The Monkey’s Paw
Plot: It is a stormy night (!) and a small family of the middle-aged Mr White, Mrs White and their twenty-something son, Herbert (could be played f. but originally described as ‘a fine young fellow.’) are revealed in the front room of their small cottage on the outskirts of Fulham. The period is as in the original: early 1900s and although electricity is in use throughout Fulham it has clearly not reached the cottage yet which is lit with candles and an oil lamp. There is a fire. Herbert is due to go to his night shift at the local electrical generating station where he has a job watching over the dynamos. Their chat, following a game of chess is interrupted by a knock at the door: Sergeant-Major Morris (‘a veteran of distinctly military appearance’) drops in for a hot toddy and a chat. He is full of stories of serving in India and Herbert disbelieves them all. The Sergeant Major ups the ante by showing them a monkey’s paw from his pocket which he claims is cursed with three wishes for three persons only. He expresses bitter regret at his own three as the wishes were intended to show that fate ‘is cut and dried from the beginning, as you might say.’ by back-firing tragically on the wisher. He indicates that he was the second of the three and that he does not know what the first three wishes were (‘except that the last one was for death.’)
The Sergeant attempts to burn the paw in the fire but Mr White rescues it and appears fascinated. The Sergeant makes his excuses, warns Mr White not to use it and goes. Herbert, ever the sceptic suggests they wish for enough money to pay off the mortgage – £200. Mr White does and claims that as he does so the paw moved in his hand. Herbert laughs it off and leaves for work.
Scene Two sees the cottage bathed in brilliant sunshine and the birds tweeting. It is morning and the storm has passed. Mr and Mrs White reflect, with some skepticism, on the events of the previous night – especially when the postman delivers, not an envelope of cash containing £200 but a bank statement on their mortgage. Herbert appears to be late and then a top-hatted gentleman walks up the street and knocks on the door. He is Sampson, from the electrical works with terrible news – Herbert is dead: he was involved in an accident the previous night when he lost concentration for an instant and was caught and mangled by the machines. Sampson gives his condolences and states that the company do not accept liability. However, as a mark for his services they are prepared to pay compensation to the sum of… £200.
Scene Three is after the funeral. Nighttime again but the candles are nearly burnt out. Mrs White persuades her husband to use the Monkey’s paw for a second wish – to wish their son alive again. He does so, again the paw wriggles and this time the candle blows out. Nothing happens and Mr White cries out ‘Thank God!’ He is clearly thinking of the state that dead Herbert, mangled by the machines but reanimated, will look like.
A sudden low single knock at the door. Then again, louder. Repeated ‘at irregular intervals but growing louder and more insistent.’ Mrs White is overjoyed and tries to open the door but Mr White grabs hold of her and shouts ‘Think of what you might see!’ She wriggles free and he desperately looks for the monkey’s paw he dropped in the dark. Just as she succeeds in unbolting and opening the door he finds the paw and holds it aloft crying out ‘I wish him dead. I wish him dead and at peace!’
The door swings open revealing still moonlit and ’emptiness’ which floods the room. Mrs White collapses wailing and supporting herself on the door post. Mr White on knees in mumbled prayer. Hold. Slow fade to black.
Themes: As stated at the outset the theme is of the supernatural. There is also a nice line of irony and karma in both pieces (The Tell-Tale Heart, and The Monkey’s Paw): the narrator is alerted to the Old Man’s beating heart as evidence that his victim is already near death but that same beating heart ultimately betrays his crime; the couple ask for £200 and get just that but at the expense of their son. The Mother asks that her son live but what comes from the grave to knock on the door is a half-decomposed mangled living corpse. The final wish breaks the spell but they have to suffer for their hubris by the emptiness of the moonlit night.
Staging: A naturalistic play with some lovely crafted scenes (reminiscent of Priestley so a good fit for the double-bill.) The setting of the play is Fulham and the son, Herbert, works in an electricity generating station. However, depending on who auditions the role could easily be female (Bertha). There were very few females working in generating stations until after WW1 – but plenty worked in factories, especially the cotton mills of Lancashire. Therefore an option may be to change the location to the North. Again, this is dependent on who auditions and if they (and Mr and Mrs White) can do a convincing North of England accent.
Rehearsal technique: The piece is really gothic horror masquerading as naturalism but we will try to create as naturalistic atmosphere as possible – that all the effects (candle going out, sudden sound of the wind at the moment of the wish etc.) could be just genuine and coincidental. All the way through until the reveal that the compensation money is exactly the same as the wished for amount there is a healthy does of skepticism. The manifestation of the reanimated corpse of Herbert is only represented by a prosaic but insistent and repeated knock at the door. There is also a very touching and real sense of family in the early scenes.
Characters: The family are upper working class (rather than lower middle class) well to do enough to have a piano (in original stage directions – something we won’t be featuring) and a modest mortgage for their tumble down house… Mr White does not seem to have work to go to so perhaps he has been invalided out of the army or pensioned off early from his works.
Mr White late 50s / 60s. Loving relationship with rest of family. Is open-minded about the supernatural. Accent: London or Northern.
Mrs White similar age as Mr White. At first laughs it off but is the one who desperately wants her son back, whatever the state of him. Accent: London or Northern.
Herbert (or Bertha) very early 20s. Humorous, cynical about all matters superstition. Accent: London or Northern.
Sergeant Major same age as Mr White. Old soldier – A man haunted. He has seen some terrible sights, carries war wounds (in the text it states he has lost an arm) and suffers some PTSD or his brush with the supernatural has scarred him. Accent: London military.
Mr Samson any age 25+. Accent: posh.
Auditions: Auditions will take place in groups in the Everyman Clubroom, Chapter Arts Centre. The slots are as follows:
The Monkey’s Paw
Friday 24 September 7.30 – 9pm
Saturday 25 September 1.30 – 3pm
If you are unavailable for any of the slots please indicate when you are available and I will try to organize an alternative time.
The Monkey’s Paw: Please look at the script and be prepared to act script in hand the scenes for which you will be auditioning for:
Mr and Mrs White – contrast the opening scene with the final scene
Herbert / Sergeant Major / Mr Samson – their scenes.
Texts will be sent out via email to auditionees with the confirmation of booking.
Please book your audition slot by emailing: firstname.lastname@example.org