A Pair of Lunatics by W.R. Wilkes adapted by Paul Thain


A Vaudeville Comedy


A Drawing-room

There’s an easy chair downstage-left and another chair up stage-centre

A head peers in, carefully looks around …

HE: Thank heavens, nobody here! Splendid!

HE enters, yawning

HE: Dear oh dear, I’ve had enough of this. I’ve spent many a depressing evening in my time, but a ball at a lunatic asylum beats the lot. Just fancy! Two hundred dancers, and almost every one of them mad as a box of frogs!

HE sits and yawns

HE: What an ass I was to come! Confound Jack Adams! This is all his fault. He said I’d find it jolly fun listening to the weird and wonderful delusions of his patients. What nonsense! They’re about as funny as a funeral. And so depressingly monotonous. They’ve barely a dozen delusions between them so they copy one another like a bunch of frantic understudies. I must have danced with at least three Empresses of China, each of whom offered to share the throne of the Celestial Empire. Four of my partners informed me that they were Queens of the Air and implored me to go out on to the roof so we might fly off together to the sunny South.

HE yawns

HE: The only one who seemed to have any sense at all was my last partner, but then she flew into a rage because I had borrowed her nose and failed to return it. And given she showed every intention of regaining said nose by brute force, I thought I’d better scarper and seek safety here.

HE yawns again

HE: … so … so tired … I think I’ll close my eyes for a few minutes … just for a few … a few minutes …

HE sleeps

After a pause, SHE enters, agitated, carrying a bouquet

SHE: Thank goodness! An empty chair!

SHE sits

SHE: Oh, why, oh why, did Aunt Maria bring me to this ghastly function! What a night! My head’s in a perfect spin! Doctor Adams assured me all my partners would be entirely harmless. I suppose by that he meant they wouldn’t try to murder me. There’s some comfort in that, but their insane ramblings have made me positively discombobulated … Oh, poor me … And then …

SHE shudders

SHE: … then there’s their laughter … horrible, horrible beyond words! (looks round) I wonder where I am? Perhaps it’s the padded room.

SHE stands. taps the wall, hurts her hand

SHE: Oh! Hard as granite! Well, enough’s enough, I’m off!

SHE goes to leave

HE snores

SHE stops

SHE: Good gracious! What was that?

HE snores again

SHE’s frightened

SHE: What can it be? Some poor creature cruelly confined to a straitjacket?

HE gives a great yawn

HE: Oooooh!

SHE half-screams, almost faints

SHE: Heaven preserve me!

SHE sinks into the upstage

HE wakes up

HE: By Jove … (yawns) … I needed that!

Recovering, SHE moans

HE: What’s that? Fancy I heard voices.

HE rises, looks round, sees SHE

Alarmed, he covers his nose

HE: Ah! My nose! My nose!

HE looks around again

HE: No, no, it’s all right, don’t panic, it’s not her, it’s a different one. I wonder who it is this time? Lady Macbeth? The Sultana of Zanzibar maybe?

SHE comes round

Aside, on seeing him

HE: Ah, there he is! Without his straitjacket. I mustn’t be the violent sort.

HE: (aside) Hm … obviously mad, but I suppose I’d better humour her.

HE stands, approaches HER, smiles, offers a little bow

HE: I beg your pardon, dear lady, but do you happen to know the current whereabouts of Napoleon or the Prince of Denmark?

SHE: (aside) I knew it, a lunatic! I must humour him and quickly make my escape. (Aloud, timidly) Yes, indeed, I am in fact engaged to Hamlet for the next dance. Have you seen him?

HE: (aside) Poor thing, mad as a hatter. (Aloud) Hamlet? Ah yes, I left him just this moment. We’ve been sitting on top of the North Pole tossing for chocolate drops and making railway station sandwiches.

SHE: Really! How charming?

HE: Do you know what railway station sandwiches are made of?

SHE: No. I mean yes. Yes! No,no, I don’t, I mean no.

HE: Then let me tell you …

HE takes hold of her wrists, whispers

HE: … but I warn you it is a dark and gruesome mystery. They are made of Banbury cakes and bull’s eyes. And the declining rays of the setting sun.

SHE: Indeed?

HE: Yes, indeed. (aside) I say, I’m getting rather good at this …

HE laughs manically

SHE: (aside) What dreadful laughter! How shall I get away? Dear sir, would you mind accompanying me in search of my partner?

HE: (aside) I see. That’s her game! Wants to get me down to dance! Do excuse me, dear lady but the fact is, I’m expecting a visit from the Queen of Sheba and the Archbishop of Canterbury. They come to offer me a tomb in Westminster Abbey …

SHE: … a tomb? That’s quite an honour.

HE: Yes, isn’t?

HE kneels at her feet, takes her hands

HE: But stay with me … Stay with me and I shall share my tomb.

SHE: (aside) Dear, oh, dear! what ravings!

HE: (aside) I say, I’m getting on splendidly.

SHE; Most kind, But I have no need of a tomb, As you can see, presently I am entirely alive.

HE: Ah yes, but a tomb is such a useful thing to have in the house. And should you grow tired of it, you can turn it into a gooseberry club. Or better still, raffle it.

SHE: Raffle it?

HE: (standing) Exactly! I happen to know the Beadle at the Bank of England will offer fifty chances.

HE wanders stage-centre, begins to pace

SHE: Thank you, most kind, that’s good to know. (aside) On reflection, he doesn’t seem so very violent. And how piteous are his wanderings. How unfortunate … I do confess, I find him rather pleasant looking.

HE: So tell me, madam - what is your particular talent?

SHE: My talent?

HE: Yes , yes, your talent. Can you fly through the air? (imitates flying) or (dancing) dance on a cloud?

SHE: Can I fly? Are you quite mad? (aside) Oh dear, of course you are. (aloud )My dear sir, I fear there has been a misunderstanding. I am perfectly sane. I am here at the invitation of Doctor Adams. As his guest, don’t you know.

HE: (aside) His guest! Ha! Poor deluded creature. They all say that.

SHE: (standing) I’m so pleased to have met you, but I’m afraid I must be going.

SHE moves to the Door

HE stops her

HE: Oh? There’s a pity. (aside) I do confess she is the most charming lunatic I have seen this evening.

SHE: But I must

HE: Please … Not just yet. I should very much like for you to tell me all about yourself. How you came to this sorry pass?

SHE: (aside) I must humour him and play along, but what shall I say? Ah, yes, I know. (aloud) I regret, dear sir, I must be off. My balloon is waiting for me at the attic window. It is a swan balloon and Auntie doesn’t like the birds to be kept waiting. Especially at night.

HE: (aside) Poor creature … quite, quite mad! But a ballonn is a novel idea, and a pretty one. (aloud) Never mind your Auntie. And bother the birds. Fear not, I shall blow you home through my peashooter.

SHE: No, no, that’s very kind, but I couldn’t think of troubling you further.

HE: So you drive about in a balloon, do you?

SHE: When the mood takes me.

HE: That must be ripping fun. Is it your own balloon, or just hired for the evening?

SHE: It’s an old family balloon, but I fear the swans are well past their best.

HE: How sad. And the coachman — what of him?

SHE: Coachman?

HE: Do you not have a coachman?

SHE: Ah, yes. I recall he’s a copper-haired cockatoo with a cold in the head. (aside) Did I really say that? How awfully natural it is to be so mad!

HE: (aside) I rather like this. Humouring a lady lunatic is surprisingly entertaining.

SHE: Perhaps I can drop you off somewhere this evening? From my balloon.

HE: No, thanks, I prefer my old-fashioned peashooter.

SHE: Indeed?

HE: Far more efficient. You insert yourself at one end and blow through the other. Then puff! And there you are. Home sweet home!

SHE: How marvellously convenient! (aside) Mad as a two-bob watch! I really must get away. (aloud, edging towards the door) Goodbye, thank you so much for this nice chat. Such a pleasant evening.

HE: (blocking her) No, no, stay. Please stay and linger a little longer. I’ve lots more things to talk about.

SHE: What things?

HE: Many things, marvellous things, solar myths and broken sticks, sardine tins and empty bins, lemonade and bottled beer.

SHE tries to dodge round him

SHE: How fascinating, but I really must go. Aunt Maria and Doctor Adams will be getting anxious about me.

HE blocks her again

HE: Oh, don’t bother about them, they’re both fine. But did you hear your Aunt Maria’s done it at last.

SHE: Done it? Done what?

HE: Yes. As we speak, haven’t you heard?

SHE: No. I mean yes. No,no, I mean no. I mean, what have you heard?

HE: She has been tempted …

SHE: … tempted?

HE: And she has succumbed.

SHE: She has?

HE: She has laid Doctor Adams three acres to a cow that she will beat him in a go-as-you-please race round the Dome of St. Paul’s on lawn mowing machines. They are just about to complete the last lap and if you were to interrupt them, do you know what would happen?

SHE: I haven’t a clue.

HE: Consternation

SHE: Consternation?

HE: And annihilation. Given half a chance, they’ll dress you in a costume of custard calico, trimmed with fried fish, and marry you off to the Lord Mayor. So let me entreat … nay, implore you … stay with me … stay with me and be safe.

SHE: Well, since I have no desire to marry the Lord Mayor …

HE: Splendid! Then we are as one.

[end of extract]

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