Summary: A play done in the style of a silent movie melodrama. In which our heroine is threatened with dire consequences for not being able to pay the rent to her wicked landlord. The theme is poverty and oppression. Note: This is a shortened and slightly altered version of a script published previously. It has fewer characters. The previous version can be read at
Style: Melodramatic, with some light touches.       Duration: 10min
Actors: 1F, 2M

Pauline, our heroine
Sir Jaspar Hardmaster, the villainous landlord
Richard, husband of Pauline

Performance note:
The play is performed in the style of a Victorian melodrama/silent movie. The characters mime their parts, in an over-the-top manner, freezing at intervals while captions (dialogue and scene setters) are flashed on the screen. The dialogue in the script is for the guidance of the actors, and should only be mouthed, not spoken aloud. Not all dialogue has captions – the actions of actors should make clear the meaning. Directions for the actors are in italics. Costuming should suit the silent movie period, and will be anachronistic in terms of the time period of events. Silent movies-type piano music should accompany the play throughout. In the original production, a movie projector was set up, with a rotating disc (which had wedges cut out of it) in front of the lens to simulate the flicker of a silent movies film.


Scene One

CAPTION: The Rise and Fall of Sir Jaspar Hardmaster
CAPTION: Or (for those who can’t do without gratuitous sex and violence), "A Lady Imperilled"
CAPTION: (Your city/Suburb), 2020
CAPTION: A humble cottage on the wrong side of (your choice of name) Street
Enter our heroine, Pauline, a mother pushing a pram. She is frantically weary, draws her hand across her brow, and sinks into a chair.
EFX: Baby cry.
Pauline hears a baby cry. She goes to the pram, and lifts out a bundle covered with a shawl. She unwraps the shawl to reveal a cabbage. She shakes her head, puts the cabbage on the table, and draws out her purse, which she opens and up-ends. Some moths (paper) fly out.
CAPTION: All gone!
Our heroine lifts a baby (doll) out of the pram, and rocks it. She looks round for some milk. Seeing a container (note: one of the opaque kind), she jiggles the baby while opening the cap. Finding a baby’s bottle, she upends the milk container, but it is empty. In tears, she pours from a jug of water into the bottle, which she feeds to the baby while walking it. She takes out an outsized pacifier and puts it in the baby's mouth, then puts the baby back in the pram. She wheels the pram to the side of the stage, and taking up a broom begins to sweep.
Enter Sir Jaspar Hardmaster, our villain. He comes to the front door of the humble cottage, obviously relishing the scene about to be played. He tweaks his moustache, twirls his cane, and preens himself with an oily smile before knocking on the door.
Hearing the knock, Pauline gives a cry of hope.
PAULINE: At last, my husband has returned!
CAPTION: At last, my husband has returned!
She rushes to the door, and flings it open, and is about to fling herself on Sir Jaspar when she realises in shock/horror who it is.
PAULINE: Oh no, it is Sir Jaspar!
CAPTION: Oh no, it is our evil landlord, Sir Jaspar Hardmaster.
Pauline backs away, as he steps inside.
PAULINE: What do you want?
SIR J: I have come for the rent, my proud beauty. (Lifts her chin with an arrogant finger.)
CAPTION: I have come for the rent.
PAULINE: But I cannot pay!
She shows the empty purse, the empty cupboards.
PAULINE: I cannot even buy milk for my little one. (Shows the empty container.)
SIR J: What has that to do with me? I want my money.
Our heroine sinks to her knees, pleading with Sir Jaspar.
CAPTION: When my husband returns, he will pay all that we owe.
SIR J: I have waited long enough. One more day only. If you cannot pay me by tomorrow, I will have you thrown onto the streets without mercy!
CAPTION: Pay by tomorrow, or you will be evicted!
SIR J: Or, you could pay in another way. I need a good maidservant (nudge, nudge, wink, wink) at Hardmaster Hall.
CAPTION: There is another way you could pay! I need a good maidservant.
PAULINE: (Recoils in horror) Never! Never!
SIR J: We shall see how you feel when the removal men arrive. Tomorrow!
He exits with a flourish, leaving Pauline weeping on the floor.
EFX: The baby starts crying again.
Pauline goes to the pram, and sinks down over it. Recovering herself, she picks up the baby with one arm, and with the other hand searches for something to make for dinner. All she can find, apart from the cabbage, is a wilted carrot and a very dry crust of bread. She puts them on a plate, sits down, still nursing the baby, and tries to eat, as lights fade.

Scene Two

CAPTION: The next day.
Pauline is working around the house listlessly, trying to tidy her few belongings, but knowing it is all a waste of time. There is no money and she has run out of time.
Sir Jaspar arrives at the door, preening himself again, exalting in the victory he is on the verge of winning, and with his oily smile imagining what he might do with Pauline now that she is in his grasp. He goes to knock, then stops, choosing to reinforce his superiority by simply barging in.
SIR J: (mocking) You have the money?
PAULINE: In the name of mercy, can you not give me more time? (She falls at his feet, clutches his leg,)
CAPTION: Have mercy. Please give me more time.
SIR J: (Shaking her off.) Mercy pays no bills.
CAPTION: Mercy pays no bills.
SIR J: Time is up! You are now mine. (Points to a battered suitcase, or whatever Pauline might have to transport her meagre belongings.) Now pack!
In a chaotic scene, Sir J whirls around the room tossing whatever Pauline has at hand into the table. Pauline scrabbles to collect them. During this time, the baby starts crying again. Pauline is torn between trying to pacify the baby and not leaving behind any of her belongings. Suddenly, Sir J calls a halt.
SIR J: (Loudly) That’s enough! Time to go, my beauty.
Pauline is struggling to try and regain some dignity, when Sir Jaspar lifts her up by the chin. He pulls her close to him, and she recoils from his bad breath.
SIR J: Feisty, heh? I’ll soon break you of that.
CAPTION: I’ll teach you not to turn from me.
SIR J: You’ll be grateful to have any roof over your head.
CAPTION: You’ll be grateful just to have a room.
SIR J: Now, out!
Sir J takes a sneering look around the room, and with his arms around Pauline pulls her towards the door. At that moment, the door opens, and Pauline’s husband Richard enters. He stops in the doorway, stunned at the sight of his wife in Sir J’s embrace.
With a roar Richard rushes forward, flings Pauline to the ground, and accuses her of being unfaithful. He then turns and confronts Sir J.
RICHARD: So! Making love to my wife while my back is turned.
CAPTION: So! While my back is turned, you are unfaithful.
Richard swings at Sir J and knocks him to the ground. With a cry, Pauline rushes forward and grabs Richard's arms.
PAULINE: No, no! It's a mistake. He is not my lover. I could not pay the rent, and Sir Jaspar wants to throw us out. He was about to force me to be his “servant”.
CAPTION: No, no. He was kidnapping me because I can’t pay the rent.
During the preceding exchange, Sir Jaspar had been struggling to his feet. He advances on Richard.
SIR J: How dare you hit me?
RICHARD: How dare you abduct my wife?
Richard hits Sir J again, knocking him down.
SIR J: (Arising again). I will have you in court for this.
RICHARD: And I’ll have you in court for kidnapping...and worse.
SIR J: I have the right of law. Where’s my rent?
CAPTION: Where’s my rent?
PAULINE: (grabs Richard’s arm). He’s right! We still can’t pay. All is lost.
CAPTION: Alas, all is lost!
RICHARD: No it’s not, my darling. (Opens a backpack he has been wearing.) I met with success. I have our rent money, and more!!
Richard draws out a bag of money from the backpack, and throws it hard at Sir Jaspar, who staggers and falls under the impact. Richard goes and stands over him.
RICHARD: There’s enough there to buy this house. Now go, and never return. (He makes more threatening gestures.)
CAPTION: We have enough now to buy this house.
Sir Jaspar struggles again to his feet. He advances towards Richard, but then thinks better of it and slinks away, helped on his way by a parting kick from Richard.
Richard and Pauline embrace again, doing a dance around the kitchen. When they stop, Richard pulls from his backpack some food, and a bottle of milk, which Pauline, rejoicing, puts on the table.
RICHARD: And another amazing piece of luck! I bought a horse to ride back home.
CAPTION: I bought a horse to come home.
Pauline is delighted.
RICHARD: But on the way, I sold it for these three magic beans!
CAPTION: But I sold it for these three magic beans!
As they freeze, Pauline does not know whether to be delighted, or horrified.

© Copyright John McNeil 2020
All rights reserved
This play may be performed free of charge, on the condition that copies are not sold for profit in any medium, nor any entrance fee charged.
In exchange for free performance, the author would appreciate being notified of when and for what purpose the play is performed.
He may be contacted at: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Or at: 36B Stourbridge St, Christchurch 8024, New Zealand.