Pitch a Film on a Friday! A Beggarly Account of Empty Boxes: a 5 minute Romeo and Juliet with a cast of 1 and 2 dummies

It’s Brighton Pier, late Autumn. There’s an end of the pier show about to take place in the theatre, late on a Wednesday afternoon. It’s cold, desolate. Signs are banging in the wind, advertising…

“Father Larry presents…. Shakespeare as you’ve never seen before! Come wonder at the marvels of modern science!”

A lacklustre audience of end of the pier visitors drift out of the theatre and idly kick their heels around, waiting for the start of the main attraction – Father Larry.

A shifty looking Vicar – Father Larry – rushes up the pier, straightening up his dog collar, adjusting his trousers, wiping the lipstick off his collar and generally trying to tidy himself up and make himself respectable. He avoids the audience gathering by the front door of the theatre and squeezes himself through the stage door whilst no-one is looking.

He’s had a quick couple of scotches in the interval as a desparate attempt to continue the audience suspension of disbelief for the final 30 minutes of his show. He heads back stage to his dressing room, avoiding the stage hands and curses of the theatre manager.

Back stage, Father Larry’s dressing room. 2 large cane crates are placed in the centre of the room, with two large ventriloquist dummies left carelessly on top of them, limbs askew, clothing untidy. One’s a dummy of a young girl – Juliet – the other of a young boy – Romeo.

They both are trying to hold a conversation with other dummies which are stored away in the crates. It becomes clear they’re from two warring families – both are exhorted to return back to where they came from – their crates – by their families inside the crates and both agree that’s what they’ll do as soon as they’re physically able to do so.

They can’t stand the sight of each other as it happens anyway – they trade insults relentlessly and try to move their wooden bodies into a position where they could be taken back to the bosom of their families.

Father Larry crashes into the dressing room, swearing and sweating profusely. He’s been told that unless he sharpens his act up, he’s out of a job from the end of the afternoon. It’s been a disaster out there on stage and he’s got minutes to redeem himself and his act. His livelihood is nearly over.

He gets hold of the dummies angrily and tries manipulating them to talk to each other, to care for each other. They do as he says – although we sense their own individual dummy reluctance.

He acts out their family quarrels, disputes and expectations and urges them to love each other, much against their will. They comply but find subtle ways of resisting – falling of their crates, asking for a gottle of geer, that sort of thing.

He gets angry and bullies them into doing as he decides. He forces them into uncompromising sexual positions. They resist, he breaks them up, one by one, piece by piece. His act and livelihood are falling apart before his eyes.

When the pieces of the dummies have been flung across all corners of the dressing room, he realises what he has done. He’s distraught and tries putting them back together again, in vain. He tries to exert his religious influence on them, but to no avail. “A plague on both your houses!” he hisses at them. They both end up badly and violently damaged, strewn across the floor of the dressing room.

There’s a knock on the door. The second half of the show is about to begin. His time’s up. He has no option but to go on stage, empty handed. He tries playing out the role of the dummies himself but the audience see through him and drive him off stage.

He staggers woodenly down to the end of Brighton Pier, unable to shake off the dummy mannerisms that he’s adopted. His complexion has turned grey, his eyes – a mad staring look, his mouth – fixed in a permanent grin. “Good night, good night! parting is such sweet sorrow,” he mutters to himself. He stares out at the sea, tears rolling down his cheeks whilst still continuing to smile.

Author: drnicko

Awarded an MBE for services to arts-based businesses, I am passionate about generating inspiring, socially engaging, creative practice within educational contexts both nationally and internationally.

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