I am fully aware that I have a rather pedestrian intellect and have access to no great wellsprings of creativity that lie within but, I think in common with everyone else, do like to have some creative outlets in my life. This has become even more important over the last pandemic-ridden months while proving simultaneously harder to accomplish thanks to the depletion of various forms of get-up-and-go and, indeed, focus. Despite the time on my hands, I have (disappointingly) not become a concert pianist and, if anything, my level of practice has probably declined rather than improved.
I haven’t exactly swamped GofaDM with new content either. However, on the positive side of the slate, in most weeks I have prepared, or at least continued, a new adventure in Generic Fantasy Landia which does require a degree of planning, plotting, improvisation and the creation of artwork of varying quality and styles. Last weekend, I did find myself attempting to sketch my own torso as the model for a statue and, to be honest, I had not turned turned the heating sufficiently high enough to make this entirely comfortable. Still, I like to think the result was recognisably a torso, though not really mine, though it did (intentionally) have two necks and no nipples. Later, during our time in GFL, I did find I was striking myself repeatedly over the head with a very sharp 8.25″ cook’s knife protected only by my Akubra Stockman’s hat. This was not a cry for help, or a slightly odd failed suicide, but was rather a practical demonstration of the quality of my decision making as Dungeon Master. With hindsight, I was placing a lot of (entirely justified, as it transpired) faith in the protective quality of my millinery. Both I and my hat were entirely unharmed by this practical demonstration and if Akubra wish to add its protective qualities to their advertising, I do have a GIF which they can use for a very modest fee…
I have now massively over-written six quizzes for a weekly Quiz Pub that a bunch of friends and I have been holding since the first lockdown. We have just passed quiz number 42, which I think shows a degree of commitment to a project, and an increasing number of memes have been spawned over the months. My ability with PowerPoint has also improved significantly, which may prove to be a marketable skill at some future stage in my career…
Finally, in the annals of “hasn’t he achieved a lot”, I put together a menu for a remote, Zoom-based dinner party each month with Quaranstein 10 coming up in 10 days time. Given the timing, it will have a Scottish theme…
Despite the suggestions at the start of the first lockdown, I have not written the modern King Lear – though I am far from alone in this particular failure. However, between Christmas and New Year, when I had limited paid work and, thanks to insomnia, a lot of waking hours on my hands, I penned a play! I may not be the modern Shakespeare but am, perhaps, an Ernie Wise de nos jours: my legs are not especially short or fat but they are at least decently hairy.
One of the (many) things that I have missed at the turning of the year was being able to see one (or even a few) Mummers Plays and so I decided that I would write my own. I felt this would represent tangible progress towards my intent to write my own pantomime, which has otherwise seen no movement in nearly three decades now. I felt a Mummers Play had some of the panto vibe but with the benefit of being considerably shorter and without the need for musical numbers or celebrity casting. The Mummers Play what I wrote is rooted in the tradition but does take a few liberties and is rather more overtly topical and satirical than I think is usual.
This Monday it was my turn to set the quiz, and in place of the usual Music Round (where I sight-read an unfamiliar piece of well-known music and play it on an unfamiliar or poorly practiced instrument to a combination of hilarity and horror), I decided we would hold a performance of “the play”. Everyone was forewarned of this alarming development and volunteers sought to play some of the dramatis personae. Well, as 9pm on Plough Monday arrived an unexpectedly (worryingly) large audience had assembled in the mighty Zoom Theatre and it was time for the, entirely unrehearsed (one doesn’t want to lose any of the immediacy of live performance) world premiere of my play.
The performance both went and was received far better than I could have imagined in my wildest dreams. The cast of strolling players were excellent, all entering into the spirit of the thing and many providing their own props and costume and even providing suitable voices. As the writer, I played three (mostly) small roles and more-or-less managed the required costume changes, though rather more slowly than would have been ideal, and I do need to work on a south Manchester accent. Even the audience had a role, as my version of a Mummers Play includes a Greek Chorus (and obeyed at least two of the three unities) and so they had a chance to join (another nod to panto). Between us, and despite a minor degree of chaos at my end, we brought my words to ridiculous, uproarious, joyous life.
So far as I can remember, this is the first time that anything I’ve written has been performed on even a virtual stage: at most, I’ve read out a short eulogy or speech I’ve prepared in advance. The combination of a group of people bringing my idiot words to life and an appreciative audience is a seriously intoxicating one. I think it is the most fun I have yet had on Zoom – and I have managed a surprisingly large amount of fun on Zoom over the last 10 months – and I stayed on a high for several hours afterwards. It did play merry hell with my sleep hygiene but was absolutely worth it! I am now seriously on the look-out for an excuse/subject for another short, somewhat comic play: though that will be the difficult sophomore play, people will now have expectations…
As the play was such a success, I thought I should publish it here – while recognising that it should (a) date quite quickly and (b) mean very little to anyone outside the UK (and probably to many within it!). Indeed, it went so well, that we are going to try and record a version for posterity (or future blackmail material).
Anyway, after not too much more than 1000 words of ado, GofaDM proudly presents the play what I wrote…
The Plague’s the Thing…
|Character||Inspiration (where relevant)|
|Old Father Christmas|
|“Prince” George||Boris Johnson|
|Famine||Jacob Rees Mogg|
|The Slithy Gove||Michael Gove|
|The Doctor||Dominic Cummings|
|The Striker||Marcus Rashford|
|The Turk||Ugur Sahin und Özlem Türeci|
|The Cronies||A Greek Chorus of the Profiteers|
Enter Old Father Christmas... Old Father Christmas: In comes I, Old Father Christmas; Welcome or welcome not, I 'ope old Father Christmas will ne’er be forgot. 'Ere but a short time to stay, I'll show you sport and larks afore I must away. A tale of deeds most dark that do afflict the land. Corruption in the highest ranks soon you’ll understand. As our players do strut and fret: behold here comes the first buffoon... Now immorality will be exposed on this, our virtual stage, praise be to Zoom! Enter “Prince” George... “Prince” George In comes I, Prince George, from England I claim to spring Though I be a clown, with lasses I’ve had many a fling. Children I’ve sired, ask me not to make a count. I’m no good with detail, and don’t know the exact amount. For naught but my own ambition will I be seen to care. If trouble be sighted, you’ll find me in the frigidaire.! Enter The Expert… The Expert In comes I, the Expert, a seeker after truth and fact Against those that spread cant and lies will I react. With reasoned argument I’ll share the science A method in which all folk can place reliance. “Prince” George Be gone! Your expertise is not welcome in my demesne. The sheep must accept my words, even when they sound insane. The Expert My honour will not allow me to quit this fray. Do your worst; the truth must see the light of day! The Cronies See Prince George strap on his mighty shield of bluster Though his sword be sharp his thrusts lack lustre. But the Expert has no weapon but his pipette We fear the knavish fool may slay him yet… Prince George and the Expert fight; the Expert is killed… Old Father Christmas You have slain expertise, does this not your conscience prick? “Prince” George Ha! Not a bit! Their insistence on logic and facts made me sick! My pie-crust promises I no longer needs defend nor discuss, Just command them to be writ large on the sides of a bus! Prince George exits… Pestilence, Death and Famine enter and menace the audience…. Pestilence In comes I, Pestilence, my fell gifts to share, Wherever two or more are gathered, I too am there Death In comes I, the Reaper Grim My harvest now I’ll gather in! In this charnel house I’ll set up shop, I see no-one here to make me stop. Famine With jobs and savings lost, the children starve But I am famine and this makes me laugh! So many holes in the safety net: Loren ipsum dolor sit amet. Prince George returns… “Prince” George Come to me o’ slithy Gove, cease your gyring in that wabe. The Slithy Gove [whispers to audience] In come I, the slithy Gove, I smarm to your face and do your lab- ours but to slip this dagger into your back is my true desire [to the Prince] What is your bidding, most sagacious sire? “Prince” George Despite my efforts, we have but horsemen three. How might I complete the set? Fetch thee War for me! The Slithy Gove Gunboats to the channel I’ll now dispatch. No European shall share our fishy catch! The Cronies Prince George, you kingdom is in disarray The dead stack up like cordwood, have you naught to say? “Prince” George My policies have but sped them on their way, With pre-existing conditions, they already stood in Death’s foyer. These many dead are but of the common herd, Their sacrifice will deliver immunity: you have my word! The Cronies He offers us his word, the Prince of Lies With confused, half-cocked rulings he stupifies. We fear for our fortunes as the economy tanks... “Prince” George Here, have a billion! More will follow, no need for thanks… Pestilence places his hand upon Prince George’s shoulder… Suddenly, I feel mighty queer! *cough* *cough* *cough* I am a great Prince, or did you not hear? Pestilence I care not for mortal titles, your lies, your fakèd news I shall stake my claim upon whom soe’er I choose! “Prince” George My cough is dry, all scents have gone. I have no time for indisposition, Summon now my crack physician! The Slithy Gove Your quack, o Prince, is purblind and in haste hies he to County Durham. You must isolate alone, ‘til his return bearing some curative nostrum. The Cronies O great nation, rudderless with its shoy-hoy leader struck down: Or perhaps ‘tis better off in the absence of the scruffy clown? Enter the Doctor in great haste… The Doctor In comes I, Doctor Dom: famed for my goings and my cummings. Be not afraid, I’ll soon return you to your Tweedledumming! The Cronies What can you cure, Doctor? The Doctor I can fix scrofula, dropsy, palsy and gout, Galloping knob-rot I’ll soon root out! Apoplexy, ague and gripe: Each can I swiftly put to flight! The Cronies What is your fee, Doctor? The Doctor Ten pounds is all, praise be to the NHS our great protector. Sorry, I had forgotten that you were a private patient But at ten thousand pounds, for speedy service, the cost is not imprudent. “Prince” George OK, OK, a grateful nation will pay whate’er you will. Just, I beg you, exercise now your skill! The Doctor Swallow first this pill, ‘tis but six inches across. It kills 99% of germs, just like Domestos. Then place these drops against your lips Every night afore ye kips. In a mere two weeks of this regime you’ll find Rude good health restored and peace of mind! If you’ll now pay my fee, I must away: Many more opticians must I visit this day! The Doctor exits, clutching his cash and smirking… The Cronies All seems lost, the country is in a parlous state. Our millions may not save us, who’ll come to our aid? Enter the Striker and the Turk... The Striker In comes I, the Striker, my skill with boots and ball has made me rich. But I come of humble stock, when young with hunger did my belly often itch. Come nation, unite! Throw off the chains of Mammon! If we all pull together we can soon rout Famine! Famine Argh! Those with little, spend even that to feed the poor. Even weakened Hospitality shows me the door! I am mastered and now must flee this forum: Infinitus est numerus stultorum! Famine flees before the Striker and his allies… The Turk In comes I, the Turk, founder of Biontech The plans of Pestilence soon I’ll wreck! Pestilence Not so fast, I am not finished yet! See, my R number rises: I am still a threat! The Turk We now have all we need for your defeat. We need but time and our victory is complete! We must follow science to complete your doom. Then all can celebrate together, in the flesh, no need of Zoom! The Striker and the Turk approach the fallen Expert… Old Father Christmas See, the death of Expertise is exaggerate. He doth but sleep and for this time didst wait. Rise now and take your rightful place, We need your wisdom as to vaccinate we race! As the Expert rises, Death and Pestilence retreat... The Expert As from cumbrous death I rise, I find a world transformed. While some will always peddle lies, the people seek the well-informed! Old Father Christmas Remember, gentles all, that Pestilence spreads on the air, Drafts and distance our are allies here. If for some more months we steadfast stay, With summer’s lease will come much freer days! "Prince" George returns... “Prince” George Be gone, old fool, your hopes still languish far away My confederacy of dunces still holds sway. I’ve cancelled Christmas at the 11th hour; Mendacity and incompetence will rule while I still hold power! Old Father Christmas Methinks I hear a final gust of wind from that buffoon His support is melting and, like a snowman, he will join it soon! Be of good cheer, for our tale now all is told! Applaud our players, whose skills at acting are manifold! Now is time to wave adieu to bright showbiz! Now return we all to the sodding Quiz!