Last month saw the 400th anniversary of William Shakespeare’s death. Widely regarded as not only the greatest playwright of his generation, but of all time, his works continue to scare the living shit out of English Literature students hundreds of years later.
But was he really that good, or was there just no one else around at the time to compare him to? I mean, it’s not like blogging, where there are millions of people competing against each other to be heard, so if Shakespeare was alive and writing today, would he even get noticed? Would he be writing about Peppa Pig like everyone else?
Besides, how hard can it be to write a play? You just take a situation, whether it be dramatic, tragic or funny (or a combination of all three), and then make up some dialogue, so that the audience engages with the characters.
Here, I’ll show you….
The Most Important Meal of the Day
(A Play in Three Acts)
Disclaimer: All characters in this play are entirely fictitious, and any resemblance to persons living or dead, is purely coincidental. Honestly.
Man – A moderately good-looking patriarch in his mid-thirties
Wife – His wife
Oliver – Their first born son
Caliban – Their second born son. A feral, subhuman beast.
Act I: Breakfast 2009
[The curtain rises on a kitchen area, set in a medium-sized townhouse in the suburbs of Cheshire. The kitchen is clean and well-kept, and all is quiet except for the faint sound of birds singing in the garden. Footsteps can be heard coming down the stairs. They are quick and sprightly, giving a sense of energy and excitement. A tall, moderately good-looking man, enters the kitchen from stage left, wearing a smart suit and perfectly-adjusted tie….]
Man (cheerily to himself): What a nice morning! Now then, breakfast.
[Man approaches one of the cupboards, and opens it to reveal two neatly positioned boxes of cereal. He selects a box, and then takes a bowl from the cupboard directly below. He half fills the bowl with cereal, before opening the fridge and removing a milk carton, pouring it gently onto his breakfast. He returns both carton and box to their rightful homes, takes a spoon from a drawer by the sink, and then sits down at a table centre stage. As he begins to eat, further footsteps are heard….]
Man: Morning, my love.
Wife: Morning! Sleep well?
Man: I did, thanks. You?
Wife: Yes, really well. I had a lovely dream about being on holiday. Just the two of us, on a beach somewhere. It was amazing.
Man: Maybe we should book something? I’ll pop into the travel agents at the weekend.
Wife: Good idea, it’d be nice to get away. Work has been quite busy lately, and getting up at 7:30 each morning is tough. I think I need more than seven hours of sleep.
Man: Early night tonight then. I thought we could get a takeaway, and maybe I’ll pick up a bottle of wine?
Wife: Sounds nice. I should be home on time.
Man: Me too. It’s a date then!
[Wife approaches the same cupboard, and selects the other box of cereal from the shelf. She prepares a bowl, before joining Man at the table…]
Wife: I’ve been thinking about what we discussed the other night. Maybe it is time we started a family…
[The lights on stage dim to signify a sudden change in the weather outside the window. The birds stop singing, and are replaced by the sound of approaching thunder. Man and Wife look at each other, concerned…]
Man (nervously): Bloody hell, that weather turned quickly.
[They sit there in silence for a few moments, clearly perturbed by the dramatic change in weather. Man, having finished his cereal, neatly places the bowl and spoon into the dishwasher, before gently closing the door. He crouches behind Wife and gives her a kiss on the cheek…]
Man: Have a nice day. See you later.
Wife: You too.
[Man exits stage left, whistling to himself. There is another clap of thunder, louder this time, as the stage lights fade to black. In the darkness, a baby can be heard crying]
Act II: Breakfast 2012
[The curtain rises on the same kitchen, but things seem different. Some dirty pots sit adjacent to the sink. One cupboard door lies open, while another has a small hand-print on it. Footsteps once more descend the stairs, but slower and more methodically than before. Man enters, wearing a similar suit – which may be the same one, although it looks more worn now – and his tie is askew. His hair is a little messy, and he is carrying a toddler in his arms, who he gently places into the high chair which has appeared beside the kitchen table…]
Man: Right, what would you like for breakfast?
Man: Erm, what do you say?
Man: Ok then, one bowl of cereal coming up.
[Man fills a kettle and switches it on, before opening the same cupboard from Act I. This time, there are three boxes of cereal, one of which has brightly-coloured cartoon characters on it. Man fills a plastic animal-shaped bowl with this cereal, before taking a bowl for himself and pouring from a different box. He bends to take milk from the fridge and immediately groans, placing a hand on his lower back. He is clearly in some discomfort.
He takes both bowls to the table, placing the plastic one in front of the child. The kettle clicks, and he makes a cup of tea, swearing under his breath when he realises that he needs to get the milk back out of the fridge. Weary footsteps approach from stage left. Wife enters]
Wife (yawning): Morning.
Oliver: Morning Mummy!
Wife: Morning Ollie. [Turning to Man]: You look wrecked.
Man: You’re not looking so hot yourself. Bad night?
Wife: Yeah, this little terror had me up twice.
[Wife ruffles Oliver’s hair affectionately, to show him she doesn’t really mean it, but she looks tired]
Wife [turning to Man]: Busy day today?
Man: Think so. Can’t remember to be honest. How is anyone meant to function on just six hours of sleep?
Wife: Piss off, I only got five. Remember when we used to complain about having to get up at 7:30? I knew having kids would be tiring, but this is ridiculous. He just doesn’t need sleep.
Man: You don’t want another just yet then?!
[Wife glares at Man, whose expression immediately changes. It is clear that he regrets his comment. They again sit in silence for a few awkward moments, neither knowing what to say. As the stage lights begin to fade, Oliver suddenly shouts out…]
Oliver: I need a wee!
[Fade to black]
Act III: Breakfast 2016
[The curtain rises, but this time no lights come on. In the darkness on stage, a baby begins to scream. Then another, older, child starts crying. Raised voices can be heard, and the footsteps once more descend the stairs, even slower than before. There is a sudden shout of pain…]
Man (under his breath): For fuck’s sake. (Shouting): Ollie! How many times have I told you not to leave your toys on the stairs?
[The stage lights fade up. The kitchen now looks as though the house has either been burgled, or involved in some kind of explosion or earthquake. Man hops into the kitchen, wearing the same suit as before, but it is now stretched at the waist, and his tie is completely to one side, does not match his shirt, and has a stain on it. He is pale, unshaven, and looks close to tears. He slumps into a chair, and lifts his leg to remove a small piece of plastic from his foot. Oliver enters from stage left. He is now about six years old, and is wearing a school shirt and jumper, socks, and underwear, but no trousers…]
Oliver: Sorry, Daddy.
Man: Sit down and I’ll get you some breakfast. What do you want? And where are your trousers?
Oliver: Oh. I’ll go get them.
Man: What do you want?
Oliver (after a thoughtful pause): Please?
Man: Better. Now go and put some bloody trousers on.
[Oliver exits stage left. Man returns to the cereal cupboard. As he opens it, a box falls on him, spraying bright orange sugar-coated balls all over the floor]
Man: Shit. Fuck. Shit.
[Man spends some time on his hands and knees picking up cereal. He inspects one piece, blows on it to remove some fluff, then throws it back into the box. Once all the cereal has been collected, he stands, and immediately places his foot onto a previously unseen piece, crushing it onto the kitchen floor. He looks down, sighs, and punches the cupboard door. Another box falls.
Having systematically removed four boxes of cereal, from the six now crammed into the cupboard, he pours a little from each into a large plastic bowl, before forcing all the boxes back into the cupboard and slamming the door before they can fall again. He adds milk, spilling large quantities onto the kitchen counter, and makes no attempt to clean the mess. He fills the kettle and plugs it in, before carrying the plastic bowl over to the kitchen table.
A baby cries again from off stage. Man’s head drops as he exits stage left, replaced by Oliver – now fully trousered – who sits at the table before rapidly shovelling the assorted cereal into his mouth. He chews, loudly, with his mouth open.
Man returns, carrying a screaming infant in one arm, and an iPad in the other. He practically throws the infant into the high chair, and then drops the iPad in front of him. The ‘Peppa Pig’ theme tune plays…]
Man (to Caliban): And what do you want for breakfast?
Man: Yes, you have Peppa. What do you want for breakfast? Do you want Shreddies or Cookies?
[Man selects a second plastic bowl, from a large stack which looks as though it could topple at any moment, and takes a spoon from the sink which he inspects and then dries on his shirt. He grabs yet another box of cereal from the kitchen counter, and pours it into the child’s bowl, before adding milk and placing it in front of Caliban. Caliban looks at the bowl, disgusted, and tries to knock it to the floor. Man catches it at the last second, but stubs his toe on the table in the process]
Caliban: Cookie! Cookie! COOKIE!
Man: You said Shreddies.
[Man looks dejected. He trudges back to the cupboard and takes a different box out, filling yet another bowl with the contents. He finishes making his cup of tea, then returns to the table, slamming the bowl down in front of Caliban]
Man: There. Cookies. Eat.
[Caliban ignores Man, picks up the first bowl of cereal and begins eating with tremendous ferocity. Milk sprays everywhere, including onto Man’s suit, but he simply looks down and pretends it didn’t happen. The bowl is emptied in under a minute, at which point Caliban picks up the second bowl and begins eating…]
Caliban: Daddy! Cookie! Ollie! Cookie! PEPPA!
[Caliban throws his dummy to the floor, then cries – because his dummy is on the floor. Man bends to pick it up, and while doing so, Caliban reaches over and takes Man’s cup of tea. He performs a victory dance as he drinks it. Wife enters stage left, looking half dead…]
Wife: [mutters something indecipherable]
Man: Bad night?
Wife: [mutters something indecipherable]
Man: I’ll take that as a yes. What time did he end up in our bed?
Wife: Peppa. Sorry, what? Erm… 3?
Man: Do you want some breakfast?
Wife: No time. Late.
[Oliver finishes his breakfast and starts licking milk and cereal flotsam from his hands]
Man: Disgusting child. Could you be any more revolting?
[Caliban breaks wind]
Man: Oh, apparently you could.
[Man collects all of the used bowls and loads them clumsily into the dishwasher. As he pushes the tray back into the machine, a spoon gets caught, flicks up, and strikes him in the face. Man slumps to the floor and begins to cry, as the stage lights fade for the final time….]