So, somewhat optimistically, I signed up for this challenge: write a play every day in February.
It's a nice idea. Everyone pays in (£20.18), and all those who manage to complete the challenge get to share the pot at the end.
More importantly, it makes you write. And like NaNoWriMo, it forces you to stop fretting about being any good.
Every day, the organiser, Sebastian, sends everyone a prompt. You can ignore it if you like, but it's a helpful spur to get started. For February 1, the prompt boiled down to the phrase: Brave Little Soldier.
I’ve decided the only possible way to do this is to use what I’ve learned in improv, and just start , without any idea of where you're going. So for this, I went with the obvious reference: a child being told he's a brave little soldier.
I really thought I was about to write a comic piece about a mum going nuts with her crying child. As soon as the line 'Daddy didn't mean it’ jumped out, everything shifted. I almost gave up on the spot, but I’m glad I didn’t.
I wrote most of this in the Notes app on my iPhone, standing up on the train into London. Which just goes to show what you can do with limited time and resources. Not that it's brilliant: the subject is well-trodden, the sequence of events fairly unsurprising. And it's a scene, really, rather than a full play. (Almost inevitably.)
What did surprise me was how that phrase 'brave little soldier' ended up bouncing around the characters. It was unplanned, and it was only when I realised I'd referred to a war-based video game that I realised what was going on. The unconscious, eh?
So, anyway. I’ve decided to share the plays on here. (I may change my mind on some of them!) See what you think, and please keep in mind I wrote this in about an hour – an improvised first draft, and then some polishes when the shape revealed itself and needed smoothing out.
Brave Little Soldier
A child’s bedroom. Toys strewn across the floor, a bed piled with scrunched duvet and blankets. Kids TV posters on the wall. A baby changing trolley against one wall. The door is upstage, standing half-open.
The door opens and in comes KAREN, a mum in her mid-30s. Harried, tousled, anxious. Over her shoulder she carries two year-old LUCAS, who is howling.
KAREN: Okay, Lucas, okay baby. Brave little soldier. It’s okay sweetheart.
Lucas just keeps howling. Karen puts him on the bed. He sits and howls.
Come on now baby. It’s not so bad. Just a little bump.
He keeps howling.
Just a bump. Daddy didn’t mean it.
He’s still howling.
Jesus, come on, Lukey!
She covers her face with her hands. Stands like that with him howling. A long pause. She drags her hands off her face and lets out a long breath. Goes to him. Crouches next to the bed, inspects his head. There is a clear bruise/abrasion on his forehead.
Nothing there, darling. I can’t see anything.
She strokes his head. His howling intensifies. She stands up sharply. She’s twitchy, anxious.
She paces a circuit of the small room. Like a cell. Lucas starts to wind down. She scoots over to him, kneels before him on the bed.
That’s it baby. Come on. All better.
Okay. Brave baby. Brave little soldier aren’t you? There you go.
He has almost stopped. She looks around the floor. Grabs a soft penguin.
Oh look it’s penguin. Poor penguin, all on his own here. Shall we give him a cuddle?
Lucas stares at the penguin. Grabs it and throws it across the room. She is shocked.
He starts crying again.
Shit shit shit shit shit
She starts pacing again, more and more unsettled. Through the door comes MARK: 40, rangy, somewhere between baffled and defensive.
MARK: How is —
KAREN: He’s fine. He’s fine. Don’t worry. Leave it.
M looks at her.
MARK: He’s my kid.
Lucas has quietened. He is watching them warily. Karen speaks almost inaudibly:
KAREN: Our kid.
Mark sneers, puts out an arm, and sweeps her aside. She staggers to stay up. Mark goes over to Lucas. Lucas goes quiet, stares at him.
MARK: You’re all right buddy aren’t you? [To Karen:] See? Stopped already
Lucas shuffles backward on the bed. Karen watches anxiously.
MARK: I’ll take him out. Cheer him up.
KAREN: No, I’ll do it it’s okay.
MARK: I’ll take him out.
KAREN: Let me. Fresh air would be nice. You stay. [A beat] ] You’ve got that new game haven’t you?
A flicker from Mark: he’d forgotten about that. Karen spots it.
Yeah? That war one? You said you couldn’t wait.
Mark is weighing up options. Karen keeps going.
Let me calm him down, eh? You can have a go on the game.
A beat or two. He’s caught between choices.
Go on baby. It’s fine. He’s fine. No problem.
She goes to him. Strokes his arm, a little gingerly, then more firmly.
All better now.
MARK: Get me some beers while you’re out.
KAREN: Yeah, of course! No worries. It’ll be nice won’t it Lucas? Bit of air. We’ll go see the ducks?
KAREN: Yeah, the ducks! [To Mark:] You hate the ducks.
MARK: Fucking ducks.
KAREN: Exactly. It’s fine. He’s totally fine now. We’ll go see the ducks. You try out your game.
She strokes his arm, more sensually.
When I come back we’ll have some time together.
She trails her hand down his thigh. He looks at her.
MARK: All right. Don’t be long.
KAREN: Ducks, Lukas! Go see the ducks? [To Mark:] You go try out that war game.
[More confident now, teasing:] Brave soldier.
MARK: Don’t take the piss.
She snatches her hand back. He glares. marches out
KAREN: Okay baby here we go.
She snatches up a bunch of toys, a couple of books. A bright blue kids backpack. Thinks. Drops the toys. Opens drawers and grabs a couple of tops, trousers, socks. Shoves them in the backpack. Looks around. Grabs a big pack of nappies from the changing trolley. Lucas is watching her intently.
Okay sweetheart? Off we go then. Off we go.
She scoops him up. Carrying backpack, nappies, toddler al at once.
You gonna be brave for me baby? Be brave boy?
He stares at her. She looks around the room. Blows out a breath.
She heads out.