Sunday, June 10, 2012

Britten: Albert Herring (full libretto)


Albert Herring

Albert Herring is Benjamin Britten's fourth opera (op. 39, 1947), between Peter Grimes (Op. 33 1945) and Billy Budd (Op. 50, 1950). According to the Grove's, after Peter Grimes at Sadler’s Wells, Britten and Eric Crozier, among others, decided to launch a new, independent and progressive opera company, the English Opera Group. It was first associated with Glyndebourne, but this relationship gave rise to problems (connected with touring The Rape of Lucretia), and in the early days of 1947 the fully independent English Opera Group was finally established.

Albert Herring's premiere in 1947 (20 June) at Glyndebourne was not a success. A year later, in June 1948, the Aldeburgh Festival was set up, and Albert Herring was the first opera performed there, in the Jubilee Hall. Since then there have been many productions worldwide, despite the opera’s strong local flavor. Herring returned to Glyndebourne in 1985 in an acclaimed production by Peter Hall, which was televised, and in 1989 the same production was presented at Covent Garden. A complete recording with Peter Pears as Herring and Britten conducting was made in 1964.

According to the Wiki article, Sviatoslav Richter calls it "the greatest comic opera of the century" (presumably in Letters from a Life: The Selected Letters of Benjamin Britten, 1913-1976: Volume Five: 1958-1965), but a preliminary Google book search can not verify it. However, in Bruno Monsaingeon's book Sviatoslav Richter: Notebooks and Conversations, Richter did recall that he staged two of Britten operas in the December Nights Festival at the Pushkin Museum: Albert Herring and The Turn of the Screw.

Currently the "definitive" recording of this work is still Britten's own 1964 account (above), which is later reissued in Britten Opera I box set. Glyndebourne's 1985 production was also commercially released in DVD. (Among the extant 6 recordings, I've only heard these two.) Doubly unfortunately, the box set does not include the libretto and the DVD does not have the subtitles. That is a shame as I must have the libretti to go with operas even when they are performed in my native language(s). And I am not alone. Hector Berlioz warned composers not to put crucial words in the soprano's mouth at high notes. More about this in the next post.

For this purpose I have included the full libretto below, for (my) personal use only. The libretto is written by Eric Crozier, after Guy de Maupassant's short story Le rosier de Madame Husson, adapted to an English setting at around 1900.

Roles

Role

Voice type
Lady Billows, an elderly autocrat
soprano
Florence Pike, her housekeeper
contralto
Miss Wordsworth, head teacher at the church school
soprano
Mr. Gedge, the vicar
baritone
Mr. Upfold, the mayor
tenor
Superintendent Budd
bass
Sid, a butcher's shophand
baritone
Albert Herring, from the greengrocer's
tenor
Nancy, from the bakery
mezzo-soprano
Mrs. Herring, Albert's mother
mezzo-soprano
Emmie, village child
soprano
Cisvillage child
soprano
Harryvillage child
treble (boy soprano)

 

Synopsis (from the Wiki article)

Time: April and May 1900
Place: Loxford, a small market town in East Suffolk, England

Act 1

Housekeeper Florence Pike is run ragged. Her mistress Lady Billows is organizing the annual May Day festival, and has gathered all the important people of the village to vet nominees for the coveted position of Queen of the May. But Florence has dug up dirt on every single girl nominated, proving that none is worthy to wear the May Queen's crown. Lady Billows is depressed. Superintendent Budd suggests that the solution may be to select, this year, a May King instead of a May Queen. He knows of a young man in town who is as certainly virginal as the girls are not: Albert Herring.

At the greengrocer's, Albert is teased for his timidity by the easygoing Sid. Sid's girlfriend Nancy comes in to do some shopping, and the couple shares a tender moment while Albert eats his heart out. The lovers leave, and Albert reflects on his miserable existence under his mother's thumb. The Festival Committee arrives with the news of his selection as May King. Mrs. Herring is thrilled, Albert less so. Mother and son quarrel, to the mocking commentary of the village children.

Act 2

It is the day of the festival. Sid and Nancy are preparing the banquet tent, and they take the chance to slip some rum into Albert's lemonade glass. Albert is tongue-tied at the feast in his honor, but drinks his lemonade greedily, which Britten satirically illustrates with a quote from Richard Wagner's Tristan und Isolde.[11] Together with his crown of flowers and the gruesome but improving Foxe's The Book of Martyrs, he is awarded twenty-five pounds in prize money.

That night, Albert arrives home alone, quite drunk. In the street, Sid keeps a date with Nancy, and the two discuss their sympathetic pity for Albert before going off together. This is finally the breaking point for Albert. He takes the prize money and heads out looking for adventure.

Act 3

The next morning Albert has not returned, and the village is in a panic. Superintendent Budd is leading a search, while the guilt-stricken Nancy tends to Mrs. Herring. A boy shouts that a "Big White Something" has been found in a well, and the village worthies file in to break the news en masse that Albert's crown of flowers has been discovered, crushed by a cart. Clearly, he is dead. A lengthy threnody of grief is interrupted by the surprise return of Albert. He thanks the Festival Committee for providing him with the cash for his night out. They, in turn, are outraged by his tale of drunken debauchery, and leave in a huff. Albert finally stands up to his mother, and invites the village kids into the shop to sample some complimentary fruit.

Libretto


ACT I


(A tall, strong boy of twenty-two, who helps his mother                
run the greengrocer's. No fool, but his mother's
mixture of contemptuous bullying and adoration of him
have made him extremely shy and awkward - especially
when faced with strange people or situations. Emmie,
Cis and Harry Tiresome village children, aged fifteen,
thirteen and twelve)


Scene 1


(The morning room at Lady Billows' house in Loxford.
Florence, the housekeeper, is clearing away breakfast
things for one on to a tray. She takes the tray out and
comes back with a feather duster)


LADY BILLOWS

(off-stage)
Flo - rence!...

(The text of her instruction is quite
indistinct except for the last three words.
)

...tell the midwife!

FLORENCE

(shouting in reply)
Very good, milady!

LADY BILLOWS

She's not to...!

(Florence continues dusting and tidying.)

LADY BILLOWS

Flo - rence!

(No reply)

Flo - rence!

(Florence hurries back to the hall to listen.)

FLORENCE

Here, milady!

LADY BILLOWS

(another indistinct instruction, ending...)
...Make him tear it up!

FLORENCE

Yes, Milady!

LADY BILLOWS

Dust - bin!

FLORENCE

Just on half-past ten.

(She comes back into room, fetches a small household
book and pencil and notes her latest instructions.
)

Doctor Jessop's midwife...
mustn't touch illegitimates
advert in chemist's window indecent... tear it up!
Call at Primrose Cottage...
Must stop William making such rude noises,
or else...
Buy a breakfast cup...

(checking back on earlier notes)

Load of logs for Number Six, the Mount...
Mittens for Mr Pilgrim...
Did they say how many
from the almshouse wanted copies
of the Bishop's sermon?
...No more poppies in altar vases...
looks too Roman... Vicar must warn choirboys...
make responses quicker...

(Florence shuts her book in despair)

One lifetime
One brain
One pair of hands
Are all too few
For Lady B.
Each day some
New idea
Makes new demands
Upon her sense
Of charity.
But oh! But oh!...
Sometimes I wish...

(As she is about to expand freely, Florence is interrupted
by a knock at the door. She straightens her cap and
apron and goes to open it. Miss Wordsworth, the
Headmistress; Mr Gedge, the Vicar; Mr Upfold, the
Mayor; and Police Superintendent, Budd, enter)


MISS WORDSWORTH

I hope we're not too early,
Florence?

FLORENCE

Oh no, miss. Her Ladyship's expecting you...

VICAR

Why, this looks almost like a deputation, eh?

FLORENCE

Let me take your hats and sticks.
I'll say you've come.

(Florence takes their things and goes out)

MAYOR

It's just on half-past ten.
We're very punctual by that clock.

VICAR

Come and sit here, Miss Wordsworth.

MISS WORDSWORTH

(moving to the window)
Let me stand
till we're ready to begin.

VICAR

As you will.

(The clock chimes the half-hour.)

SUPERINTENDENT

(checking it by his watch)
Ten seconds fast, I make that.

MAYOR

No, you're slow!
Exactly right by mine.

MISS WORDSWORTH

Oh I find it so refreshing to escape
from school
on a sunny day like this.

VICAR

Playing truant?

SUPERINTENDENT

(shaking his watch)
Funny being slow! Never known it...

MISS WORDSWORTH

Free for a perfect hour or two of liberty.

MAYOR

Wonderful weather for April, Mr Gedge!

SUPERINTENDENT

(continuing his ruminations)
Wants oiling, I expect.
Dust in the works.

MISS WORDSWORTH

Look! That hedge of rosemary
is humming with bumblebees!

VICAR

Quite perfect, Mr Mayor.
Promises a splendid
May and June.

MAYOR

That it does.

SUPERINTENDENT

'In like a lion, out like a lamb!'
That was true of March this year!

MAYOR

It was...

MISS WORDSWORTH

(radiant)
'And lo! the winter is past...

VICAR

(joining in)
'The rain is over and gone.
The flowers appear on the earth...

(explaining)

Solomon's Song, you know!

MAYOR

(impatiently)
Well, since we're here...

SUPERINTENDENT

Her Ladyship was very distressed
when she heard about Curtis's daughter.

VICAR

They tell me that's her third!

MISS WORDSWORTH

Appalling!

SUPERINTENDENT

She won't confess the father, silly girl!

MAYOR

It's happening far too often!

MISS WORDSWORTH

Lily Jarvis is another problem...

SUPERINTENDENT

Twins, if you please!

VICAR

Drunken father, mother a slattern, these things
breed immorality in the young.

MISS WORDSWORTH

Their poor children...

MAYOR

(indignantly)
Something must be done!

SUPERINTENDENT

Hear, hear!

VICAR

A firm stand now
before the evil spreads!

MISS WORDSWORTH

Her Ladyship is all for that!

SUPERINTENDENT

Though she exaggerates occasionally...

MAYOR

Strong measures are essential now!

VICAR, MISS WORDSWORTH
SUPERINTENDENT

Of course they are!
Most essential!
Hear, hear!

VICAR

This Festival idea may help...

MAYOR, MISS WORDSWORTH
SUPERINTENDENT

I'm all for that.
I have great hopes.
Certainly!
Practical measures! Hear, hear!

FLORENCE

(comes in hurriedly)
Hush!
She's here!

MAYOR

Careful now!

MISS WORDSWORTH

Oh! Her Ladyship!

SUPERINTENDENT

Here she comes...

VICAR

Ah, Lady Billows!

(Lady Billows appears at the top of the stairs and
walks heavily and deliberately down. She crosses
unexpectedly to the window and pushes it open. As
she turns to greet her visitors, her eye flickers
accusingly across the Mayor and Superintendent.
)

LADY BILLOWS

Stuffy!
Tobacco stink!
Nasty masculine smell!

(shaking hands)

Good morning.

ALL

Good morning, my Lady!

Ensemble

MISS WORDSWORTH, FLORENCE
MAYOR, SUPERINTENDENT, VICAR

This is the tenth of April
The day your Ladyship planned
For our second and final meeting,
We're here to see how we stand;
For the Queen of the May
Must be appointed by us today.

LADY BILLOWS

All very punctual! Glad to see it.
Early worms!

(Lady Billows crosses with heavy deliberation
to the table and seats hersel
f.)

Ensemble

MISS WORDSWORTH, FLORENCE, MAYOR,
SUPERINTENDENT, VICAR

We've made our own investigations
And bring you our nominees
And we're ready whenever you please.

(They seat themselves at the table
around Lady Billows
)

LADY BILLOWS

Now then! Notebook, Florence!
All know why we're here.
Only one item on today's agenda
to choose a Queen of the May.
May Queen! May Queen!
There's a lot of simple wisdom
in these old traditions
Like Hallowe'en, Harvest Home,
Chasing the Old Year out of the town
And so on.
Competition to be May Queen,
When I was a girl,
was amazingly keen!
Among the village girls, I mean.
All dressed in white
Met on the Green
At noon on May the first to parade
Before the Squire.
Squire picked the winner
And sat beside her during dinner.
Oh! you're too young to remember
How these things were done!
I'm putting up a prize this year.
Twenty-five sovereigns -
twenty-five! Consider it my duty.
Must make virtue attractive, exciting,
desirable for young people.
Too many goings on!
Dirty things, ugh!
Our birth-rate rises every week:
Poor Doctor Jessop is run off his feet,
Delivering new babies to
Mothers of whom excessively few
Have taken the trouble of visiting you, Vicar!
Shocking business! No! I won't have it!
Town's in a state of complete moral chaos.
Well, then, all in favour signify,
usual manner...

(All raise their hands. The clock strikes the three quarters
.)

Unanimous! Good...
Let's have the suggestions.
I'm waiting! First?...

VICAR

(rising)
The first suggestion on my list
Is a charming local girl
Who takes Communion and never missed
A Sunday, Jennifer Searl.

FLORENCE

(consulting her notebook)
...had an affair
with young Tom O'Dare,
last Christmas...

LADY BILLOWS

Case dismissed!

MISS WORDSWORTH

Of all the pupils from the school
It gives me particular pleasure
To recommend Elizabeth Newell
Whose Botany notes are a treasure.

FLORENCE

...was seen in the woods
after dusk with Tom Hood
last Tuesday...

LADY BILLOWS

Cross her name off! No good!

MAYOR

(stands)
There's Winifred Brown
who works in the town
As assistant to Mrs Bell.
I've asked about her, and people concur
She behaves on the average quite well.

FLORENCE

Except she went
With her cousin from Kent
For a trip in a dog-cart one Sunday in Lent!

SUPERINTENDENT

(clearing his throat)
Er-humph! Er-humph!

LADY BILLOWS

Speak up, Budd!

SUPERINTENDENT

I've little to say, my Lady,
So I'll make it short and sweet.
The girl in my mind is a treasure, you'll find.
Her name is Amelia Keats.

FLORENCE

Exposes her ankles
And legs bold as brass.
Her skirt's far too short
For a girl of her class.
None of these four
Seems to me more
Than half up to scratch
As a Queen of the May.

LADY BILLOWS

(irritably)
Won't accept one of them!
Cross them all out!
Can't waste time
buttering parsnips!
Want virgins, not trollops...
More names?

(All are rather flustered by the failure of their
first suggestions. They hasten to make others
.)

VICAR

(rising quickly)
I have another name or two
I brought with me in case
The first was not acceptable.
What about Edith Chase?

LADY BILLOWS

(to Florence)
Well, what about her?

FLORENCE

Much too flighty...

VICAR

She attends my Bible group...

FLORENCE

When the postman called
One day, she opened the door in her nightie!

MISS WORDSWORTH

Has anyone thought of the shoemaker's twins,
Joyce Mary and her sister?
Most practical girls at handicrafts...

FLORENCE

(grimly)
I've heard of things from Mr Budd
about them both...

LADY BILLOWS

Both of them?

SUPERINTENDENT

Take my Bible oath!...

FLORENCE

He can't repeat what he caught them at...
You'll pardon him, milady...

VICAR

There's that girl
who works at Piper's farm...

FLORENCE

Was lost one night
and then found in a barn!

MISS WORDSWORTH

Oh, surely there must be one to choose!

MAYOR

The girl from the dairy?

FLORENCE

She won't refuse.
Though not ideal by a long, long chalk.

LADY BILLOWS

(to Mayor)
Then don't suggest her!

SUPERINTENDENT

People talk of Nancy Waters,
but I'm not sure...

FLORENCE

The baker's daughter?
No! Couldn't have her for Queen of the May!

MAYOR

She runs after Sid, who's my assistant,
And him after her:
both very persistent.

VICAR

My mind has scoured the Parish through:
Our lists are finished.

MISS WORDSWORTH

What can we do?
Not even one girl whom we can trust?
Not even one in all the town?

SUPERINTENDENT

I reckon that's true...

MAYOR

It is!

VICAR

And must we cast our hopeful glances down?

MISS WORDSWORTH, MAYOR
SUPERINTENDENT

Unhappy? Sad? Defeated?...
Before our project is completed?

FLORENCE

You've none of you succeeded!

(All sit silent and glum)


Quartet

VICAR

Oh, bitter, bitter is the fruit
Sprung from the seed of sin:
It feeds on poison at the root
And cankers all within.

MISS WORDSWORTH

I teach my pupils they must strive
For moral grace and truth
But they care little for advice
In headstrong days of youth.

MAYOR

How sad to see a decent town
Lose its good name and sin
Slowly, slowly, slowly down
And hover on the brink!

SUPERINTENDENT

Policemen have a ticklish task
In stamping out abuses.
For human flesh is only grass
And darkness has its uses.

(A dismal silence. Florence stands rigid and
tightlipped. Lady Billows begins to simmer
and suddenly rises in anger
)

Aria


LADY BILLOWS

(furious)
Is this all you can bring?
Each single name
Reeking impurities,
Exuding moral blame?
Is there no more than this to offer?
Not one thing but stinks
of sensual shame?

FLORENCE

(echoing her mistress)
...but stinks of sensual shame?

LADY BILLOWS

Are Loxford girls all whores?
None clean, none sure?
Lascivious nanny-goats
Each one, each one impure?
I'll curb their passions;
show them with a whip that laws
of morals must endure!

FLORENCE

(echoing)
...that morals must endure!

LADY BILLOWS

(more quietly)
Is this the town where I have lived and toiled?
A Sodom and Gomorrah,
ripe to be despoiled?
O spawning-ground of horror!
Shame to Loxford:
Sty the female sex has soiled!

FLORENCE

(echoing)
...Sty the female sex has soiled!

LADY BILLOWS and FLORENCE

...Sty the female sex has soiled!

(The clock whirrs and strikes eleven. Lady Billows
sits, exhausted by her own vehemence, among the
unhappy committee. The Superintendent has a
sudden brainwave
.)

SUPERINTENDENT

(hesitant)
Begging your pardon
I'd like to say
Has anyone heard
Of a King of the May?

FLORENCE

King of the May?

LADY BILLOWS

Fantastic!

MISS WORDSWORTH

I never did...

VICAR

Not in East Suffolk...

MAYOR

I suppose you'd crown Sid?

SUPERINTENDENT

Maybe it seems a
Rum sort of notion
But it might help us out
Of the present commotion...

LADY BILLOWS

'Rum' it may be; 'helpful' no.
Mere red herring,
Budd!

SUPERINTENDENT

Just so!
Herring's the name
and Herring's the lad!
Fellow we're wanting is there to be had.
Albert Herring!...

ALL

(amazed at this suggestion.)
Albert Herring?...

SUPERINTENDENT

(hurriedly)
... Works for his mother...
Has a greengrocer's shop...
Strong as a horse...
Works 'til he drops...
Bit simple, of course...
but we won't find another.

(with confidence)

Albert Herring's clean as
new-mown hay;
Honest, truthful, keen as
Colman's mustard, as they say!
Never kicks up rough as
most boys do
Albert's real good stuff,
as good as gold, right
through and through!

VICAR

(hesitant)
I know the boy you mean,
but is he quite?...

MAYOR

I've seen him since he was a kid.
He's always lived next door to me...

MISS WORDSWORTH

When he attended school poor Albert
was not bright at lessons,
though quite exceptional for conduct.

VICAR

An inoffensive lad, simple,
of course...

MAYOR

A splendid son to Mrs Herring...

LADY BILLOWS

(scornfully)
What precisely has a grocer's lad
to do with this discussion?
Ridiculous proposal!
I'm certain there are girls
farmer's daughters, maybe...
suitable for us. Florence?...

FLORENCE

Hopeless, milady.
I've been round all the farms and smallholdings.
Shocking results!
Country virgins, if there be such,
Think too little and see too much.

(It looks as if Lady Billows will erupt again.
But the moment passes
.)

LADY BILLOWS

I am a very disappointed woman...
Either we abandon the Festival, or...

SUPERINTENDENT

(doggedly)
Albert Herring!

LADY BILLOWS

(with distaste)
Albert Herring!
Vicar?...

VICAR

Virtue, says Holy Writ,
Is... Virtue.
Grace abounding
Whensoever, wheresoever,
Howsoever it exists.
Rarer than pearls...
rubies… amethyst,
Richer than wealth...
wisdom... righteousness!
Is Albert virtuous?
Yes? Or no?
That is all we need to know.

SUPERINTENDENT

What, Albert virtuous?
That I know.
Certainly he
Must be so.

MAYOR

He's very virtuous.
Don't you know everybody thinks him so?

MISS WORDSWORTH

Albert is virtuous.
Yes, I know
He is truly
Truly so!

FLORENCE

They say he's virtuous,
As boys go:
Everybody tells me so.

(After this outburst they all look at Lady Billows,
who appears to be asleep in her chair
.)

LADY BILLOWS

Albert... What's his name?

ALL

(gently)
Herring.

LADY BILLOWS

(scarcely audible)
Herring.

(suddenly)

Right!
We'll have him!
May King! That'll teach the girls a lesson!

(all rise)

LADY BILLOWS

May King! May King!
Remarkable position.
Cause a great sensation
On the First of May.

FLORENCE

Let's go and tell him
Announcing our decision;
Warn him to be ready
On the First of May.

VICAR

Most satisfactory!
Magnificent solution
For the Coronation
On the First of May.

MISS WORDSWORTH

So encouraging
For all our dear young people!
'Virtue is rewarded
On the First of May.'

MAYOR

Urban District Councillors
All over Eastern Suffolk
Envy little Loxford
On the First of May.

SUPERINTENDENT

Er-humph, er-humph
All the police force
Will have to be on duty,
Keeping things in order,
On the First of May.

Ode

ALL

Rejoice, my friends,
and be exceeding glad!
Virtue has signalled forth
Her champion and defender!
A village lad, a village lad,
Humble in looks, of lowly birth,
Beneath whose apron beats a heart
To conquer Sin, repel Temptation, render
Back to Virtue what she entrusts to him,
without respect of gender,
Her crown of simple and refulgent splendour!

Interlude

Scene 2


(Mrs Herring's greengrocery in Little Street. There
is a large sash-window at the back, filled with fruit,
vegetables and advertisement cards; through this can
be seen the village street. Fruit boxes, baskets, sacks,
price-tickets, etc., are plentifully scattered around the
shop. When the curtain rises, the shop is empty. Three
children, Emmie, Harry and Cis, are outside the shop,
singing as they play ball against the lower half of the
door. The upper half of the door is open
.)

Song

EMMIE, CIS, HARRY

Bounce me high
Bounce me low
Bounce me up to Jericho!
Bounce me slow
Bounce me quick
Bounce me to arithmetick!

(claps)

(The ball misses and comes flying in through the top of
the door. The song stops. Three heads peer cautiously
in, looking around
.)

EMMIE

Go on, Harry!... the old girl's out!

CIS

She's out!...

EMMIE

We'll help you up. Hold tight!

(The girls help Harry to climb through the door.)

Watch the bell don't ring...

HARRY

Mind my trousers! Ow!...

EMMIE, CIS

All right?

(Harry looks round the shop.)

EMMIE

(whispers)
There it is, by that old box!

HARRY

(finds the ball and throws it to the girls)
Catch!

(He catches sight of a box of apples and takes one.)

CIS

Give us some too, Harry... Taa!

(He passes some out to the girls.)

EMMIE

(dramatic whisper)
Look out! S'pose Albert came?...

HARRY

Silly old fool! Can't catch me!

EMMIE

Ooh! What lovely apples!

CIS

Lovely apples! Some more?

HARRY

Here's some more!

(Sid arrives, scattering the girls as he comes through
the door. He sees Harry and tries to catch him
.)

SID

Come out of that, my lad!

EMMIE, CIS

Look out! It's Sid!

SID

(catches Harry, holds him tight and starts emptying his pockets)
I'll teach you to pinch apples!

EMMIE, CIS

Big bully, you!

SID

Little beggar!

HARRY

Ow! Leggo!

SID

Damn good hiding's what you need!

CIS

Nosey-parker, too!

EMMIE

Leave 'im be!

HARRY

Leggo of me!

SID

Empty your pockets!
Is that the lot?
Well then, get out!...

(He throws Harry out of the door.)

HARRY

Ow!

EMMIE, CIS

We'll tell 'is Dad
Sid from the butcher's knocked 'Arry about!

(The children run away. Sid dusts himself off, picks up
the scattered apples and puts them in his own pocket.
Then goes to the inner door and shouts:
)

SID

Shop! Hi! Albert!

(Sid comes back into the shop, chooses a good red
apple and takes a bite. There is a dull thud against
the inner door and Albert comes slowly in backwards
carrying a large sack of vegetables
.)

There you are!
Just caught young Harry pinching things.
How d'you carry a weight like that alone? Cor...
Must be twenty stone or more!

ALBERT

It's a hundredweight of turnips.

SID

I see! Strong man act!
Can I have three boxes of mixed herbs,
please, chum?

ALBERT

Yes.

SID

Got any sage?

ALBERT

(going behind the counter to serve Sid )
We've some at threepence a box,
same as the mixed.

SID

I'll take three then. That makes six Boxes
at threepence... one and a kick.

ALBERT

That's right.

SID

Toss you... double or quits!

ALBERT

Oh no, Sid, gambling's not in my line.
Mum wouldn't like it...

SID

Never you mind!
Heads or tails? Come on, you call!

ALBERT

No, really I won't, thanks all the same.

SID

But why? Because of Mum?
Won't she let you have any fun?
Did you ever have a pint at the local?

ALBERT

Mum's teetotal...

SID

Or go out with a whippet after rabbits?

ALBERT

Strict in her habits...

SID

Did you never try taking a girl for a walk?

ALBERT

Do stop this talk!

SID

Or dance to the band at the Jubilee Hall?

ALBERT

...I don't like it at all!

SID

You will, once you've broke
the apron-strings.

Song

SID

Tickling a trout,
Poaching a hare,
Flighting wild geese
Is pretty good sport
For a chap to enjoy.
Living without A regular share
Of pleasures like these
Is hard to support
For your kind of a boy.
But courting a girl
is the King of all sports
In a class of its own,
Where there aren't any rules so long as
she's caught and you catch her alone.
Girls mean:
Spring six days a week
And twice on Sundays,
The whole year round
The winter through.
Girls mean:
Games of hide-and-seek
On summer evenings,
When someone's bound
To fall for you!
Girls mean:
Prowling round in bleak
And wintry weather
Whispering, whispering, whispering
'I love you!'

(During this, Albert tries to avoid noticing
Sid's remarks by going about his work
.)

ALBERT

Sid, I'm sorry but I've got a lot to do...

SID

Oh, don't you worry!
I'm just off.
I'm busy too.

(Nancy looks in through the top door twenty six,
pretty, big smile
.)

NANCY

Good morning, you two!

SID

(opens the bottom door for Nancy to enter. She
carries a shopping basket
.)
Why, look who's here!
Good morning, good morning, good morning!

ALBERT

(shyly)
Good morning.

SID

You've just come in time,
We were talking of you.

NANCY

Talking of me?...
You have got a sauce!

SID

It was Albert who started the subject, of course.
You want to watch Albert...
he's a very dark horse!

NANCY

You ought to have something better to do
Than gossiping here. Aren't you working today?

SID

I've been spinning around like a humming top
Since I opened the shop at eight o'clock...
And you know what they say
About work and no play!

NANCY

Well, come and serve me. I'm in a hurry...
I've come for a piece
of best English beef.

SID

(picks up a box of peaches)
There's no need to worry!
Have a nice peach?

NANCY

(taking one)
Oh! May I really?

ALBERT

Those are sixpence each!

SID

Take two... I'll stand the damage.

ALBERT

Two peaches at sixpence...
that's a shilling, please.

SID

I think I can just about manage to squeeze out a bob
from the firm's petty cash.

NANCY

I won't eat them now.
They're so ripe they might splash.

SID

You can bring them tonight
And we'll each take a bite,
To flavour our kisses
With a dash of peach bitters.

NANCY

That sounds just delicious!

Duet

SID

Meet me at quarter past eight
In the street, don't be late
Or I'll whistle
Under your window.

NANCY

Yes! If you promise to wait
In the street, if I'm late
And not whistle under my window.
For Mum will be curious and Dad will be furious
To hear whistling under our window!

Trio

SID

Do try to be there
If you possibly can
For the night will be fine and clear.

NANCY

I'll try to be there if I possibly can
For the night will be fine and clear.

ALBERT

(to himself, uneasily)
I wish they would clear
Right away from our shop
For it's hard not to overhear!
There'll be trouble, I fear,
Should my Mother appear
And discover them flirting here!

(Albert retreats behind the counter, leaving Sid
and Nancy alone
.)

SID, NANCY

We'll walk to the spinney
Up over the Common
Arm in arm,
Your (my) hand in my (your) pocket,
Refreshing ourselves in the pleasures of love!
The moon will be shining
The sky will be starry
As we walk,
Your (my) hand in my (your) pocket,
Refreshing ourselves in the pleasures of love!
And if it is raining
We'll share an umbrella
As we walk,
Your (my) hand in my (your) pocket,
Refreshing ourselves in the pleasures of love!

ALBERT

And I shall be sleeping
Alone in my attic
As they walk,
Her hand in his pocket,
Refreshing themselves in the pleasures of love!

(Nancy and Sid are absorbed in each other. Albert
tries to interrupt them
.)

ALBERT

Excuse me...

SID

(taking no notice)
Give us a kiss, Nancy!

NANCY

(breaking away from him)
No, no! Shopping first...
kisses afterwards!

SID

(impatient)
Come on, then! So long, Albert!

NANCY

Goodbye, Albert!

(Sid and Nancy go off gaily together. Albert dashes
out of the shop after them
.)

ALBERT

Hi! Sid!... You forgot to pay for the herbs!

(No answer. Albert comes back into the shop.)

He's much too busy
Even to listen
Much less to care
With Nancy there.
I wonder is he
Right when he says
I miss all the fun
Because of Mum?
Yes, Mum's uncommon keen
About the need
Of living chaste and clean
In word and deed.
For what?
Each morning I get up at six
And tidy up the stock,
Enthusiastically fix
Price labels round the shop.
For what?
It's not very thrilling to live
among boxes and baskets
Of vegetables, flowers
and seasonal fruits:
I'm expert at jobs like weighing up
punnets of raspberries
And knowing when root-crops
are likely to shoot.
For what?

(meditatively)

It seems as clear as clear
Can be, that Sid's ideas
Are very much too crude
For Mother to approve.
And yet I'd really like
To try that kind of life,
And see how it compares
With serving customers.

(Emmie rushes in, breathless and in a great hurry.)

EMMIE

Mum wants two penn'orth of potherbs to make
a stew in a hurry, Mister!

ALBERT

Where's your basket?

EMMIE

Haven't got one, bust it! My sister went and lost it!

ALBERT

I'll put 'em in paper.

EMMIE

Taa, that'll be safer than taking them loose.

ALBERT

No school today?

EMMIE

Got extra 'olidays.

ALBERT

Whatever for?

EMMIE

(confidentially)
On account of Miss Weaver
Our Botany teacher
Went camping at Easter,
Got scarlet fever.
She was sharing our tent
When she came out all spotty
So they sent us all home
With a letter explaining
They wouldn't expect us
At school for a week
In case we're infectious.
It sounds a bit potty,
But we're not complaining!

ALBERT

(handing her the parcel )
Tuppence, please! Here you are.

EMMIE

Don't mind farthings, do you?
Thanks, Mister! Taa!

(She dashes off again.)

ALBERT

Oh, maybe soon I'll
Have the chance to get away.
And golly! It's about time…

(He is again interrupted by the arrival of Florence.)

FLORENCE

Good morning, young man.

ALBERT

Good morning, Miss Pike.

FLORENCE

I want if I can
To talk to your Mum.

ALBERT

I'll call her at once
But she's washing the clothes.

FLORENCE

The reason I've come
Is more urgent than those!

(Albert calls through the inner door.)

ALBERT

Mum! You're wanted!

MUM

What? Who is it?

ALBERT

Miss Florence Pike is here on a visit!

(making conversation)

Just drying her hands...
Would you care to sit down?

FLORENCE

No thank you, I'll stand.
I mustn't stay long.

(Mum bustles in, drying her arms on her apron.)

MUM

I'm sorry to keep you
And how do you do?
Nice sunny day
For the time of year, too!

FLORENCE

(formal and important)
Her Ladyship is on her way
With Miss Wordsworth and the Vicar,
Messrs. Budd and Upfold, too
To visit you here...

MUM

What did you say?
Visiting us?
But they can't come in here!
A shop's not the place for people like them!

FLORENCE

We shall get on much quicker
If you will be silent and listen to me...

MUM

And I can't have them into the parlour today!
I'm airing the washing, airing it there...

FLORENCE

The decision
They bring concerns Albert, as they
Will explain for themselves.

MUM

Concerns Albert?

ALBERT

Concerns me, do you say?

MUM

Oh! Don't say that Albert's
in trouble some way?

FLORENCE

Be quiet now!
Are you ready? Here they come!

(Lady Billows crosses the window and enters
accompanied by the Vicar, Mayor, Superintendent
and Miss Wordsworth They take up formal positions
inside the shop to announce their news
.)

LADY BILLOWS

(enthusiastically)
We bring great news to you
Upon this happy day!
Patronage and fame
Applaud your name!

ALL

Declaring you Loxford King of the May!

MUM

They're talking to you, Albert.

ALBERT

I don't quite get their meaning...

FLORENCE

You've been chosen as May King.

ALBERT

Chosen as what?

FLORENCE

As May King!

ALBERT

What, me?

FLORENCE

Yes, you!

MUM

Oh, Albert! Oh, Albert!

FLORENCE

Hush!

LADY BILLOWS

We plan to celebrate by crowning you upon
May Day afternoon: That's fairly soon.

ALL

Not long to wait!
Just till April's gone!

MUM

Excuse my asking...
what's this crowning for?

ALBERT

I'd like to know that too!

VICAR

In honour of your pure, virtuous life.

MISS WORDSWORTH

Reward for chastity!

MAYOR

Official recognition of your modesty!

ALBERT

Well, I'll be blowed!

SUPERINTENDENT

What costume will he wear?

FLORENCE

White like a swan!

VICAR

A royal crown!

MUM

And where will that come from?

ALBERT

Me dressed in white? Oh no!

LADY BILLOWS

We'll see to that all right.

FLORENCE

Bring me his size in shoes
and hats tonight to give the tailor.

MUM

Seems ridiculous to me!

ALBERT

The whole thing's daft!

LADY BILLOWS

Now, Herring, don't be hasty!

VICAR

But before we part
Should we not mention?...

ALL

But of course! The prize!

LADY BILLOWS

When this great day arrives,
Albert will receive, besides his crown,
A prize in golden coins,
Five and twenty pounds,
Yes, five and twenty pounds!

MUM

Twenty-five pounds all of his own!
Albert, say "Thank you!
...as well as a crown?

LADY BILLOWS

In offering this prize,
Our aim is to ensure
Virtue has its just
Reward from us!

ALL

And so goodbye, Albert!
No...au revoir!

(The Committee leaves the shop, escorted to
the door by Mum
.)

MUM

Good morning to you all!

(turns back into the shop)

Well, think of that, my lad,
Being King of the May an' all
And the envy of everyone,
King of the May! King of the May!
And twenty-five quid in addition!

ALBERT

But I don't want that kind of position
And I don't think I'm going to accept.

MUM

You won't accept? Why ever not?
You can't refuse!

ALBERT

Oh yes, I can!

MUM

Not while you live with me, young man!
You'll do as you're told!

ALBERT

Now listen, Mum!

MUM

Don't 'listen' me!

ALBERT

Why should they come
And dress me up like a blinking swan,
Make speeches at me
like I was stuffed
Instead of flesh and blood?

MUM

Stop shouting at me and fetch my tape
From the box on the kitchen safe.
I'll measure you up!

ALBERT

Oh no, you won't!

MUM

You heard what I said!

ALBERT

I did, and don't
You think I'm willing, 'cos I'm not.

MUM

(drives Albert across the shop. He dodges her.)
I'll take a strap to you, that's what!

ALBERT

You try it then!

MUM

Young devil!

ALBERT

I'm old enough
To choose for myself!

MUM

I brought you up!

ALBERT

You shut me up in the shop all day!

MUM

Oh!
The wicked ingratitude of it!
You'll pay for this, my boy.

ALBERT

I'm sick and tired of being ordered about!

MUM

(taking hold of Albert and pushing him
across to the inner door
)
You little liar! You little liar!
I won't stand here and be attacked
By a kid who wants his bottom smacked!
Go up to bed. Shut the door
And don't you dare to come down before
You're ready to say sorry. Go on!
You devil!
I'll teach you!

(During the quarrel, the three children have collected
outside the shop window, watching with fascination.
As Mum shoves Albert through the door, they begin
chanting a rude variant of their playsong
.)

CHILDREN

Albert's Mum took a stick,
Whacked him on the thingmijig!
Albert hopped
Round the shop,
Squeaking like a tillypig!

MUM

(Turns her back and slams the door in their faces.
They run off laughing wildy and Mum follows Albert
upstairs
.)
Twenty-five quid!
Twenty-five quid!
Bloody little fool!


ACT II


Scene 1


(Inside a marquee set up in the Vicarage garden. There           
is a trestle-table covered with a cloth, and set for
eleven places. A side-table carries a tea-urn, dishes
of fruit, bowls of jelly, cakes, and other food. When
the curtain rises Nancy is bringing in some plates of
sandwiches to the side-table. Florence comes in from
outside, dressed in her Sundaybest, and considerably
fussed
.)

FLORENCE

Isn't he here?

NANCY

Not yet.

FLORENCE

Oh, drat the lad!

NANCY

He promised to come by three.

FLORENCE

I'm astonished at him,
today of all days!

NANCY

Don't trouble to wait.

FLORENCE

I should hate to miss them.

NANCY

There's only the meat
to unpack and put out on the plates.
I can easily do that alone.

FLORENCE

The Vicar especially asked me
to be there at half-past,
to be took in the photograph group
for The Ipswich and District Gazette.

(Sid arrives outside the tent on his bicycle, and
hurries to unload a large box of food.
)

NANCY

Here he is at last!

FLORENCE

And high time too!

NANCY

Hurry up, Sid!

SID

(coming in)
Am I late?

FLORENCE

Everything's ready but you!

SID

Sorry, Miss Pike!
Punctured my bike!...

FLORENCE

Punctured your bike!...

(approaching Sid indignantly)

For three precious weeks
We've been toiling and scraping,
Bustling, hurrying,
Hurrying, scurrying,
With one aim in sight
And now at the eleventh hour
You... you... you
Keep everything waiting
Because of your bike!
I think you're lazy
and most reprehensible!
Surely you know that the meat's indispensable?
Lateness on May Day is quite indefensible!

NANCY

(tries to interrupt Florence)
It's twenty past...

FLORENCE

Then I must fly, or they'll leave me out!

(Florence hurries out
.)

SID

(shouting after her
)
You bumble off! That'll be much more sensible!

(looking at the table
)

That's a fine sight for sore eyes!

NANCY

Don't you think it's a splendid surprise?

SID

And they make all this fuss,
'cos Albert's too shy to go out on a bust!

NANCY

What were things like down in the town?

SID

Churchyard's agog with a crowd of folk
Who couldn't get in for the service.
Seats have been kept for the Band of Hope,
And each choirboy
has got a new surplice.
The Vicar is preaching on 'Living Chaste
For the Hereafter';
Some of his listeners are solemn-faced,
Some near to laughter.
And Albert!... sitting there in his pew,
The poor kid looks on tenterhooks.
He's in the mood to escape if he could.
I'd like to see him go for good!

NANCY

Sid, tell me the truth about why you were late.

SID

What do you mean?

NANCY

You've got some scheme!

SID

How did you guess?

NANCY

I know by the grin
On your face and the gleam
In your eye... Confess!

SID

Can you keep a secret?

NANCY

Mum as an oyster.

SID

Then I'll tell you the plot
While we empty this box.

(They go out, carrying the box between them. Miss
Wordsworth hurries in leading the three children,
Emmie, Cis and Harry, who are dressed in their
party best
.)

MISS WORDSWORTH

Quickly, quickly, come along, come along!
Time to try our festive song
Last time through before they come!

EMMIE

(whispering)
Blimey! Jelly!

CIS

Pink blancmange!

HARRY

Seedy cake! Seedy cake!

EMMIE, CIS, HARRY

With icing on!

MISS WORDSWORTH

(placing them in line)
All stand neatly in a row,
Head back, fingers so.
One deep breath and off we go!

HARRY

(whispering)
Treacle tart!

CIS

Sausagey rolls!

EMMIE

Trifle! Trifle!

EMMIE, CIS, HARRY

In a big bowl!

MISS WORDSWORTH

Food comes later... First we sing
'Glory to our new May King!'
Try to make the welkin ring!
Attention now! No fidgeting.

(She sounds her pitch pipe.)

There is doh!
One and two and... no! When I reach two
You have to be agog to start
On the beat of three!

EMMIE

Chicken and ham!

CIS

Cheesey straws!

HARRY

And marzipan!

(Miss Wordsworth sounds her pitch pipe again)

MISS WORDSWORTH

One and two and...

CHILDREN

(singing)
Glory to our new may king!

MISS WORDSWORTH

Oh, oh... what a noise, oh, what a noise!
That's much too shrill
And Harry, you should
Just try to keep still!

(She sounds her pitch pipe again)

One and two and...

CHILDREN

(singing)
glory to our new may king!
Albert, 'ail, all...

MISS WORDSWORTH

Not 'ail, my dears!
The word is hail!
A clean, crisp note
From an open throat.
Hail!!
Insert your aitches
In their proper places.
Albert, hail! all hail! we sing...

CHILDREN

Halbert, hail! hall hail!

MISS WORDSWORTH

Too many now,
But that must do!
Try the next lines
Fervently through.
Sing with fire!
Beginning on Fah.
You, Emmie, higher...
Your note is Lah.
Doh... Ray... Mi... Fah!... Soh... Lah!

CHILDREN

(Miss Wordsworth beats time as they sing)
each single voice
cries out 'rejoice'
in happy song
both loud...

MISS WORDSWORTH

Oh Harry! This is where you always go wrong!
Just follow Cis, she'll help you along.

HARRY

(raising his hand urgently)
Please, Teacher?

MISS WORDSWORTH

(signalling Harry to go)
Don't take too long!
Our song must begin
Exactly upon their coming-in.

(Harry runs out, followed by the girls, then Miss
Wordsworth.
Sid and Nancy come in cautiously,
carrying jugs of lemonade
)

NANCY

I don't think you ought!

SID

Stop spoiling the fun! Is this where he's sitting?

NANCY

The right-handed one!

SID

Then you begin filling
The glasses all up,
While I add a drop
To His Majesty's cup.

(Nancy begins pouring lemonade into the glasses all
round the table. Sid produces a hip-flask from his
pocket, and measures a generous tot into Albert's
glass
.)

NANCY

Don't give him too much!
He mustn't get tight...

SID

Just loosen him up,
And make him feel bright.
I think that's all right.
Now add lemonade...

NANCY

It's much the same shade...

SID

Now no-one can smell
There's rum in as well,
Excepting for Albert,
And he'll never tell!

(Bells offstage)

NANCY

(seeing the procession approaching)
Quick, here they are!
Fill up the rest.

SID

We'll stand at the side...
That'll be best.

(They finish filling all the glasses, just as Miss
Wordsworth ushers in the children again, each
carrying a bunch of country flowers
.)

MISS WORDSWORTH

Here they are, dears! Quickly, come along!
Do remember!
Nice neat curtsies!
Deep breaths!

(The Superintendent escorts Mrs Herring into
the tent, with the Mayor and Florence behind
.)

SUPERINTENDENT

It's a great day for your son, Mrs Herring.

MUM

Yes, he does look a treat,
In his white suit.
I couldn't help feeling proud of him too.

MAYOR

Today's a big affair for you,
Miss Pike!

FLORENCE

For three weeks at least
We've been planning this feast,
Your Worship.

(The Vicar arrives with Lady Billows. Last of all,
Albert arrives, dressed in jacket, trousers and shoes
of white, with a straw-hat crowned with a circle of
orange blossom. Albert is encouraged to enter the
tent, and does so shyly and unwillingly
.)

VICAR

See Virtue triumphs in Albert here.

LADY BILLOWS

Is this the town which I have cherished and loved!

MISS WORDSWORTH

(sounding her pipe and beating time)
One and two and...

CHILDREN

Glory to our new may king!
Albert, hail! all hail! we sing!

CHILDREN, MISS WORDSWORTH

Every voice
cries out rejoice!
in happy song
both loud and long!
Hail, Albert! Albert! we cry
welcome to your majesty. hail!

(There is an outburst of applause tempered
by some expressions of disappointment
.)

FLORENCE

Thank you, dears,
I hope you sang rightly what teacher intended?

LADY BILLOWS

Quite nicely sung but rather modern,
wasn't it?

MAYOR

Tuneful and interesting!
Very good, I'm sure!

VICAR

Very harmonious.
Did Miss Wordsworth write it?

MUM

That was splendid,
splendid, quite appropriate!

SID

Crikey!
What an awful noise!

SUPERINTENDENT

Bravo! A fine effort!

NANCY

Do be quiet, Sid, they were doing their best.

MISS WORDSWORTH

Husssh!...
Harold Wood!

(She leads Harry forward to present his flowers
to Lady Billows
.)

HARRY

(reciting)
My flowers are few
And tender my years
But they are for you
Whom Loxford reveres.

(He shoves his flowers at Lady Billows. Applause.
Harry is hoisted back, and Emmie kneels in front
of Albert to his great confusion
.)

MISS WORDSWORTH

Emmie Spashett!

EMMIE

Simple song
Country flowers
Wish you long
And happy hours.

(Applause as Emmie gives Albert her flowers. Cis is
propelled nervously forwards to give flowers to Mrs
Herring
.)

MISS WORDSWORTH

Now, Cissie Woodger!

CIS

Hooray for the...

MISS WORDSWORTH

(sotto voce)
Mother...

CIS

... the Mother of...

MISS WORDSWORTH

... Albert...

CIS

... of Albert the...

MISS WORDSWORTH

... King...

CIS

... the King.

MISS WORDSWORTH

Go on, dear!

CIS

(panicking)
Hooray! for the!...
Hooray! Hooray! Hooray, Hooray!

MISS WORDSWORTH

'Twas yours... 'twas yours... 'twas yours to dis...

(This goes on till Cis bursts into tears and Mrs Herring
steps forward, taking the flowers firmly, and saying
:)

MUM

Well done, dearie! Very nice, I'm sure...

LADY BILLOWS

Thank you, children!
And thank you, Miss Wordsworth!
Come, let's sit down.

(All move to the table, with general remarks as they
find their places
.)

LADY BILLOWS

Albert, come on my right hand.

MUM

Where d'you think I'd be?
I'm the King's Mum.

SUPERINTENDENT

Over here, Mrs Herring!
Next to me.

ALBERT

Won't somebody take this for me?
I don't know what to do with it!

MISS WORDSWORTH

That was excellent, children.
Sit down quietly.

MAYOR

This me? Where d'you think his Worship sits?

SID

Chinwagging!
What an awful lot of rot!

CHILDREN

Coo! I'm jolly hungry!

FLORENCE

Food comes after speeches.
Vicar, you start!

VICAR

Just a few words of introduction.
That will be most suitable!

NANCY

Oh, I must stay and listen.
This'll be fun!

(When all are seated, the Vicar rises affably and
raps on the table
.)

VICAR

Your Ladyship!
Ladies and gentlemen… girls and boys!
I shall not trespass on your time... I rise,
Ex officio,
To introduce Her Ladyship,
And ask her if she will
Consent to make a little speech
Before we take our fill?

(Much applause. Lady Billows rises ponderously.)

LADY BILLOWS

Thank you, Mr Gedge!
I'm full of happiness
To be here in your midst
On such a day as this,
As honoured guest and patroness
Of the Loxford Urban District May Day Feast.

(Enthusiastic applause. Lady Billows silences
the clapping
.)

Seated upon my right is Albert Herring...
A young man chosen, marked out, set apart
For honest worth and purity of heart.
You see that in the costume he is wearing...
Virgin white and orange blossom crown.
Dear children!
You, you, the rising generation!
Never forget the meaning of this day!
Treasure its example! Think, oh think
Of Albert! Scorn the sweetmeats of Temptation
Seducing you from straight and narrow ways...
Carnal indulgence!
Gambling! Playing cards!
Irreligion! Patriotism is not enough!...
and drink!
The havoc wrought by gin!
Oh, never start
That dreadful habit, or you're lost forever!

(She has dropped her notes.)

King and country! Cleanliness is next to...
God for England and Saint... Keep
Your powder dry and leave the rest to
Nature!... Britons! Rule the deep!

(Enthusiastic cries of Hooray! )

Albert! Arise! Stand to receive
This purse of otterskin... my father shot
The brute in 'fifty-six on Christmas Eve,
With five and twenty sovereigns inside!
Take it, my boy! Take it with joyful pride!
All this is yours, and you deserve the lot!

(Much applause as Albert takes the purse and raises
his hat. Lady Billows sits and the Vicar rises again
.)

VICAR

Magnificent, your Ladyship!
Our best thanks to you!
A splendid speech, a splendid prize
And splendidly deserved!
Now, Mister Mayor, will you please rise
And add another word?

MAYOR

(reading mechanically)
As representing our local Council,
I'm very happy to declare
Ourselves in full agreement with Her Ladyship,
Thanking her most hearty... heartily...
for the ideal
She sets our town in moral leadership.
The repercussions of this Festival
Will travel far, wide, deep and strong...
Like when my Council,
acting for the best of all
Its citizens, laid the twelve inch watermain...
Costing six pounds ten the yard... that runs along
Through Balaclava Avenue...
regardless of objections!...
To guarantee pure water filtered
from infections.
Now Loxford leads again by being first, yes!
First in crowning a May King.
'Well done!'
I hear you cry...'Well done!'
I hear you cry?...

(Appropriate, if late, cries of Well done!)

My Council wishes me to mark today
By offering this prize to Albert, which they
Have voted from the Entertainment Fund
This Savings Book in which
he'll find five pounds.

(More applause as he hands Albert the savings book.)

VICAR

Fascinating, Mister Mayor!
A fitting gift indeed
To store away
For a rainy day
And keep in case of need.
And now, Miss Wordsworth,
you will not disappoint us?

(Emmie, who had left the table, reappears with two
large books which she places before Miss Wordsworth
.)

Oh, you have a surprise,
I see!...

MISS WORDSWORTH

(rising)
My heart leaps up with joy to see
Virtue and simplicity
Applauded, rewarded and glorified
With heartfelt warmth on every side!
Albert, the teachers from the school,
Miss Podd, Miss Turtle,
dear Miss Butler and Miss Toole,
Are proud of you, proud of you,
as I am too,
And profoundly stirred by your renown.
Albert! Albert! Albert!
They send this little gift to you
For rainy afternoons...
Foxes' Book of Martyrs
In two fine volumes, illustrated,
Inscribed to you appropriately,
and dated.

(Applause as Albert receives the books from
Miss Wordsworth
.)

VICAR

The Bible, Shakespeare,
Foxes' Book of Martyrs...
Three cornerstones
of our national heritage!
Thank you, Miss Wordsworth, very much.
To make our thanks complete,
One voice is missing!
Yes, Mister Budd's
Last, but hardly least!

SUPERINTENDENT

Erhumph... I'm no great shakes as a speechifier,
But my heart's warm enough,
if you know what I mean!
It's chaps like young Albert
keep the British Empire
On top of the world where it has always been.
Good old Albert!... that's my opinion...
Good luck to you my boy!... erhumph!...
Before I wind up,
I mustn't forget to thank Mrs Williams
For the loan of her flagpole and two dozen cups.

(He sits abruptly.)

VICAR

Thank you! Thank you! Now I'm certain
Albert feels the need of speaking in his turn...
Returning thanks for gifts received,
before the feast's begun?

(Albert rises slowly and miserably. The others
encourage him to speak but Albert hesitates
.)

MUM

Go on, Albert!

FLORENCE

Say 'Thank you.'

SUPERINTENDENT

Don't be shy!

MISS WORDSWORTH

Say a word or two.

MAYOR

It's just polite.

SUPERINTENDENT

Don't be scared, old boy.

NANCY, SID

Poor Albert.

LADY BILLOWS

Come along now!

(Albert pulls himself together as if to speak but loses
his nerve and sits abruptly.
)

ALBERT

Er... er... Thank you very much.

ALL

(laughing at this sudden collapse)
Ooh! Albert! Bit short, wasn't it?
That didn't take long!
Try again! Better luck next time!
Short and sweet! He's scared poor Albert!

VICAR

(rapping on table)
Well tried, Albert! We understand...
That modest phrase betrays a heart
Too full to prate or boast.
Now lift your glasses, everyone,
And join me in a toast!
Albert the Good!
Long may he reign!
To be re-elected
Again and again.

ALL

(rising and repeating)
Albert the Good!
Long may he reign!
To be re-elected
Again and again.

FLORENCE

Go on, Albert!

ALBERT

(lifting his glass)
And three cheers for Her Ladyship!
Hip, hip, hooray!
Hip, hip, hooray!
Hip, hip, hooray!

(He takes a long drink, then another, draining his glass
entirely. He moves forward to Nancy to have the glass
refilled
.)

That's better! Thirsty!
More please! Hic!

(Albert breaks out with a loud hiccup. All surround
him, anxious to help
.)

MUM

Hiccups!

CHILDREN

Albert's got willups!

LADY BILLOWS

Shall I pat your back?

ALBERT

Beg par... Hic!

MISS WORDSWORTH

Most distressing!

FLORENCE

Too much excitement!

SUPERINTENDENT

Count twenty!

MAYOR

Hold your breath!

ALBERT

I'm trying... Hic!

MUM

Pat him harder!

VICAR

Glass of water!

FLORENCE

Lump of sugar!

MAYOR

Soaked in vinegar!

ALBERT

It's almost gone... Hic!

NANCY

(sotto voce)
Do you think it's the rum?

SID

It's got a kick like a gun!

ALBERT

Hic!...
Please don't bothe... Hic!

NANCY

Oh, what have we done?

SID

It was only in fun!

ALBERT

Wate... Hic!...

ALL

Lemonade! Lemonade!

FLORENCE

From the wrong side!

(Albert is given a glass of lemonade. He bends double
to sip from the wrong side of the glass
.)

LADY BILLOWS

Sip it.

VICAR

Slowly.

MUM

Slowly.

MISS WORDSWORTH

Drop by drop.

CHILDREN

'E'll go off pop!

(Pause while he sips from the glass.)

MUM

Better, son?

VICAR

None too soon.

MISS WORDSWORTH

Oh, well done!...

(Albert straightens up, and all relax.)

LADY BILLOWS

Well, then, let's begin...

(Everyone sits cheerfully at the table and the feast
begins among a general hubbub of conversation till
the curtain falls.
)

SID

Bring the plates! Quickly now!
Will that do? Plenty more.

NANCY

Here you are! Pass it down.
Coming now! This is yours!

(Nancy and Sid occupy themselves serving food.)

CHILDREN

Cor blimey! I'm aching
To get down to eating.
My tummy is rumbling.
Don't 'arf keep you waiting!

MISS WORDSWORTH

It's coming now, Harry.
They all look so merry!
Sit still and be good, dear,
There's a mountain of food here.

ALBERT

I feel brisk like a rocket,
Going up with a whoosh!
Oh! How lucky I am!
Shall I take off my hat?

LADY BILLOWS

(To Albert)

Put the purse in your pocket
And remove all those books.
Here's a plate of sliced ham
You can tuck into that.

FLORENCE

Will you pass up the plates?
Give that to the Vicar.
If you help in that way,
We shall all get served quicker!

VICAR

It's a splendid display!
Quite a banquet, I'd say!
A magnificent spread,
Will the children take bread?

MUM

I wasn't expecting
Such a wonderful do.
Excuse me for stretching!
Yes, I seem to have two!

SUPERINTENDENT

Beginning with beef, eh.
There's lashings of food.

MAYOR

Off the sirloin, I'd say,
My, does that ham look good!

Interlude

Scene 2


(Inside the shop later that evening. Dusk has fallen,
and light streams through the shop window from the
streetlamp outside. After a few moments, a white shape
looms past the window, and there is a fumbling with the
latch of the door. It opens with a sudden 'Ting!' and
Albert lurches through it, humming a version of the
toast. He is not exactly drunk, but in a hilarious mixture
of excitement and cheerfulness, stimulated by the rum.
He punctuates his little song by banging the door
backwards and forwards, and tingling the bell
.)

ALBERT

Albert the Good!
Long may he reign.
To be re-elected,
And re-selected,
And re-expected,
And resurrected
Again and again and again and again and again!

(shouting)

Mum! Mum! Yoo, hoo!
It's your little Albert!
Your sugar-plum
Of a prodigal son...
Clean as a whistle,
Sound as a drum,
From his Corona... ti... um!

(He shouts again.)

Mum!
Stupid! Stupid!
She's gone to call on Auntie Eth
For a cup of tea and a chat.
Left me coming straight home to bed,
But I'm blowed if I'm ready for that!

(He begins searching round for a box of matches.)

Dark in here!
Must find a match...
And after that we'll light the gas,
With enormous care not to break the mantle,
Set fire to the shop...
or cause a scandal!
Matches? Matches? Matches!

(calling)

Swan Vestas!...
Swan Vestas?... Ah!

(He finds the matches, goes to the gas bracket
and fiddles with it.)


That's the chap
Turn the tap
Strike the match
Like this... oh drat!

(He drops the matches on the floor, and stoops
to pick them up, leaving the gas jet on.
)

Butterfingers!... Ooopsadaisy!

(He stands up and with great deliberation
and slowness prepares to strike the match.
)

Open your mouth,
Shut your eyes,
Strike the match
For a nice surprise...

(There is a loud bang and swoosh of flame from
the gas jet
. Albert recoils.)

Blast!... Dangerous stuff, gas.
Smelly, tricky, noisy, dangerous stuff!
Leave well alone...

(He turns the gass hurriedly off. He moves away,
loosening his belt and relaxing comfortably.
)

Phew... it's hot!
Belt's too tight for tum.
Loosen it out a notch,
Relieve my poor old abdo... mum.
Golly! What a party! What a party!
Talk of eating hearty!...
Dish after dish they brought us:
Cakes, different-flavoured, jellies,
Custard, chocolate dates,
Fruit salad, trifle... and they gave us
Pastries freshly made
With cream in, followed by Almond Favours!
But oh! The taste of that lemonade...
Wonder how it's made?
Nancy knows, I suppose.
Nancy will know...
Pretty name, Nancy, pretty name!
Why did she stare
Each time I looked
Up at her?
Why was she watching
Whenever I turned
Of a sudden?
Nancy! Why did she blush
Catching my eye
As she passed?
What made her stammer
When speaking to me
In that manner?
Nancy? Nancy?
No! She belongs to Sid, not me:
We never talked or walked
Light-heartedly through the woods,
Nor shall that I can see.
Girls don't care for chaps like me:
I'm too shy to reply
Entertainingly when they speak,
I lose my nerve and fly.

(There is a throbbing and inviting whistle down
the street.
)

Sounds like Sid serenading under her window,
Impatient at waiting,
Impatiently aching
To take Nancy
chasing love and adventure.

(The whistle is repeated.)

Sid doesn't suffer from shyness, timidity,
Gets what he wants
by directness, simplicity,
Aims at his target
with shameless audacity,
Trades on the fact of his ruthless tenacity.

(Nancy and Sid appear outside the shop window, under
the lamp-post. Albert retreats into shadow to watch
them
.)

NANCY

You oughtn't to whistle. I told you that, Sid!

SID

(aggrieved )
It's perishing cold standing
out in the street!
Twenty-five minutes! I'm frozen stiff!

NANCY

I slipped down the stairs as quick as I could...

SID

Let's call at the pub for a couple of ports.
Warm us up quick...

NANCY

Sid, we mustn't! Oh, no!
People will talk!...

SID

They've enough food for chatter
In Albert tonight,
so us two won't matter.

NANCY

Poor kid! It does seem wrong
To show him off to everyone
Like a sort of plaster giant
Or the village simpleton.

SID

Oh, he's all right...
Once he's sown
A few wild oats,
he'll live that down.

NANCY

But how can he sow them,
tied to his Mum?

SID

I've done my share providing the rum!
Are you volunteering to cheer him
Along the agreeable primrose path?

NANCY

Of course not! Still, I'd like to help.

SID

Heaven helps those who help themselves!

NANCY

It's getting terribly chilly.
It'll be terrible cold up there on the Common.

SID

You needn't be frightened with me!

(coming close to Nancy)

Come along, darling, come follow me quick!
Time is racing
us round the clock,
Ticking and tocking our evening away
Which we've hoped for and longed for all day.

SID, NANCY

Hurry to work, hurry to play,
Youth must hurry at headlong pace,
Seizing and squeezing the pleasures of life
In a cheerful and a fearful embrace.

SID

(urgently)
Nancy, Nancy, Nancy
Give us a kiss, Nancy!...

NANCY

Not here in the light!

SID

Kiss me...

NANCY

Windows have eyes!

SID

Kiss me...

(A long passionate kiss. The kiss over, they go quickly
and happily off, their voices dying away down the
street
.)

SID, NANCY

Time is a glutton, Time is a thief,
Youth must challenge him as he flies,
Daring and sharing its dreams of delight
Between eight and eleven at night!

(Albert emerges from the shadow with horror
and embarrassment
.)

ALBERT

'Heaven helps those who help themselves.'
Help myself! Oh go, go away
And leave me here alone
With doubts and terrors
You have never known!
Enjoy your evening as you will!
Kiss and hug your fill!
Embrace until the stars spin
round like Catherine wheels
Against the rainbow-coloured hills.
Then hurry home at dawn,
Proud of what you've done,
Smile to think
I slept alone!
Nancy pities me, Sid laughs, others snigger
At my simplicity... offer me buns
To stay in my cage... parade
Me around as their whiteheaded boy.
Albert the Good! Albert who Should!
Who Hasn't and
Wouldn't if he Could!
Albert the Meek! Albert the Sheep!
Mrs Herring's guinea-Pig!
Mrs Herring's tilly-Pig!
Mrs Herring's... prig!
But when, but when,
Shall I dare and dare again?
How shall I screw my courage up
To do what must be done by everyone?
The tide will turn, the sun will set
While I stand here and hesitate.
The clock begins its rusty whirr,
Catches its breath to strike the hour
And offers me a final choice
That must be answered No or Yes.

(He hears the clink of coins in his pockets
and takes out his purse of sovereigns.
)

Forgotten those!
My virgin ransom!
I'll toss for it,
and damn the risk!

(He picks one sovereign from the purse.)

Eeny, meeney, miney mo
Heads for Yes and Tails for No,
Tails for No and Heads for Yes...

(He tosses the coin and puts his foot on it where
it falls
.)

Spin it up... Heads!

(Looking at it grimly.)

Well, you've gone and done it now!
It's very plain You've burnt your boats
And can't go back again.
Oh golly! But how...

(Far, far down the street there is an echo of Sid's
particular whistle. Albert listens and tries a whistle of
his own, then with sudden resolve, stuffs the purse in
his pocket, seizes his hat and an old mackintosh, and
slips out through the door. He can be heard whistling
far down the street. After a short pause Mum comes in
wearily and calls gently at the inner door
.)

MUM

Albert!... Albert?
Fast asleep, poor kid!
Worn out by all this fuss.
Sleeping the sleep of the just
And richer by twenty-five quid!

(Yawning)

Oooaaah! I shan't need rocking myself!

(She locks up the shop and trudges sleepily up
to bed as the curtain slowly falls
.)


ACT III


(The following afternoon, in the shop. Nancy is alone,
miserably polishing the scales.
Emmie dashes past
the window and into the shop. Nancy silences her
.)

EMMIE

(whispering)
Is she asleep?

NANCY

How could she sleep?
She's lying upstairs on her bed for a while.

EMMIE

They've been phoning around to
Ufford and Orford, Iken and Snape!

NANCY

Where can he be?

EMMIE

Someone was saying
It's felo-de-se.

NANCY

Felo-de-what?

EMMIE

Done himself in!
Unless he's been murdered!

NANCY

Oh no! No!

CIS

(appearing at the window)
Come on, Emmie! Got your compass?

EMMIE

I'm running off now
To join in the hunt
Round Hasketon Hall
With the Peewit Patrol.
Ta-ta!

(Emmie and Cis dash off. Nancy, left by herself,
gives way to her unhappiness
.)

NANCY

What would Mrs Herring say?
What would everybody think?
If they knew the trick we played
Giving Albert rum to drink?
We did it for fun
Oh we shouldn't have done!

(Down the street there is a piercing blast on a
whistle, and the Mayor's voice is heard shouting
.)

MAYOR

(offstage)
Hi! Don't forget the splints!

NANCY

Now he's vanished overnight,
Disappeared without a trace,
And I bitterly regret
What I did in thoughtlessness.
We did it for fun
Oh we shouldn't have done!

(Harry appears at the window for a moment
and shouts in
.)

HARRY

They're dragging the millpond with ropes
and ruddy great hooks!

NANCY

Bring him back! Oh bring him back!
Safe and sound in life and limb.
Mrs Herring's heart will break
Losing him, losing him.
We did it for fun
Oh we shouldn't, we shouldn't have done!

(Sid arrives, irritable and very muddy round the
ankles, shouting back to someone as he comes in
.)

SID

What the hell d'you think I am?
A human bloodhound?

NANCY

Sid! Thank goodness you've come!

SID

I've spent the whole blooming day
Splashing around
Up to the neck in water and clay
And for all that I found...

NANCY

Not?...

SID

... One maggotty sheep
Lying dead on the ground!

NANCY

Thank heavens!

SUPERINTENDENT

(shouting off )
Any more news about Albert?

MAYOR

(offstage)
No.

SID

I'm hungry, I'm tired,
I'm sick of the sound
Of 'Albert! Albert! Albert!
Albert!' all round!

NANCY

(angry)
You're heartless and selfish
and thoughtless and cruel!
No conscience
or feelings of kindness at all!
You've ruined poor Albert, you've ruined his Mum,
And I hope you're contented
with what you have done!

SID

He isn't the first and he won't be the last
To throw up his heels and kick over the mark!
But why carry on as if Albert had gone
On a one-way excursion to Kingdom Come?

NANCY

Excuses are useless, so don't try them on!
I'm sorry we did it...
I'm sorry I helped you,
In future, I'll leave you to yourself.

SID

You're talking as though I had done all I could
To wipe out the family of Herrings for good!
But all I intended and all that I planned
Was giving young Albert a brotherly hand.

(The Superintendent comes in with a harassed
air and interrupts their quarrel
.)

SUPERINTENDENT

Mrs Herring about?

NANCY

She's resting.

SUPERINTENDENT

Ask her down… official business...
won't keep her long.

(Nancy goes, glad to escape for a moment.)

SID

How's the manhunt?

SUPERINTENDENT

Give me a decent murder with a corpse.
Give me a clear-cut case of arson.
Give me a robbery with force,
Or a criminal case of rape.
But God preserve me
from these disappearing cases,
Where everyone from the baker
to the Nonconformist parson
Turns Sherlock Holmes
and pokes around finding evidence
in the most unlikely places!

HARRY

(through door)
Super! Lady Billows wants you up at her house!
Immediate!

SUPERINTENDENT

My Lady Billows...
Self-appointed Chief Constable!

(Nancy comes back, supporting Mrs Herring,
who is dressed in deep black
.)

MUM

Have you found him?

SUPERINTENDENT

Not yet...

MUM

He's dead and gone,
poor Albert's dead and gone...

NANCY

Don't say that!

MUM

It's the living truth.
Dead and gone, dead and gone
In the pride of his youth!

SUPERINTENDENT

I've come to ask for a photograph
To send round the stations
For identification.

MUM

There's one in a frame
On the whatshisname...
Above the Bible
On the tulipwood table.
(Nancy goes out to fetch it.)
It was took on the pier at Felixstowe
When his Dad was alive, in a studio.
We paid three-and-six to have it enlarged,
And another three bob for the frame
and the glass.

(Nancy returns carrying a large photo of Albert
and Mum clasps it to herself
.)

It is all that I have to remember him by
All that remains of my darling boy!
All, all, all that remains
Of the baby I bore with such pains!
All, all, all...

(The Mayor appears outside the window, and signals
to attract attention. The Superintendent and Sid see
him and slip out unnoticed by Mum
.)

All that I did, all that I did,
All that I planned
Was building in sand,
For Albert my boy is dead!

NANCY

He'll come back again, my dear.
He'll come back to you, I swear.
Trust in that and never fear,
He'll come back before tonight,
He'll repent his sudden flight,
He'll return, you'll see, I'm right.

MUM

Where did he go?
Why was he took;
Wherever I look
The world's full of bitter woe.
Life's become bleak,
Life's become bare
Without Albert here
To ease and relieve my grief.

(The Vicar and Miss Wordsworth come quietly in.)

MISS WORDSWORTH, VICAR

(joining in)
A grievous torment
for a mother's heart,
A bitter blow to bear alone.
We come to comfort you and ease the smart
With crumbs of Christian consolation.

HARRY

(shouting loudly through the window)
Hi! Hi! Heard the news?
There's a Big White Something
in Mrs William's well!!

MUM

(rising)
Oh God! it's him...

(Mum collapses in Nancy's arms.)

NANCY

No, no... I'm sure it isn't him...

MISS WORDSWORTH, VICAR

In such an hour
We scarcely dare pretend
We have the power
To help our friend...

(Lady Billows surges in with Florence behind her.)

LADY BILLOWS

Fools! Blundering fools!
Budd's the worst!
I'll ring up Scotland Yard myself!
We must have experts down to help.
A detective-inspector, won't accept less!
Dispatched by
the Liverpool Street Express.

NANCY

The Saxmundbarn Police are out...

LADY BILLOWS

Yokels!

VICAR

And the Wickham Market Militia...

LADY BILLOWS

Bumpkins!

MISS WORDSWORTH

If only they could find him...

LADY BILLOWS

Find him?
I'd soon find the wretched boy!
Modern methods... that's what we need.
Bloodhounds... fingerprints...
electromagnets, water diviners!
Call in Conan Doyle.
Telegraph the Strand Magazine!
He'll bring him back, dead or alive!

FLORENCE

The whole of the district
from Loxford to Ipswich
Is seeking and searching in vain:
And running around without reason or rhyme,
Wasting their energy, money and time;
Poking their noses into each other's houses,
Snatching at clues that simply confuse
And starting fresh rumours to keep up the game!

LADY BILLOWS,  FLORENCE

A crisis like this
Can't be left to the locals,
We must call on expert advice!

(A small and solemn procession comes down the street:
Sid, Superintendent Budd and the Mayor, bringing a
tray covered with a white cloth. They enter the shop.
Mum fearfully approaches the tray, lifts the cloth and
sees Albert's orange-blossom crown lying there
crushed and muddied
.)

MUM

(screaming)
My Albert's wreath!...

(She faints.)

MAYOR

(somberly)
Found on the road to Campsey Ashe...

SUPERINTENDENT

Crushed by a cart...

(They gather pitifully around the wreath. Nancy
shuts the door and pulls down the shop-blinds
.)

Threnody

ALL

In the midst of life is death.
Death awaits us one and all.
Death attends our smallest step,
Silent, swift and merciful.

VICAR

Sigh for youth that scorns to die
And leaps into eternity
with innocent simplicity.

NANCY

Why was he born who had to run
So short a race and die so young
Foredoomed to fall before begun?

MAYOR

He died too soon: death came before
His bud had blossomed into flower
And we shall see his like no more.

LADY BILLOWS

Weep for him, whose simple fame
Shone clearly like a candle-flame
Blown bright by the wind, then out again.

SUPERINTENDENT

Heavy-hearted, we ask why
He was chosen for to die?
But Death's not given to reply.

FLORENCE

These flowers were a joyful sight
And shone with purity and light,
Till Death struck at them overnight.

MISS WORDSWORTH

Yesterday these flowers were fresh
With gaiety and loveliness.
Today they fade to ugliness.

SID

The grave's a fine and private place
But horribly cold and horribly chaste,
And not attractive to my taste.

MUM

Albert! Albert! My only son!
Flesh of my flesh and bone of my bone!
Let me die too,
now you are gone!

ALL SAVE MUM

Death awaits us one and all,
He beckons us with every breath
We take, and does not hesitate
To strike the humble or the great.

(Singing all at once, but not in unison, the characters
repeat their various contributions almost as before,
but without the accompanying threnody
.)

ALL

Grief is silent, Pity dumb;
Despair exclaims
in endless pain
That one so fine
should live in vain
And die so young.

(Albert's head pops through the top of the door. The
shop bell rings as he come in dirty, dishevelled and
stained with mud. All are horrified at his interruption
and his looks
.)

ALL

Albert?...

ALBERT

What's going on?

ALL

(rising in fury and surrounding him)
Albert? Where have you come from?
Where have you been?
Wrecking the whole of our daily routine?
Tearing the town from its regular labours
To run up and down and around with the neighbours...
Looking for clues, longing for news,
Inspecting, accepting, rejecting reports
That you had been kidnapped, or murdered...
or worse...
For the twenty-five sovereigns
you had in your purse!

ALBERT

(rather inadequately)
I'm sorry about that.

(His remark is the spark to a powder magazine.)

LADY BILLOWS

'Sorry'! 'Sorry'! He says he's 'sorry'!
As if a 'Sorry' could repay
The agony and worry
He's caused us all today!

MISS WORDSWORTH
NANCY, FLORENCE

Where exactly have you been?

MAYOR, SID, VICAR

Tell us that!

SUPERINTENDENT

Where have you been?

MUM

(balefully)
Wait till I'm alone with you!

(Albert is silent. The Vicar steps forward
to question him
.)

VICAR

You left this house at eight last night?

(Albert nods yes.)

LADY BILLOWS

Where exactly did you go?

(No reply)

FLORENCE

Slipped through the streets and out of sight?

(Nod - Yes)

MAYOR

Were you alone?

MISS WORDSWORTH

Say 'Yes' or 'No.'

ALBERT

Yes.

LADY BILLOWS

Did you remain alone for long?

(Nod - No)

VICAR

You met some friends?

(Nod - No)

MISS WORDSWORTH

Acquaintances?

(Nod - Yes)

FLORENCE

Male?

(Nod - Yes)

MAYOR

And
female?

(Nod - Yes)

NANCY

Oh don't go on!

SUPERINTENDENT

And did you stay with them?

ALBERT

Well, yes!

LADY BILLOWS

When you left home, you took with you
Twenty-five sovereigns.

FLORENCE

In gold.

(Nod - Yes)

MUM

How many's left?

ALBERT

I've twenty-two.

MAYOR

So three have disappeared all told?

ALBERT

Yes.

MISS WORDSWORTH

Were they stolen from you?

(Nod - No)

SUPERINTENDENT

Lost, d'you think?

(Nod - No)

MUM

Did you spend three pounds yourself?

(Nod - Yes)


VICAR

At a shop?

(Nod - No)

LADY BILLOWS

At a public house?

(Nod - Yes)

FLORENCE

All that on drink?

(Nod - No)

MAYOR

How did you spend it?

NANCY, SID

For goodness' sake, stop!
Stop prying and poking
and probing at him
With your pious old faces delighting in sin!

OTHERS

We must persist
And insist
On the truth,
However bad it is.

LADY BILLOWS

Where did that three pounds go?
Tell us the truth!

OTHERS

The truth! At once! Tell us the whole truth!
And nothing but the truth!

ALBERT

(making up his mind to confess he begins quietly
and slowly gains confidence
)
I can't remember everything, but what I can
I'll tell you plain and straight. It all began
'Cos I suddenly thought it was time I ought
To try a taste of certain things
The Prayer Book catalogues
among its sins.
Curiosity killed the cat, they say!
Well, if you like,
It was curiosity made me pinch a bike
And pedal away to town last night!
Drink was my first experiment: I found a pub,
Ordered some old-and-mild, and drank it up.
Beer tasted queer,
so my next idea was rum:
A tumblerful of naval rum, with whisky
and gin to wash it down!
Before very long,
I was pretty far gone...
Reeling about, beginning to shout,
Disgustingly drunk... a nuisance to everyone!
So they threw me out of The Dog and Duck
To lie in the gutter and sober up!

ALL

Impossible! Drunk and disorderly?
Our May King?

ALBERT

Then I staggered along to the four-ale bar
Of The Horse and Groom,
which isn't far:
Started a fight 'cos they said I was tight,
Butted the publican,
fell on the floor,
And ended up in the gutter once more!

ALL

Horrible! Stop him! This is revolting!
Stop, stop, stop, stop!

ALBERT

You wanted the truth!
Do you want some more?
Or will that do as a general sample
Of a night that was a nightmare example
Of drunkenness, dirt and worse ?

MUM

But how could you do it?
How could you?

ALBERT

(turning on Mum)
You know what drove me,
You know how I could.
It was all because
You squashed me down and reined me in,
Did up my instincts with safety pins,
Kept me wrapped in cotton wool,
Measured my life by a twelve-inch rule...
Protected me with such devotion
My only way out was a wild explosion!

ALL

Monstrous!

ALBERT

I've done it now, it wasn't much fun...
But sooner or later it had to come.

NANCY, SID

Good old Albert!

SUPERINTENDENT

Monstrous!

ALBERT

And I'm more than grateful to you all
For kindly providing the wherewithal.

ALL

Preposterous! Wicked boy!
He needs a good thrashing!
Fancy. Turning against his mother,
Young oaf!

ALBERT

And now I shall take it extremely kind
if you'll let me get on!

LADY BILLOWS

(furious)
You will pay! You will pay
For your night's holiday!
You will pay for your sins of the flesh.
You will creep to the shade
Of a profligate's grave...
A disgrace to your name and your sex!

ALBERT

Good day, your Ladyship,
Please let me get on,
For I'm all behind.

LADY BILLOWS

Faugh!

(Lady Billows sweeps out in disgust, followed by
Florence, the Vicar, Miss Wordsworth, the Mayor
and the Superintendent. Albert politely holds the
door open for them. Mum boils over as they go
and attacks Albert in tearful fury
.)

MUM

I'll never forgive you! Never!
Not till my dying day!

ALBERT

That'll do, Mum!

(Mum gasps, bursts into a fit of sobbing,
and goes noisily off into the house.
)

ALBERT

I didn't lay it on too thick, did I?

(Nancy impulsively throws her arms round him and
gives him a smacking kiss, to his complete surprise
and astonishment
.)

SID

Hi! That's my girl!

(Albert goes to the window to let up the blinds
and sees Emmie, Harry and Cis standing there.
The children begin their mocking song again
.)

CHILDREN

Albert's Mum
Took a stick Whacked him on the thingmijig!

(Albert smiles and, to their surprise, beckons them in.)

ALBERT

Alright! Come on in!

(The children creep cautiously and shyly in. Albert, Sid
and Nancy encourage them. Albert picks up the basket
of peaches and offers it
.)

Have a nice peach?

(They accept joyfully.)

ALL

Albert's come
Back to stay
Better for his holiday!
Let's all say
Hip, Hip Hooray! Good luck to him, anyway!

ALBERT

Help yourselves,
there's plenty for everyone!
Put some more in your pockets!
It's nice to be home again.

(Sid picks up the wreath of orange blossom.)

SID

Hi! You'd better frame this!

ALBERT

Chuck it over!
(Sid throws the wreath to Albert, who catches it
and skims it out over the heads of the audience.
They all wave goodbye to the wreath.
)

ALL

Jolly good riddance!

4 comments:

  1. Thank you. This opera is a hoot even without the libretto but even funnier with.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thank you. This opera is a hoot even without the libretto but even funnier with.

    ReplyDelete