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27 November 2021

Happy Talk - The Play

It’s Saturday 27th November and it’s snowing in Stratford-upon-Avon. It looks like we might have our winters back. My plans today were to join the Christmas shopping rush but instead, I’m going to stay indoors and make good use of my time. Another review of Happy Talk, the play, is high on my list of priorities.

I’ve lived with Happy Talk for the past three years since the day the idea popped into my head, and I put pen to paper. It was written for an annual competition organized by my local Stratford-upon-Avon playwright’s group. Initially, it took little more than a week to write. Since then, it has occupied days, weeks, and months of my life. Happily, I’m pleased to add.

Happy Talk didn’t win the annual competition but over a play reading evening, it captured the imagination of a group of local thespians who bought it to life and found so much more in it than I had ever realized. They saw it as a romance with some very poignant messages about today’s throw-away society and how once personal possessions were loved and valued. I had written the play as a comedy, pure and simple, at least that was what I thought at the time. Now I reflect back on what inspired me to write it, I find myself wondering if the impetuous was one that goes back to my childhood, and the value I placed on the handcrafted gifts and toys that my father made for me. I have most of them to this day, and I would not like to part with them.

Since that first play reading, Happy Talk has been adapted and produced on Zoom, performed on stage at The Bear Pit Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon, and is on its way to The Lighthorne Festival to take part in a National Drama Competition in June 2022. It’s the third time it has been entered. In 2020 and 2021 the festival was cancelled due to the pandemic.

So let me tell you about the story and the main protagonists… There are five scenes in the play.

Scene 1

Scene 1 opens with Charlie, a kind-hearted, compassionate, and thoughtful husband waiting for Emily, his wife to return with the morning shopping. Emily has a love affair with knick-knacks and is well known in every charity shop in the town. She has a collection that dates back to way before her marriage to Charlie. She is not a compulsive collector but unable to resist bringing home knick-knacks that she feels should be valued. True to form, Emily returns with both the food shopping and a few little things that she has collected on the High Street. She has fallen in love with three of her purchases.

Meet the stars of the show:

· Billy is a three-legged china dog with big sad eyes.

· Yul is a huge Teddy Bear hat that has seen better days.

· A china plate, hand painted by a child.

And yes, I acquired/made these props myself! There is no such thing as being a playwright alone if you want to see your play performed on a stage! You have to be a jack of all trades. Yul, I found in a charity shop (totally appropriate to the story), I then gave him a good shampoo and a short back and sides haircut to get him into character. Billy, I found in Hobbycraft – complete with four legs! I then, with much regret, cut off one of his legs before I painted him with those big sad eyes. I hand-painted the plate myself – childlike, you will agree, and representative of my painting skills.

After a little light-hearted banter about the newcomers to the house, Charlie sensitively reminds Emily that will soon be moving to a small bungalow. Retired, and with dwindling resources, they decided to downsize together. Unfortunately, there will not be room for Emily’s collection of knick-knacks. Deeply saddened but knowing that Charlie is right, Emily agrees to Charlie’s suggestion that they take the knick-knacks along to a car boot sale to find good, loving homes for each of them.

Scene 2

Charlie and Emily return from the car boot sale, exhausted and distressed by the whole experience, but most of the knick-knacks were sold. What is left is in two cardboard boxes. Emily retires early leaving Charlie turning the TV on to catch the news. His attention is taken by an antiques programme. The presenter is showing photographs of two long-lost bookends that were made by Rodin, and says that, if found, they would be worth a fortune. Charlie recognizes them. For years they had adorned their sideboard. That day, they had taken them to the car boot sale. Charlie looks at the two remaining cardboard boxes and turns to God to plead with him that the book ends were not sold at the car boot sale. He makes a deal with God. God answers him – the bookends are found in the second cardboard box. A millionaire in the making, Charlie retires to bed singing Happy Talk.

Scene 3

Emily wakes up early. Charlie sleeps on. Emily remembers that the two of them had agreed that anything that came back from the car boot sale should be taken to her favourite charity shop. Off the goes with the boxes – to the RSCPA shop, a charity shop that sells books in the main but also knick-knacks.

Charlie awakes and comes downstairs to find the two boxes gone. Believing them to have been robbed overnight, Charlie calls out for Emily to fetch the police. Emily returns at that moment from her trip into town. Charlie is beside himself. “I did a deal with God”, he says. Emily responds with “And I did a deal with Rosemary at the RSPCA charity shop – just as we agreed!”

Emily puts the kettle on while Charlie busies himself to ring Rosemary at the RSPCA charity shop to recover the bookends. Rosemary drives a hard bargain. Her charity shop is about to be closed. If Charlie wants the bookends back, then he must buy all the books and knick-knacks in the shop and take them away.

Scene 4

Charlie seeks help from a man with a van, Fred. Together they pack everything up at the charity shop and ship it all back to the house. The scene begins with Fred unloading cardboard boxes at Emily’s feet in their lounge. Charlie explains the deal he had to do with Rosemary and that the book ends are going to make them rich beyond their wildest dreams. Emily is beside herself. Charlie tries to mollify her by reuniting her with Billy, the three-legged china dog, and Yul. He then sets off, bookends in hand, to an appointment he has with Sothebys.

Scene 5

Charlie returns excited and full of plans for the future, a big fat cheque in his pocket. Emily, forever happy with the simple things in life, content and grateful for their loving relationship throughout the years, rejects Charlie’s wild plans for the future.

Charlie has to make a decision. It is either following his dreams or losing the most valuable person in his life…

I think you can guess the outcome!

And yes, I have become a jack of all trades: script-writer, producer, stage manager, props, and finally actress! What a fun journey it has been… And still is.

So now that I have shared the story with you, I am going to revert to reviewing the play once more, in readiness for The Lighthorne Festival next year. We are into Version 15 to date. With each new script, we enrich the story, find new ways to draw out the comedy, and get closer to our characters.