A Black Comedy
A PLAY BY
© Roger Woodcock 2014
Approx running time 94 minutes
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The play is set in the joinery shop of a Funeral Directors. The room is furnished with several benches on which sit coffins in various stages of manufacture. There is a table and three chairs in the middle of the room, the table littered with magazines, unopened lunch boxes, coffee cups etc. Two carpenters, Gladwyn and Tom, are sitting at the table drinking tea/coffee whilst a third, Terry, the labourer, is sweeping the wood shavings from the floor whilst whistling tunelessly.)
CHARACTERS: GLADWYN: Foreman carpenter. Early sixties, with the firm all his working life. Speaks with slight Welsh lilt.
TOM: Carpenter, mid thirties, been with the firm for three years.
TERRY: General handyman. Recent school leaver. A little slow-witted, been with the firm six months.
WINNIE: (MRS DRISCOLL) Deceased undertaker`s widow. Mid fifties, quite vulgar and dresses tartily.
MISS BLACKBURN: Secretary to the late Darra Driscoll. Spinster, prim, late fifties.
BILLY: The firm`s Hearse driver.
POLICE INSPECTOR: Middle-aged, smartly dressed
MR LANGFORD: Grey-haired, relative of Miss Bailey
Gladwyn: (Listening to Terry`s tuneless whistling) I don`t quite recognise that Terry boyo. Bit of Rimsky Korsakov is it?
Terry: (Still sweeping) No Mr Evans it`s `The Grateful Dead.` Got all their CD`s I `ave.
Gladwyn: (Pouring himself a cup of tea) Go down well with the clients will that boyo..
Terry: Thanks Mr Evans. (continues sweeping)
Tom: (Pouring himself a cup of tea) Do we know what sort a` coffin Mrs D`s chosen yet Glad?
Gladwyn: (Sipping his tea ) Not yet Boyo, but knowing Winnie it`ll not be top of the range. Always canny with Darra`s money was Winnie.
Tom: Must have been a shock for her, `im goin` like that?
Gladwyn: (Sipping his tea) Expect she shed a few crocodile tears whilst she was going through his bank statements..
Tom: (Gulping down his tea) S`pose it`s how Darra would `ave liked to `ave gone, marching out with that fancy cane of `is in front a` the funeral. Mind it must have been a big shock for poor Billy, Darra dropping down dead in front of his Hearse like that?
Gladwyn: Must have been a bigger shock when Billy ran over him.
Tom: It happened so quick Billy thought `is suspension had gone.
Gladwyn: Heart attack the doc reckoned. Mind I don`t suppose two broken legs and a crushed spine helped much.
Tom: Billy`s missus reckons `e`s really cut up about it.
Gladwyn: Bound to be boyo. Mind there was a rumour he was on his mobile phone to his bookies. I reckon that`s just tittle-tattle but..well we all know what Billy`s like when it comes to the gee-gees.
Tom: It must `ave bin` awful for Mrs Parsons?
Gladwyn: Very upset she was, what with Darra going under the wheels and then Mr Parsons shooting out the back of the Hearse like that. He was a big bloke too,was Clem. Took four passing dustbin men to get the coffin onto the pavement whilst they waited for the backup Hearse.
Tom: Caused chaos up at the church apparently. Made the vicar late for `is first gay wedding.
Terry: (Pausing in his sweeping) She`s allus bin` alright wi` me `as Mrs Driscoll. (Gladwyn and Tom pause mid-sip and stare at Terry)
Tom: That`s what I like about you Terry, always up with the conversation.
Terry: (Starting to sweep again) I`d only bin` `ere a day or so when she said she `oped I was settlin` in an` if there was anythin` I needed ta` let `er know.
Gladwyn: (Chuckling) Probably heard about your big brush handle boyo.
Terry: (Looking at his brush) What would she be interested in me` brush `andle for Mr Evans?
Tom: (Smirking ) She`s allus been interested in anything big has Mrs D.
Gladwyn: (Shaking his head) Here, come and have a cuppa you pillock, before it goes cold in the pot. (Terry puts down his brush and joins the other two at the table)
Tom: Do you reckon things will change Glad..you know..now that Mrs D`s in charge?
Gladwyn: (Pouring Terry a cup of tea) Your guess is as good as mine boyo. Apart from spendin` poor Darra`s hard-earned cash she hasn`t been what you might call `hands on when it comes to the business has she?
Tom: Surprise really, Darra leaving all this to her, especially after...well you know.
Gladwyn: He always did have a blind spot when it came to Winnie. He once told me she`d made him the happiest man in the world. She knew she was on to a good thing though..Bloke with his own business, big house up Tanner Avenue, BMW convertible. There were only one way it were going to end when he set his cap at her.
Tom: Still, catching her out with that rugby player, can`t have bin very nice for him.
Gladwyn: Oh I`ve no doubt she spun him a yarn, stuck her chest in his face, promised to take him to paradise, stuff like that.
Terry: (Sipping his tea) She likes cats. Said she `ad one called Blackie. I asked her what colour it was, an` she just laughed and said I was a (Pause with embarressment) ...somethin` tonic.
Gladwyn: (Putting down his cup) Don`t be afraid to say it boyo. We all know Mrs D can be a bit Anglo-saxon when it comes to the English language. (He starts to get up from the table) ...Now how about shifting some of them shavings under my bench boyo....
Terry: Yes Mr Evans (quickly swallows his tea gets up and starts to sweep again)
Tom: (Getting up and moving to his own unfinished coffin) We really needs to know about the coffin, what with the funeral being next week an` everything.
Gladwyn: (Starting to chisel at his coffin) I expect she`ll be bringing in our wage packets this afternoon, now that Darra`s gone. I`ll have a quiet word.
Terry: Me` Grandad `ad an oak coffin wiv` gold `andles. He liked gold, always wore theses bright yellow necklaces round `is neck. Me` Auntie Pauline said `e reminded her of a bloke she once bought a second-`and car off of. That`s when she was younger a` course `cos she must be nearly seventy somethin` now-
Tom: (Interrupting) Bloody hell Terry, you sound like my missus. SHE can rabbit for the whole of our street sometimes.
Gladwyn: Wouldn`t want a woman that was always going on. Like a bit of peace and quiet when I get home of an evening.
Tom: Trouble is you ain`t got nobody to keep ya` warm in bed `ave ya`?
Gladwyn: Tog twenty duvet. That`ll do me boyo.
Terry: (Still sweeping) Me mam sez I talk a lot. You do though don`t ya` when you`ve got som`at important to say.
Tom: (Ignoring Terry) Don`t you ever miss it Glad, married life?
Gladwyn: (Working on his coffin) Can`t miss something that you`ve never had can you boyo. (Beat) I suppose I miss not having kids. My sister`s got two lads. She brings `em round most weekends, leaves `em while she pops out to do a bit of window shopping. Lively little buggers, both of `em, but we have a great time. Did I ever tell you, I`ve got this model railway, built it in the attic a few years back. The lads love it, playing with the signals, shunting coal waggons into sidings, operating the automatic crossing gates. Time just flies by. I`m always surprised when I hear the front door and it`s Doreen back from her shopping.
Tom: (Working on his coffin) Brenda`s not keen on kids, says they`re too messy and noisy. I said to her I said, good job our folks didn`t think that way `else neither of us would be here. (Beat) She sez she might think about it in a year or two.
Gladwyn: (Smiling) I could happen propose to Winnie, what do you reckon boyos. Tea on the table when I get home from this place, comfy bunk up after my hot chocolate, joint owner of `Driscolls Funeral Directors` Got a lot going for it I reckon.
Tom: Bloody `ell Glad, she`d have you in one a` these coffins inside six months.
Gladwyn: Ey you`re probably right. Jimmy, landlord of the Goat an` Compass, reckons her bedroom`s full of erotic books. I thought it best not to ask how he knew, him being built like one of his beer barrels. (Beat) Heaven knows what Darra thought about a load of mucky books lining his bedroom walls `cos he could be a bit straight-laced. (Beat) No, reckon I`ll stick to me` Marks`` Dinners for One` and a quick play with me`self after lights out.
Tom: (Grinning) That`s why ya` glasses are like bottle bottoms is it?
Gladwyn: (Throwing a cloth at Tom) Cheeky sod.
Terry: (Sweeping shavings onto a shovel) My mam bought me some books when I was little..They was by Enid somebody..(Tips shavings into large bin) They`re up in the loft now. Mam sez they`ll come in fa` when I `ave kids of me` own.
Gladwyn: (running his eye along the length of his coffin) Should be antiques by then boyo.
Terry: (Excited) Ya` reckon Mr Evans. Worth a bit aren`t they, antiques?
Tom: You`ll be able ta` give up work son and sail round the world.
Terry: Nah, Can`t stand bein` on a boat. Went on this boat trip once, round some island somewhere to look at some plug- ugly bloody seals...any road it was that rough I were sick all over this baby what was in its mother`s arms. Carrot soup I think it was. It were orange anyway-
Gladwyn: (Interrupting) I went on a ship once. Cruise it was, full of toffee-nosed gits in penguin suits all yabbering about the FT index and stop losses. Insisted on taxis every time we docked at a new location. I don`t reckon they ever set foot on foreign soil `cept when they climbed on and off the gangplank. (Beat) I go to Blackpool every year now.
Tom: Brenda says she wants to go to Rome or Florence. I reckon it`s so she can ogle all them Roman statues with their todgers on display.
Gladwyn: I saw Michael Angelo`s statue of David in Florence a year or two back. I reckon he must have been queer, chiselling all them nude blokes. Bet he took days doing their private parts, chipping away with his little hammer and chisel. (They continue to work in silence for a while, the only sound being Terry`s tuneless whistling)
Tom: (Putting the finishing touches to his coffin) P`raps Mrs D`ll give us a pay rise. What do you reckon Glad?
Gladwyn: The only rise you`ll get boyo is if she puts her polished finger nails down the front of your grubby overalls.
Tom: (Holding one end of his finished coffin) I live in hope! (Pause) Give us a hand to put this on the floor Terry. (Terry takes the other end of the coffin and between them they lower it to the floor)
Tom: (Looking at the coffin) You must `ave made `undreds of these over the years Glad?
Gladwyn: (Running a loving hand along the side of his coffin) Got to be Four and a half thousand, give or take.
Tom: Go on! Really. You`ve knocked up over four thousand of these?
Gladwyn; (Still stroking the side of his coffin) Nineteen sixty-seven I joined `Driscolls.` It was Devlyn, Darra`s old man,that ran the business then. Billy Meadows was in charge of the workshop. He taught me everything there was to know about coffin making, the different woods, linings, the way the grain ran, the different types of handles.... (beat) I remember the first one I made on my own. It was for a poor lad that had been killed in a motor bike accident. I`ll never forget the kid`s dad coming into the workshop whilst I was making the coffin. I`ve never seen anyone so cut up, not in all the time I`ve been doing this job. Before he left he put his hand on my shoulder and thanked me. Can you imagine. Thanking me for helping put his son in the ground. Strange really, but that`s when I knew this was the job I wanted for the rest of my working life. (He stops stroking the coffin) Old man Driscoll use to have an advert on the safety curtain at the old Roxy. I laugh when I think about it now.`Bury with confidence – satisfaction is our byeword – all sizes catered for.`
Terry: What was the Roxy Mr Evans?
Gladwyn: (Smiling) Fleapit of a cinema on Somersall street. I use to go on a Saturday with my Grandad. Roy Rogers, Gabby Hays, Gene Autry. The `singing cowboy` they called him. You saw them all at the Roxy. (Begins to chisel away at his coffin again) Site`s a bloody car showroom now.
Terry: Me` dad bought a car once. Said `e would take us all on `oliday in it but `e drove off ta` work one mornin` an` we never saw `im again.
Tom: That`s satnav for you.
Terry: Mam `ad a letter from `im a month later sayin` `e was startin` a new life in Wigan.
Gladwyn: Can anybody start a new life in Wigan?
Tom: Have they still got a pier?
Gladwyn: Funny thing that, but there never was a Pier, not like Brighton or Weston-super-mare. It was nothing more than a coal-loading jetty on a canal. Story goes that someone was looking out of a train window on a foggy day and asked where they were, and were told they were passing Wigan Pier. George Formby`s dad made it famous in the Music Halls and young George incorporated it into his songs.
Tom: Crikey Glad, right bloody know-all aren`t we.
Gladwyn: Yeh, well whilst you`re getting that leg a` yours over your missus boyo, I`m trawling through Google.
(They are interrupted as the door to the workshop opens and Winnie walks in. She is wearing a tight,very short skirt and a blouse unbuttoned to show off most of her ample bosom.Her bleached blonde hair is piled into a beehive and adorned with a red silk carnation. In her hand she is carrying a number of pay packets)
Winnie: (Smiling broadly) Morning boys, Hard at bleadin` work are we.
Gladwyn: (Sarcastically) Morning Winnie. Glad you could drop by at such a sad time,much appreciated .
Winnie: (Slumps into a chair and displays most of her legs and thighs) Life goes on Gladwyn..life goes on. Darra wouldn`t want you boys to go without your wages now would he. (She looks round the workshop and suddenly dabs theatrically at her eyes with a tissue) It was his life you know, this place. I use to say to him, Darra I said, you`re working too hard you`ll end up in a fucking early grave. (sniffs and dabs her eyes again) And you know what he said. He said Winnie I`m doing this for you, so you can have a comfortable life after I`ve gone. (She dabs her eyes again) He was a good man was my Darra, God rest his soul.
Gladwyn: Yes we`ll all miss him. (Beat ) We`ve been wondering Winnie...about the coffin?
Winnie: (Ignoring Gladwyn and looking at Terry) You couldn`t get me a drink could you pet only I`m that bleadin` parched. Must be the fuckin`sawdust in here or something.
Terry: (His eyes firmly fixed on Winnie`s chest) Would you like a cup a` tea Mrs Driscoll or a coffee? We`ve got a new jar of Nescafe in the back I think-
Winnie: (Pouting) Don`t suppose you`ve got a drop of gin have you darling?
Terry: (Perplexed) Gin?..I don`t think-
Gladwyn: Come on Winnie, you know Darra never allowed drink on the premises.
Winnie: (Sighing) Ey. Tea bloody total right up to the end. (Beat) How is poor Billy by the way?
Gladwyn: He`s off work with stress. I could give you his address if you like. I`m sure a visit would cheer him up.
Winnie: Yes, well I`ll see what I can do although I`m run off me` bleadin` legs, what with sorting Darra`s papers out and the funeral and everything.(looks up at Terry) Now pet, that drink.
Terry: Tea of coffee Mrs Driscoll?
Winnie: In the absence of a little pick-me-up, coffee would be very welcome pet (pause as she eyes Terry salaciously) Barry isn`t it?
Terry: It`s Terry Mrs Driscoll, remember you once-
Winnie: (Interrupting) Terry, of course. Two sugars pet, and steady on the milk. (Terry goes off SL to make the coffee)
Gladwyn: I`m sorry to go on Winnie but if you could let us know...the coffin?
Winnie: Oh coffin, choffin. (Dabs her eyes again) Just do som`at tasteful Gladwyn there`s a good lad. Now, before I forget. packets) (Holds out wage `G Evans` (Gladwyn takes his wages) `T Hillman` (Tom takes his envelope) T Penis...(scrutinises envelope) `T Penis? My God, surely that`s not the boy`s surname?
Tom: Penwis, Mrs Driscoll It`s Terry Penwis,
Winnie: (still staring at envelope) Yes of course I can see it is now. Sometimes I say the first thing that comes into my bleadin` head.
Tom: (Under his breath ) I can believe that one.
Gladwyn: (Taking Terry`s packet) I`ll give it the lad when he`s made your drink. So something in oak perhaps?-
Winnie: Oh I don`t really know..(Looks around the room and spots the coffin Tom has just finished, on the floor) That looks fine, what do you think?
Gladwyn: (Hesitantly) Well yes, it`s ok. One of our economy range-
Winnie: (Interrupting) That`s settled then. Darra always said it`s not what they carry you off in but what`s inside that matters. `Cept Darra always tried to sell his customers top-a` the-range. Isn`t that right Gladwyn?
Gladwyn: (Counting his wages) Always a business man first was Darra.
Winnie: (Fondling her hair) I do hope it`s a nice day, for the funeral. Michael is doing my hair and I do like to look my best for these occasions.
Gladwyn: We`ll all pray for sunshine Winnie.
Winnie: Sweet of you pet.
Gladwyn: Just one last thing...the handles?
Winnie: (Throwing up her arms dismissively) Oh I`ll leave that up to you Gladwyn. Darra use to say bronze looked good on a sunny day. Like gold apparently.
Gladwyn: That`s true I suppose-
Winnie: That`s it then. All for show isn`t it, at the end of the day. Bit like silk flowers, I was in the florists the other day and do you know I could have sworn the Irises on the counter were real, but no, fucking artificial, every last one. (Terry arrives back with a cup of coffee and a piece of cake)
Terry: (Handing the coffee and cake to Winnie) Thought you`d like a piece a` me` mother`s cream cake Mrs Driscoll. Bakes every Thursday she does, except when it`s the Pensioners lunch down at the Institute then she does it on a Wednesday-
- End of Extract
© Roger Woodcock 2014