I sometimes enter the submissions for short plays by theatre groups, I’ve never been selected but they get hundreds for only a few slots. This doesn’t stop me being proud of my work and so the following is a short play I wrote. It’s an Agatha Christie style mystery.
An old fashioned sitting room (1920s esq). There is an analogue clock on the wall saying seven to twelve but it doesn’t move for the whole play. There are three people. ANTHEA in her 20s with a string of beads round her neck, the flapper. She is standing, just right of the centre of the stage, by a table looking in to a mirror. Near her is an empty wooden chair. CHARLES early 30’s glass of whisky in hand is sat stage left in a comfortable chair side-on to the audience facing the centre. He is reading the paper. DORATHEA late 50’s serious looking with glasses perched on her nose but looped with a string round her neck, she is knitting. She is sat in a comfortable chair just to the left of ANTHEA. They are silent.
The INSPECTOR (early 20s) enters stage right and stands to the right of ANTHEA.
INSPECTOR : Thank you all for coming. You have all been called here tonight in the hope we will find the accused and the motive.
CHARLES : I was here already old chap, speaking of which aren’t you a bit young to be doing this type of thing?
DORATHEA : He’s got a point, normally they are balding men who really should have retired by now.
ANTHEA : Or old pussy’s with nothing better to do than pry in to other people’s lives.
INSPECTOR : Be that as it may we are all here to find the truth; that is who is responsible and why. Just for the record I want each of you to confirm your identity.
He takes a note book and pencil out and turns a few pages, as he identifies each one he turns to them.
INSPECTOR : We have The Lady Anthea Charlton of Brecken on the Maze.
ANTHEA (She curtsies) : How do you do?
INSPECTOR : Ms Dorathea Elmwood.
DORATHEA remains silent and seated but nods her head, she continues knitting.
INSPECTOR : And Mr Charles Fitzwotton esquire.
CHARLES puts his paper down and stands up, nods to the room.
CHARLES : Indeed I am, I have nothing to hide.
CHARLES sits down.
ANTHEA : So is it one of us? How exciting! Although I know it isn’t me so there doesn’t really seem much choice left. Don’t you have any more suspects?
INSPECTOR : It was all I could get.
CHARLES : Bad show old bean, that’s just not good enough. For a good mystery you need at least five suspects and an obvious red herring. With this I can certainly second, it wasn’t me so that only really leaves one other person. Case closed.
Everyone looks at DORATHEA, ANTHEA takes a step away from her.
CHARLES : So I guess I solved it, didn’t really need you. Well not unless it’s going to be one of those twists where it turns out that you did it all along.
ANTHEA : Oh that's just like the end off...
DORATHEA : Don't say it! I’ve probably not read it yet. Anyway I resent the fact that you’ve decided it’s me. I haven’t done anything… Inspector you’ve forgotten a vital bit of evidence.
INSPECTOR : What's that?
DORATHEA (she leans in conspiratorially) : One of them could be lying.
CHARLES : That’s not evidence, that’s just your opinion. Keep up old thing.
DORATHEA : I say, in my day a young man wouldn’t talk back like that to someone of my age.
INSPECTOR : Look can everyone please just stop for a moment. This is a very serious situation.
CHARLES : Well in that case I’m going to get a top up.
ANTHEA : Oh me too please.
INSPECTOR : When you’ve quite finished.
CHARLES fills his glass up from a decanter and pours one for ANTHEA, which he gives her.
CHARLES : Not joining us old girl? Chin chin and all that.
INSPECTOR : Please this is important!
DORATHEA : No thank you. You could be a liar and a murderer for all I know. (Turning to the INSPECTOR) How was it done, dear?
INSPECTOR : Poison
ANTHEA having taken a sip of her drink spits it back in to her glass.
INSPECTOR : Right now that I have your attention. The body of a young man was found poisoned on Brinkley Chase at midnight.
DORATHEA : Excuse me, was he found at midnight or was he poisoned at midnight?
ANTHEA :Does it matter?
CHARLES : It does if we want to have our alibis sorted. Well it does for you two. I was at the club. Old Perkins was having his engagement drinks. Damned fool, why he wants to go marrying that airhead. I mean she’s a sweet thing but…
ANTHEA (blurts out) : Perkins is engaged?
CHARLES : Oh do you know him?
The INSPECTOR is jotting things down.
ANTHEA : Er… no I was just making sure I heard you properly. Inspector you had better check with this Perkins… whoever he is... to make sure this man is telling the truth!
INSPECTOR : Steady on old thing. I’ve just made clear my alibi, we don’t know where you were yet.
ANTHEA : Me? I was with Harriot, she’s having frightful problems with the little one now that "you know who" is no longer around.
DORATHEA : My dear we don’t and I’m sure I can say for all of us we don’t much care.
ANTHEA : And where were you?
DORATHEA : My dear Anthea, why am I answerable to you?
The INSPECTOR looks up from what he’s writing.
INSPECTOR : If you could just answer the question please.
DORATHEA (puts down her knitting) : Well Ok, now let me see. I had finished in the office at about six. That dreadful pool of secretaries… they needed me to stay late and watch over them or they’d never get that report finished for the deadline. I left the office and got a taxi home and it’s getting colder now the nights are drawing in. Cook had supper out….
INSPECTOR : Just where you were at midnight please.
ANTHEA : Yes we don’t much care for your life story.
DORATHEA : Well I suppose I must have been asleep.
CHARLES : Well Dorathea is the only one without an alibi. Can you prove it? Are you married?
DORATHEA : The impertinence.
INSPECTOR : That’s enough. If you would just kindly answer the questions. To find who is responsible we need to find out motive. You are all here because you all did have a motive.
The other three gasp in shock.
ANTHEA shuffles uncomfortably.
ANTHEA : Well I’m not sure I want everyone here to know my private business.
CHARLES : Ah some scandal at last. Good’oh. Don’t hold back old thing, I’m sure you won’t be the only one washing their linen in public.
DORATHEA : Really!
INSPECTOR : It was you Anthea who broke off the engagement with him.
The other two gasp in shock.
INSPECTOR : The reason stated was a mystery illness that left you confined to your room and out of society for a month. It was stated you were too weak to take on an engagement, but this excuse only really bought you a small amount of time.
ANTHEA : I had just come back from Asia and I’m not sure I had taken my medication properly so ended up with some frightful tropical disease.
CHARLES : Did you say medication? Well Inspector, medication given to the wrong person could be poison.
ANTHEA : How dare you? Inspector what I say is true it was broken off due to my illness.
INSPECTOR : No it wasn’t, it was just an excuse to save face. During the period of so called convalescence you were seen down at Rockford Cove … with Perkins.
The other two gasp in shock.
INSPECTOR : It seems that Charles was right, there is some scandal here.
CHARLES : Jolly good, let me guess you had to get him out of the way in the hope that Perkins would take you on.
ANTHEA : No!... Ok, it’s true the relationship wasn’t working and we needed to end it. We just needed to find a way to do it without disgrace. But I didn’t poison him.
ANTHEA collapses in the spare chair.
INSPECTOR : Maybe not. But we are looking for motives here and there is more to your story than meets the eye. However it was you... (turning to point at DORATHEA) You were the office manager at Mortons and Carnforths where the young man, until recently, was employed. But you fired him, did you not?
The other two gasp in shock.
DORATHEA : And because of that you blame me for his death?
INSPECTOR : Maybe. Can you explain why he was let go?
DORATHEA : It was nothing personal, there had been a fall in profits and the company had to make cut backs.
INSPECTOR : But why him?
DORATHEA : The managers all had to sit down and discuss who should be let go. We needed to lose three. As it was James was retiring anyway and Amy had already put her notice in for another position. He’d been with us the least amount of time, it was what we thought was the fairest decision. As I said it wasn’t anything personal.
INSPECTOR : Do you think he understood that?
DORATHEA : There’s not much I could do if he didn’t.
INSPECTOR : What had he been doing before being employed at Mortons and Carnforths?
DORATHEA : How should I know?
INSPECTOR : Nothing much. He had been in a position of unemployment.
DORATHEA : And...
INSPECTOR : So he finally gets a job and due to cut backs he is the only one who seems to be let go. Tell me how do you think that made him feel?
DORATHEA : I don’t know what that’s got to do with his being murdered.
INSPECTOR : I never said it was murder.
CHARLES : I say old chap this is suddenly getting serious.
INSPECTOR : Of course it’s serious. It’s a death involved here and I need to know who is responsible, I need to know… I need to know why this is happening.
The INSPECTOR sits on the ground in the centre of the stage with his back to the other three who stand and move to be behind him a short distance away.
ANTHEA : Do you think the breaking off the engagement…?
DORATHEA : And the loss of a job at the same time…
CHARLES : Could have pushed him too far?
INSPECTOR : There’s more to it though isn’t there Charles? You were his brother and you were never there for him when he needed you.
CHARLES : He tried to talk to me about how he was feeling, but I guess I didn’t really listen. I had no idea things were so bad. I’m sorry.
ANTHEA : Do you blame us?
INSPECTOR : I don’t know. If I blame you all, one of you or mainly myself. I just needed to find a reason why.
What time is it?
CHARLES looks at the frozen clock on the wall.
CHARLES : Seven minutes to midnight.
INSPECTOR : Seven minutes.
ANTHEA : Is there anything we can do?
The INSPECTOR just sits there.
ANTHEA : You need to know it wasn’t because of you…. You need to understand… Please. I told you it was us. We were the mistake, a bad combination. Not you, you’ll find the right one who it works with but… we just couldn’t.
DORATHEA : I don’t know what to say. You’ll find something else? Doesn’t sound enough…
INSPECTOR : I’d like to believe you all, but you’re not real – am I just guessing reasons why to make me feel better? To give me a reason for what I’m doing or to find a way to stop?
CHARLES comes and sits next to the INSPECTOR. ANTHEA and DORATHEA subtly exit.
CHARLES : I didn’t understand. I should have been there for you. I still can be. You have seven minutes. Make it eight, please, then nine, then ten. You can’t climb a mountain in a single step, you don’t have to. Just one foot in front of the other, that’s all you need to worry about for now. Just one foot in front of the other. I’ll be with you from now on, you know I’d want to be. How long have you felt like this?
INSPECTOR : I don’t know. I mean life gets pretty crap and then the next it’s like it’s always been this way.
CHARLES : Sometimes we feel things, bad things. There’s no shame in that. It’s how you feel and that’s important. But it’s not a sign of your worth, your value. You can look for reasons but could it be that what you are really looking for is a way to stop the nightmare and to stop feeling like this, not to end everything?
INSPECTOR : Sometimes I think it’s strong to keep going, sometimes I’m weak for not giving in. Maybe it’s time…
CHARLES : Things have got bad. My goodness you put up with crap for the last while; and I’m sorry for the part I played in making things worse. But that’s what life is, it’s things changing. And you’ve had bad changes that’s not to say good changes won’t come. You feel like this now, but even that can change. I promise.
Don’t be alone, not now. Talk to someone.
INSPECTOR : How did you find me?
CHARLES : Because you called.
CHARLES hands the INSPECTOR a mobile phone.
CHARLES : Thank you.
Take one more step, please. One foot in front of the other.
The INSPECTOR turns to look at CHARLES.
INSPECTOR : One more step.
CHARLES : Walk with me.
The both stand and walk off stage.
By Arthur Hofn
From: United Kingdom