the coming fury, which made my fingers as spikes of ice on the thatch.

MOTHER: I’ve shown you how to do this a dozen times before – why can’t you do it? Do it right, boy, or I’ll take the stick to you again.

YOUNG PETER: I’m trying, Mother

MOTHER: Don’t answer me, back…I’ve told you this before. You’re useless, as useless as…


PETER: So habits, and ideas of my worth to others, set hard in my mind, like sun-baked clay.

I shrank into myself and grew apart from the others of my age and sought instead the company of the birds and creatures in the fields. They were my friends; except one of these.

You remember, Simon, don’t you? I cannot forget that night, it troubles me still. I awoke suddenly, its evil presence on me.
I felt it land on my body, and it moved toward my face.
I tried to speak but my tongue was frozen. I opened my eyes slowly to see, in the dying light of the fire, the face of the Devil. Its yellow, pitiless, wicked eyes. It saw my weakness. I heard myself scream, my head filled red with the sound of it.


YOUNG PETER: Mother! Mother! Make it go!

PETER: Mother rushed to my side to scoop me from the bed. But my screams would not die, and soon the village was roused and came with brands to learn what murder was abroad. Mother resented their stares and spoke to them roughly …

MOTHER: It was a rat. A rat, do you hear! Go home. What are you staring at?

PETER: And as I sobbed, I heard them growl at the disturbance as they went back to their cottages

VOICES: The child is a weak fool… the mother’s a queer one too…no apologies… no apologies for disturbing us.

PETER: The next day, mother went round to block all the holes and brought a cat into the house. From that day she would not allow any vermin to come close. It has been the same for me too, since she died. But I could not rid myself of the sight of those wicked eyes, and you, Simon, and the others, knowing my weakness, now wanted my company to taunt and torment me.

MALE VOICES: Rats… rats… rats. Here’s a rat for you, Peter.

PETER: You all waited for me that day, and gathered round to block my escape.
I smelt your stale bodies and saw the spite in your eyes. It was you, Simon, who led them on, and you who had the bag: that squirming, writhing bag.


PETER: You brought it to my face.

SIMON: Look inside, Peter, look inside.

PETER: I shook and twisted my head away from the bag, but you brought it closer.

YOUNG PETER: No! No! Leave me be. Why are you doing this?

PETER: I struggled, kicked, but you forced my face down. I could smell its piss. Then the bag burst open and the rat leapt out in its rage. Its yellow teeth….and eyes… the eyes of the Devil…the Devil!


PETER: I remember nothing more. I fainted at the horror of its jump at me. Mother told me later that I had been rescued by the priest, who beat the others away. It was the old priest who stopped this torment. And for a while, for a brief while, you left me be. Although there was always the sly question flung at me.

SIMON: Where’s your father, Peter? Where is he?

PETER: And I did not know the answer to this question. Even when I plucked up courage to ask her again, Mother would not answer.

MOTHER: He has gone. Don’t keeping asking me, child

PETER: I knew he had gone! But where to, where to, where has he gone? But she did not answer.

The other village women, angered at her coldness and silence, worried and scratched aloud near her with the same question. But she set her mouth, which made them whisper still louder and conjure more stories about us.

We were forced to see our neighbours at Mass. Mother believed in God and made me say prayers each night. She trusted in God, but not in people.

She said, in her bitterness, that she wished the village folk could stay in goodness beyond their prayers in church.

But, it seemed, once outside the porch, the demons - huddled at the edge of the wood - waited to glide and land silently on the backs of their hosts to urge them on to gossip, taunt and worry us again.

MIXED VOICES: Where’s the father? Where’s the father? Where’s the father? Father … Father … Father…

PETER: My life closed around me. But still the torment came. Although my hopes were raised once, briefly. The taunts seemed to stop suddenly, and you, Simon, came to speak to me. Simon, you, the popular one, the one the others followed. It was you who wooed me so.

SIMON: Peter, come and play with us. Don’t worry about the others, they won’t hurt you.

PETER: It felt like a great weight lifting from me, and I went with you, and the others circled round, nodding and smiling.

SIMON: Play ‘Hangman’s Blind’ with us, Peter.

PETER: Of course, I agreed, and you placed the hood over my head and pulled hard the string. But I sensed danger immediately, and felt the shove in my chest that sent me sprawling backwards across the kneeling boy. I clawed at the hood, but the string was drawn too tight, the air sucked from my chest. My panic rose in my throat in its stinging bile. I heard their muffled taunts:

MUFFLED VOICES: Bastard, simpleton bastard! Get out of the village, you and your whore mother. She sells herself around the villages.

PETER: Then I felt the stinging blows on me, on my back, legs, arms, head.


I fell to the earth, the world spinning, black, airless, and would have lain there until you all grew tired of the game. But, neighbour Thomas, you rescued me and chased them away.

THOMAS: Cowards… get away from him! Cowardice runs in packs, you evil curs.

PETER: It was you, Thomas, who took me back to your hut that day and bathed my cuts, and kept me safe until mother returned. Dear Thomas, you sleep soundly here. You are long in Paradise. And it was you who persuaded mother you could teach me to make hurdles. She agreed, providing I did my tasks for her, and it was with a light heart that I began to work beside you that day in Spring…long ago now.

THOMAS: That’s it lad, bend it back and under that other limb. That’s it. You’ve got it. You tie it in at the top

PETER: You were a different teacher to mother, with words of praise for me. I learned quickly and was not afraid of you. You showed no wrath to me or anyone. You had no children of your own, so I sense you felt me to be as the son you could never have. And you know my story well, as you drew all my troubles in your quiet way over the slow years of my childhood. God rest you, dear Thomas, you were the only one I could talk to then.

YOUNG PETER: Why don’t they like me? I’ve done nothing to them. Why do they taunt me about my father?

PETER: I remember well what you told me, and I hear your voice now.

THOMAS: People are mostly good, but we all have a Devil at our shoulder, as well as a Guardian Angel. The Devil has a coaxing voice that promises sweet pleasure in cruelty. But it is the road to destruction; aye, destruction of your soul. Block your ears to him. Remember you have your own Angel, sent from God to stand by you and keep you strong. Listen to your Angel, Peter and call it to your side when troubled.

PETER: You taught me this rhyme that has stayed with me:

THOMAS: There’s a Devil at my shoulder
And it whispers in my ear
To turn a life that’s hopeful
To one that’s brimm’d with fear.
But my Angel, it is stronger
And stands always by my side
To protect and guard and love me
And to always be my guide.

End of Act 1

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Comments by other Members

Anna Reynolds at 16:01 on 01 February 2013  Report this post
Nice work, Colin- this is easy to read and that's not very often true of playscripts- , great story and unusual characters It feels very lyrical and there's a lot of storytelling/backstory in here, which is to some degree necessary, but I wondered- could you make more use of the other characters, particularly the mother, to avoid the slightly less-dramatic device of Peter narrating such large chunks of the story? For instance, where the Mother is confronted by the village women, that's great- it's dramatic and short and simple, tells us lots about rhe mother's character and moves the drama on (and ramps up the stakes, because I could tell there'd be trouble ahead). But when Peter narrates inbetween 'scenes', about mother's changing moods etc, the drama ebbs away a little and it starts to read as if it were prose, not so immediately alive. I think it'd make great prose!- but you're writing a drama here and doing so extremely effectively in many ways. So I guess I'm suggesting that you could perhaps use those characters more to show the changes/events rather than have Peter tell them? I struggle with this in my own dramatic writing sometimes- but a good director I worked with once asked me, as a temporary exercise, to cut out out all the exposition from a scene and leave only the action (not physical necessarily, but what was happening rather than what had happened in the past or was happening offstage etc). It ended up being a short scene...but the material I took out never went back in and it taught me hugely. Looking forward to seeing the next act- have you written it yet or is this unfolding live, as it were?

Bald Man at 16:52 on 01 February 2013  Report this post
Thanks Anna, that's very helpful and certainly makes a lot of sense to me. I wondered too about the wisdom of having some Medieval Alan Bennett delivering a monologue. I'll revisit this Act and rethink, in particular, the role of the mother in the early sections. The play is finished, but I didn't want to deliver it here in one huge chunk.


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