The Doll's House

By Justin Mellersh

[A Play for ELT learners adapted from the short story of the same name by Katherine Mansfield]

[England in the late 19th Century]

SCENE 1: the Burnell's house

[Girls playing in the living room]

Mrs. Hay:               Bye-bye dearies.

Kids:                     [Disinterestedly] Oh, bye (etc.)

[Kezia jumps up and follows Mrs. Hay out of the room. The others just carry on playing.]

Kezia:                   Oh, Mrs. Hay. When are you coming back?

Mrs. Hay:               Oh, I don't know, sweet thing.

Kezia:                   [Half pleadingly and half disappointed] Oh.

[At the front door as Mrs. Hay is leaving. Mrs. Hay looks down dotingly at Kezia.]

Kezia:                   Such lovely children.

Mother:                When they are nice they are very very nice...

Mrs. Hay:             And when they are bad they are terrible. I know.

Mother:                Isabel's such a perfect child though. She's got a natural feeling for what's right and wrong.

Mrs. Hay:               [Disagreeing but trying not to show it] Hm.

Aunt Beryl:           Kezia here's such a lazy thing. Always daydreaming.

Mrs. Hay:              Oh, no!

Aunt Beryl:            [Continuing] Head in the clouds.

Mrs. Hay:               You're too hard on the girl. Anyway, I must be off.

Mother:                Safe journey.

Aunt Beryl:               Do come again.

Mrs. Hay:               Bye-bye. Thank you so much. [Holding Kezia's head in her hands] Bye-bye darling.

Scene 2: the living room

[Christmas present opening at the Burnell's house]

Father:                  And look what Mrs. Hay sent you all the way from London. It's for the three of you                  naughty little girls.

Lottie:                  Wowee! It's almost as big as me!

Father:                  We could only just get it through the door.

[the girls are already ripping the wrapping paper off it. They are speechless for a few moments and then walk around it showing their amazement]

Kezia:                   Oh, it's like a dream, isn't it Aunt Beryl?

Aunt Beryl            It's rather nice, yes. But the smell of paint from that thing's terrible. Enough to make us all ill.

[The girls make silly faces to each other]

Father:                  It is a pretty strong smell, isn't it? We'll have to put it in the spare room at the back of the house. Hey, perhaps you girls can use that as your play room from now on. We can light a fire in there.

[The girls dance around in happiness]

Isabel:                   Oh, can I show it to Emmie and Lena?

Kezia:                   Can we show it to all the girls at school?

Lottie:                  Can I sh...?

Mother                 [Not really hearing Lottie] Well, the nice girls, yes. But only in that back room.

Lottie:                                                                                                    Can I sh...?

Mother:                [Continuing] We're not inviting them all in for tea, you know.

Lottie:                                                                                                                Can...?

Mother:                [Cont.] And two at a time. We don't want half the school running around the house, now.

Lottie:                                                                                                                                         Can I sh...?

Mother:                And they'll come and look at the doll's house in silence. And not touch.

Lottie:                  Can I show it to the horses in the field?

[Everyone laughs and comes round Lottie saying, "Oh, Lottie!" and making silly horse sounds etc.]

Scene 3: the back room

[Kezia in the back room with hat, coat and gloves on. She stands and looks at the doll's house in wonder for a few moments and then goes up to it]

Kezia:                   [Putting her arms round it] Oh, you're a perfect, perfect little house. [Opening it up] How can anyone complain about your smell. It's such a beautiful, new smell. [Picks up mother doll inside and pretends it's speaking] "Yes, it's a lovely smell, isn't it? We've just finished painting it." [Kezia knocks on the floor and waves for some imaginary visitors to come in] Yes, you can come in and see it. Just two of you, though, and you have to be quiet. [Again pretending the doll's speaking] "So let me show you round. Come through here to the living room. What do you think of the curtains? I made them myself, didn't I Herbert?" [Pretending to be the father doll] "Yes, dear." "And he chose the material. And this is the new lamp we just bought. It's very modern, and such a romantic light, isn't it Herbert?" "Yes, dear." [Looks up as if she's talking to the visitors] It's lovely, isn't it? [Picks up lamp] Look, you can see the oil moving around inside. [She looks at it in serene silence for a few moments, and then her serenity is disturbed...]

Mother:                Kezia! Kezia! What are you up to? It's time for bed. Run along now.

[Kezia closes her eyes, preparing to go back to reality. Then she sighs, gets up and goes out.]

Kezia:                   Yes, Mum. I'm coming.

Scene 4: the school

[The three girls are on their way to school: hopping and skipping, walking backwards, talking, etc.]

Kezia:                   Oh, I can't wait. I can't wait to tell the girls.

Isabel:                   You're not going to tell the girls; I am. And I'm going to choose who comes to see the doll's house first.

[Kezia doesn't look happy about this. Lottie looks up at Isabel, half admiringly, half in awe]

Lottie:                  OK, Isabel.

[Isabel looks at Kezia and sees that she doesn't agree]

Isabel:                   Mumy said so. I'm the oldest.

[Isabel turns and walks on proudly. Kezia pulls a silly face at her. The school bell rings.]

Isabel:                   Oh, no! I won't be able to tell them before playtime!

[They break into a run. Kezia silently laughs into her hand. Lottie skips along, happy that Kezia's happy. They run into the school and rush to take their coats and hats off - the teacher's already reading out the register. She comes to the Kelveys, reads out their names and eyes them both]

Teacher:                              Stand up there straight, there, Kelvey sisters, please.

[She continues in an aloof way. The Burnell girls jump into line]

Isabel:                   [Stage whisper] I've got something to tell you all at playtime.

[All the girls near Isabel turn round]

Teacher:                              Isabel Burnell.

Isabel:                   Present, Miss.

Teacher:                              Have you got something to tell the whole class, Miss Burnell?

Isabel:                   No, Miss.

[Whispers and titters all round. The teacher pauses for silence]

Teacher:                              Kezia Burnell.

Kezia:                   [Trying not to laugh] Present, Miss.

Teacher:                              Lottie Burnell.

Lottie:                  [Copying Kezia in trying not to laugh, but not really understanding why] Present Miss.

Teacher:                              Now, let's all sit down quietly. And that includes you, Miss Burnell.

[All the kids sit down. Else Kelvey pushes the flowers she's been clutching into Lil Kelvey's hand. They walk up to the teacher's desk.]

Lil:                        [Lisping] Elthee and me picked theeth thith morning for you Mith. Thank you Mith.

Teacher:               [Not really meaning it] Thank you, girls. [Smiles a cheesy smile then throws her eyes up in disdain as they walk back to their seats. She puts them in a jam jar and puts it on the floor. Emmie Cole then comes up with her gift.]

Emmie:                 My mother bought this at Harrods on her trip to London. It's for you, Miss.

Teacher:                              Oh, darling. It's beautiful! Oh, thank you so much. Look class. Look what Emmie has                          given me. Oh, that's so kind, Emmie.

[The class is looking at the gift and the teacher. Kezia looks back at the Kelvey girls. The Kelvey girls are just looking in benign wonderment. The class continues.]

Scene 5: the playground

Emmie:                 I'm your best friend, aren't I Isabel? [Putting her arem round Isabel and trying to walk off                         alone]

Lena:                     Yes, we're your friends, aren't we? [Pushing in on the other side]

Girl 1:                   What's your secret, Izzy?

Girl 2:                   Yeah, what were you going to tell us?

Lena:                     She's going to tell us first, aren't you Isabel?

Emmie:                 Yes, you'll all have to wait.

Isabel:                   [Seeing some more people coming] I'm just going to sit down here. [Sit's on the highest                thing around]

Emmie:                 Yes, let's sit down here.

Lena:                     Mm.

[Some more girls come over. They're all sitting around Isabel like she's on a throne. Kezia, holding Lottie's hand, pushes through to stand behind Isabel. The Kelveys stand on the edge of the small crowd.]

Girl 3:                   [Pointing at the Kelveys] Oh, look. There's two walking rubbish bags.                                                     [Giggles from the other girls.]

Girl 5:                   [Jumps away in fright and disgust] Ur! Go away! Horrible, horrible! Nyur, nya-nya, nyur,                      nyur, ru-bbish bags!

[Sounds of "Shhhh!" from the small crowd wanting to listen to Isabel.]

Isabel:                   [Sitting, back straight. Clears throat.] We have a doll's house. A beautiful big doll's house that our aunt's friend sent us all the way from London.  So expensive, I'm sure. It's bright green on the outside with a red and white chimney and a yellow door and real windows. And you can open the whole front up and look into all the rooms at once. And there's wallpaper on the walls and pictures, too, with gold frames. And there's red furniture in the living room, green in the dining room and matching curtains, too. Tables with little-little plates and beds with real bedclothes.

Girl 4:                   What's it made of?

Isabel:                   It's made of beautiful hard wood, and it's so big Lottie can almost get inside it.

[Gasps from the girls]

Lottie:                  [Innocently] No, I can't.

[The girls laugh and Isabel gives Lottie a stern look]

Isabel:                   Anyway, it's so special, you look into it and you feel like you're in a real house.

Kezia:                   You've forgotten the lamp, Isabel.

Isabel:                   Oh, yes. There's a glass lamp with a white top that looks quite real.

[Kezia looks disappointed]

Kezia:                   The lamp's best of all...

Isabel:                                                 So only two people at a time are allowed to come and see it.

Kezia:                   You can see the oil moving around...

Isabel:                                                                      And you have to be on your best behaviour.

Kezia:                   It's so magical...

Isabel:                                    Now the first two to come will be... um

[Kezia is miffed with Isabel ignoring her. The girls all shout out to try to be the first: "Me! Me!"; "Oh, I let you play with my doll last week, Isabel,"; "Let me come and I'll give you some of my chocolate," etc. etc.]

Isabel:                   ...Emmie and Lena. [The others let out a disappointed sigh]

Emmie:                 [To the Kelvey girls] I don't know why you're listening. Isabel isn't going to invite you. [To her friends] Their mother's a washerwoman. They're going to be servants when they grow up.

Isabel:                   Ooh! How common! Is it really true?

Lena:                     I'm going to ask them. [To the Kelveys] Hey, Rubbish Girls! You're going to be servants when you grow up, aren't you?

[Lil just gives an embarrassed smmile and doesn't seem to mind her saying this. Else just looks in her normal wide-eyed way. Lena wants to impress her friends.]

Lena:                     Well, your dad's a criminal and he's in prison! [Blows a raspberry]

[The other girls burst out laughing. Lena skips back to the others who are going wild. They dance around Lena. Kezia, still miffed with Isabel, stands aside and looks at both camps. The girls start chanting: "Rubbish bags in a rubbish pail; the Kelvey's dad has gone to jail."]

Scene 6: after school a few days later

Girl 4:                   We've just seen the doll's house. It's so lovely. Have you seen it?

Girl 5:                   Oh, you've only just seen it? We saw it ages ago.

Girl 6:                   When did you see it?

Girl 5:                   [Pause] About three o'clock.

Girl 6:                   What? This afternoon!?

Girl 5 (or 7):               Yeah. [Pause] Anyway, everybody's seen it now.

Girl 6:                   Except the Rubbish Bag Girls. [The girls all giggle, then Girl 6 suddenly realises that the Kelveys are walking right behind her.] Oop!

[The girls titter behind their hands. The Kelveys walk past. Lil with her embarrassed smile and Else clutching Lil's dress.]

Scene 7: the dining room

[Kezia's hanging around looking at a loss for something to do]

Kezia:                   Mum? What are you doing?

Mother:                I'm cleaning the silver, dearest.

[Kezia sits down and starts doing it with her, but gets in the way more than anything because her mother has to re-do it each time]

Kezia:                   [In a slow tone as if she knows the answer will be 'no'] Mum?

Mother:                [Slightly irritated] Yes, dear?

Kezia:                   Almost all the girls at school have seen the doll's house.

Mother:                Oh, still on about the doll's house. And...?

Kezia:                   Well, the Kelveys haven't seen it. Can I show it to them?

Mother:                [Suddenly barking at Kezia] You certainly can not!

Kezia:                   Why not?

Mother:                Because... because... [snatches the fork out of Kezia's hand] Run along child! You know                                                                         why! Go on. Off you go!

[Kezia runs out the back, slowing down to run her fingers over the doll's house and cocking her head to one side in a loving way. She goes out the back and starts swinging on the gate.

She's looking in one direction in a bit of a daze. The Kelveys come from the other direction. She turns round and sees them, moves to run away, and then realises they've seen her already. She stays in a sort of coy way]

Kezia:                   Hello.

[The Kelveys stop in astonishment - expecting her to do something nasty]

Kezia:                   You can come in and look at the doll's house if you want to. [Twisting her toe on the ground]

[Lil shakes her head vigorously]

Kezia:                   Why not?

Lil:                        Your mum told our mum that she didn't want uth to thpeak to you.

Kezia:                   Oh well. [Not knowing what to say, then feeling more defiant] It doesn't matter. Come on. Nobody's looking.

[Lil shakes her head even harder, but Else pulls on her dress and looks up at her. Lil hesitates and turns round to move away. Else pulls on her dress again and looks up at her pleadingly. Lil looks both ways furtively, nods her head and starts to follow Kezia into the house, with Else in tow. They go in.]

Kezia:                   There it is. [Pause. Lil breathes loudly. Else is as still as a stone.] I'll open it for you. [All eyes on Kezia's fingers. She keeps nervously looking to check that her parents don't come in. She tries to speak normally through the unusually heavy, tense atmosphere. At this point Aunt Beryl happens to be slowly walking between rooms.] There's the living room and the dining room, and that's the lam...

Aunt Beryl:          [Screaming] KEZIA!!! How dare you invite the Kelvey girls in! You know you must stay away from them, you naughty little girl. GO ON! GET OUT, you scruffy little horrors! And DON'T come BACK!!

[The Kelveys run off. When they get far enough away, they sit down out of breath, red in the face. They slowly calm down. Else moves over to Lil, pulls her dress and smiles up at her.]

Else:                     I thaw the little lamp.

ŠJustin Mellersh 1997

 

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