Writing a complete play every day is as hard as you make it. Day 8 of the 29 Plays Later presented us with a straightforward enough challenge: use the following opening line:
Bonus points for ending with the line “It was carnage. An obese Elvis impersonator throwing up on 78 girls in Frozen costumes throwing up on an obese clown!”
The talented Sarah Mann fulfilled this brief in great style with a typically skewed take on the Las Vegas gangster heist story. Other solutions came up on the hashtag #29playslater. For me the line led me to think about farce. Unfortunately, farce is the hardest kind of play to write that there is. Modern masters of farce include Alan Ayckbourn, Michael Frayn, and the writers of Frasier.
I outlined a number of characteristics of farce. A total seriousness on the part of every participant, with genuine jeopardy, often a plot that would be tragic if it weren’t being employed to provoke laughs. The laughs aren’t verbal but arise from increasingly desperate attempts to resolve the predicaments. Real time is obeyed because the pace must be unrelenting. The worse it gets the funnier it is. There’s a big lie that leads to lots of subsequent lies multiplying as everyone just digs themselves in deeper and deeper. As well as lies, there are genuine misunderstandings and mixups that facilitate total chaos.
Well, I had a go. I felt from the outset that the opening and closing lines we had been given were the wrong way round. “Let go of Charlie! The truth is, I’ve despised you since I discovered the truth about you, Frank and the margarine!” is not a good opening line. It’s too showy and you’ve shot your bolt for a cheap laugh. As I constructed my intricate farce plot I thought I wouldn’t use the line at all. In the end I did – literally as the last line; but if there are subsequent drafts of the play it will have to work harder to stick around. At the last minute I also added in the other line quite early on in the play, employed not for a laugh but as part of the tragic element underpinning the plot.
I present The Truth About Margarine, a one-act farce. Queenie is having a party. The Professor is going to demonstrate his new machine that turns margarine into plastic. Marjorie has brought her husband Frank, but reveals he has a serious eating disorder and must be prevented from raiding the fridge. Marjorie doesn’t know he and Queenie are having an affair. Queenie doesn’t know her husband is a crook and has hidden the loot from a big job in a four-litre ice cream tub which happens to look exactly the same as the tub containing the margarine for the machine, which Queenie breaks and has to hide while it gets fixed, while Frank keeps trying to gorge on actual ice cream. Outside, sirens are blaring in an atmosphere of fear. How will it all turn out? If we know anything about farce, very badly indeed, but very funny.
Day 8 – The Truth About Margarine
08_-_THE_TRUTH_ABOUT_MARGARINE_-_AJ_DEHANY (pdf, 20pp, 6 or 7 actors)
Apologies for the lack of finesse, polish and tightness, that are key to successful farce. I had only a few hours, and writing this has wiped me out. I’m stuck at home watching Star Trek.