A Cream Cracker under the settee
Describe how you would stage the monologue in order to both hold the audiences attention and to ensure that they are made aware of the themes and issues that concern the writer.
One of the main problems in staging a monologue such as this is in keeping the audiences attention - A Cream Cracker under the settee introduction. With only one person on stage for them to watch, you must be careful in how you direct the piece, to keep them watching. Another potential problem is that they may not fully grasp the meanings in the piece, the themes of life and death and love, etc. I have had a chance to read the piece many times, whereas the audience only hear it once, so it must be staged correctly to get across these ideas. Doris comes across as a very harsh, stubborn, picky old woman, however hidden underneath all this are regrets from past times and a love for her husband whom she misses greatly. The problem with directing this monologue will be putting this across to the audience through staging, lighting, props, tone of voice, music and gestures.
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The play begins with Doris reminiscing about a recent visit from Zulema, Doris’ care worker. It is obvious that Doris does not like Zulema, from the way she speaks about her. She is civil, yet she criticises and argues with the things she says.
She says ‘”I was glad when she’d gone dictating”… And I thought “Well, Zulema, I bet you haven’t dusted the top of that.” And she hadn’t. Thick with dust. Home help. Home hindrance. You’re better off doing it yourself.’
Doris is very obsessive about her clean house, and so she picks on Zulema’s cleaning habits. The dust and dirt seem like trivial matters to Zulema but Doris want to control her environment as she always has done. She feels Zulema is not there to really help, but only there because she has to be. She also feels that Zulema is constantly trying to get her into Stafford house (old persons care home). This is a place she detests as she constantly mentions throughout the monologue. I would have Doris speaking in quite a harsh tone about Zulema, and when she says ‘I was glad she was gone dictating’ I would have her breath a sigh of relief before the line and have her facial expression change to a happy face during the line. This would emphasize her dislike for Zulema. Then as she goes on to mention her cleaning inefficiencies I would have the actress change to an annoyed tone of voice and an annoyed expression, and use a prop such as a rag or duster, which she should snatch off the table in an impatient and annoyed way. This would reflect Doris’ annoyance and impatience, with, from her point of view, her inadequate help.
You only get Doris’ impressions and perceptions of Zulema. Which is that Zulema sees Doris as a fussy and foolish 75 year old lady, who although is not well still insists on cleaning. And this is also the impression that the audience receives which is perhaps not what actually happened. It also gives the impression that Zulema is uncaring and does not do her job properly. I had the idea of having the conversation between Zulema and Doris shown on side of the stage underneath a spotlight, but changing it so it was slightly more in Zulema’s favour but on reflection this would change the play a lot. Bennetts intentions were to get the audience to think and feel about Doris. To understand her views and her life and character.
Doris says “I was just wiping it over when, oh hell, the flaming buffet went over.”
I would have the actress say this in an annoyed yet light-hearted tone, to reflect the way Doris acts in the situation. Everything else on stage would be kept normal. Doris obviously knows she has done some serious damage, but brushes the fact away, seeing things as normal and treating the situation almost humorously. I would also have the actress exaggerate the words ‘oh hell’ and ‘flaming’ because these are phrases not often used and therefore show Doris’ age and era.
Doris has spent most of her life trying to be tidy and organised and even after her fall she still puts hygiene and organisation first. After her fall she begins to reminisce about Wilfred, her dead husband. She talks about the gate he never fixed.
She says ‘He had no list. I was the one with the list. He’d no system at all, Wilfred. “When I get a minute, Doris.” Well he’s got a minute now, bless him.’
She criticises him for being unlike her the way she always has done however she loves him a lot. In this part of the scene I would like to have a silent replay of the scene she describes, showing her and Wilfred talking in the kitchen. This would happen on the side of the stage, under a pale dim spotlight, the actors would mime the words of their conversation while Doris spoke her lines. I would have a slight pause before she said ‘bless him’ to emphasize the words and then I would have her look over in the direction of the spotlight, by which time the actress playing the younger Doris would’ve disappeared. Doris would pause and look wistfully and mournfully at Wilfred’s ghost. This would show her love and caring for Wilfred and that her constant nagging was just her way, it didn’t mean that she didn’t love him. It was also get across to the audience that she missed him.
I think one of the most important parts in the play is when Doris talks about her and Wilfred’s inability to have children. She mentions Wilfred buying a pram ‘In those days you were proud of your pram’ she says. Again she brings in how nowadays things just aren’t good enough and in her time things were better organised and much cleaner. This statement also ties in with being proud of her baby, something she regrets never having the chance to do.
Doris says ‘I wanted him called John. The midwife said he wasn’t fit to be called anything and had we any newspaper? Wilfred said, “Oh yes. She saves newspaper. She saves shoeboxes as well.” I must have fallen asleep because when I woke up she’d gone. I wanted to see him. Wrapping him in newspaper as if he was dirty. He wasn’t dirty, little thing.’
The way the midwife acts here is probably linked to why Doris dislikes the care service so much. She is tactless and treats the baby like a thing and Doris probably partially blames the care service for what happened. She is worried that if she goes to Stafford house she will end up the same way as the baby. Uncared for properly, alone and dead.
Here I would have Doris sounding angry and confused as she spoke her lines. To show she was angry about how the midwife treated the baby and confused about what had happened with the baby and why it had happened. Also I would have her sounding upset and wistful, with a similar sort of expression on her face, to convey to the audience her sadness about her lost child and how she never really overcame it. Whilst Doris was talking in this scene I would have the voices of the midwife and Wilfred echoing the conversation softly in the background. This would give the scene a more powerful effect than the others showing that this was a particularly important moment in Doris’ life and a matter that deeply affected her.
It is ironic that Doris views Zulema’s cleaning as inadequate. Doris sees Zulema as slovenly compared to her standards, which she believes to be normal and so she tries to do her own cleaning. Zulema tells her off for this adopting her own philosophy ‘let the dirt wait it won’t kill you’. But that is exactly what it does do. If Doris had found Zulema’s cleaning satisfactory then she would not have injured herself trying to clean. And later died as a result of that.
There is also irony in that Doris was thinking of Wilfred when she decided to climb upon the buffet to do her dusting, as she was looking at his picture. In a strange way he was linked to her death because of this. He had a lot of enthusiasm for life, decided to try and improve the garden, even brought a pram in his excitement about the baby, when that didn’t work out he planned to get a dog, as an idea for a sort of replacement child, however gave in to Doris’ arguments against it. Left alone together they bickered and argued even though they still loved each other. This is shown when Doris talks about the garden.
Wilfred says ‘ “The garden is my department.” Garden! It’s only the size of a tablecloth’ Although she scorns what Wilfred says, she does so in her head, not wanting to hurt his feelings. Here I would have the actress speak in a joking sort of way to make clear to the audience that although she scorned and laughed at some of Wilfreds ideas, she liked to humour him because she loved him. She didn’t always voice her opinions about what she considered to be silly ideas for the same reasons. I would also have some sort of prop for Doris to glance at like some gardening gloves, or an unopened packet of seeds that Wilfred had planned to plant, to tie in with Doris’ earlier statement about Wilfred being disorganised and never following through with his plans. This would hopefully get the audience thinking about the links between the different pieces of the play.
At the end of the play a policeman comes to Doris’ house to check if she’s all right. She tells the policeman she is and he leaves. After a pause she says ‘You’ve done it now, Doris. Done it now, Wilfred.’
I would direct this line having the actress with a sad smile on her face sat on the floor looking incredibly lonely speaking in a sad yet resolute tone. This would show the audience that although she was sad about dying and regretted not asking for help she knew she didn’t belong in this world any longer and she would rather end it like this than be put in a home. She has been trying to get some help all day and when it’s offered she turns it down. She knows that if she is found like this she will be taken to Stafford house. The place she least wants to go. Doris has always felt as though she should be in control of her life and was unable to do so with her baby, which is perhaps why, it was one of her saddest moments. In the end her stubbornness leads her to choose death rather than becoming a stereotypical old lady in a care home, something she would detest. It is ironic how her cleaning led to her death, she died as a result of her concern with dirt, she will be tidied into a grave like the baby into the shoebox… and in the end become a victim of the leaves she detests.
At the very end of the play she recalls being a child, wishing she were ready for bed all washed and clean. She sings a childhood song to herself. She knows she is close to the end of her life now. As she sings the song I would have the scene about her childhood shown in a still frame under a pale blue spotlight towards the front center of the stage. This way the audience can see what she is thinking and this makes it easier for them to recognise her feelings, her acceptance of her death and her sadness as she reflects on her life.
As she pauses after singing the song, the childhood scene would fade out under the light. All the other memories Doris mentions throughout the play, such as, the baby; the garden; her conversation with Zulema and her fall from the buffet would appear in still frames. They would appear one by one, the spotlights would flash on and you would see them for a few seconds then the light would turn off and they would disappear. These still frames would appear scattered over the stage. This would remind the audience of what had happened in the play, and make them think about the themes and issues covered, such as life and death, love, children, and old age people. Although these are just a few of the themes covered.
Doris would then say her last line “Never mind. It’s done with now, anyway.”
I would have her say this in a calm, accepting tone, to show she was willing to accept her own decision, though it may have been stupid, and that she was ready for death. As she says this the lights would be slowly dimming to show her life slowly leaving her and then they would fully fade out to show her life leaving her to the audience.
As my audience was leaving the theatre, I would like them to be thinking about Doris. I would like them to be feeling as I was feeling after when I first finished reading the story. A mixture of happy and sad feelings. Sad because she died alone and unhappy, when she could’ve had a better chance at the care home. Also sad because perhaps people didn’t take enough care of her. But also a slightly happier feeling because at least she got to choose how she died, she could have saved herself if she had wanted to. She had said continuously how she never wanted to be put in a home and also how she was unhappy with the care she received and this way her problems were solved, so in a way she got what she wanted.
I would use Techniques such as facial expressions and tone of voice mainly in this piece because its hard to use a lot of stage and directing techniques in a monologue, but I personally think you can convey a lot with your tone of voice and facial expressions. I also use things such as still frames under spotlights, to help the audience re-live some of Doris’ memories, and echoing voices, to exaggerate and emphasize some of the conversations. Overall I hope the audience would leave the play thinking about the themes and issues covered, thinking about both the positive and negative points.