A village in Yorkshire. The sun is just rising. A lass walks on and stands centre stage next to a large standing stone. The stone forms a sundial and as the day progresses, so does the movement of the stone’s shadow.
LASS: Long ago, but not too far away, in a tiny village in Yorkshire, there was a job for everyone and everyone had a job. There the miners-
The miners have entered while the girl was talking, carrying tools and covered in coal dust.
MINERS: We get up early and finish late in order to put coal in the fires and food on the table.
The woman enters and stands downstage left.
WOMAN: There where the farmers-
The farmers have entered while the woman was talking, carrying tools and covered in dirt.
FARMERS: We get up with a dawn and go to bed with the sun to make sure we have eggs for the grocer, beef for the butcher and corn for the bread.
WOMAN: Not to forget the milk.
FARMERS: Not forgetting the milk.
The man enters and stands downstage right.
MAN: There were the traders-
The traders have entered while the man was talking, carrying their wares.
TRADERS: We bake and butcher and open up the market in the wee small hours. We make sure ya have clothes to wear and bibles to read.
TRADER [sotto voce]: Oh, and beer for yar bellies at the end of the day.
The lad enters and stands next to the woman.
LAD: And there were… the ministers… They made sure that everyone knew they did all in service of God. They told us what was good and what was bad, and each day the village gave thanks through prayer-
The ministers enter as the lad talks, carrying bibles and dressed in black. They are clean, tidy and austere. They move the lass aside and take center stage. The village gathers round, downing tools and hanging their heads respectfully.
MINISTERS: Holy Lord, we have sinned times without number, and been guilty of pride and unbelief, of failure to find Your mind in Your Word, of neglect to seek You in my daily life. Our transgressions and shortcomings present us with a list of accusations, of dancing, and singing and laughter at yar expense – but we bless You that they may not stand against us, for all have been laid on Christ. Go on to subdue our corruptions, and grant us grace to live above them. Let not the passions of the flesh nor lustings of the mind bring our spirits into subjection, but rule over us in liberty and power.
LASS: Life was hard. The minister told us to work harder and longer to make up for our sins-
MINISTER: Thank You that many of our prayers have been refused. We have asked amiss and do not have, we have prayed from lusts and been rejected, we have longed for Egypt and been given a wilderness-
LAD: The moors aren’t that bad-
MINISTER: Go on with Your patient work, oh Lord, answering ‘no’ to our wrongful prayers, and fitting us to accept it. Purge us from every false desire, every base aspiration, everything contrary to Yar rule. We thank You for Your wisdom and Your love, for all the acts of discipline to which we are all subject, for sometimes putting us into the furnace to refine my gold and remove my dross.
MINER: Who’s he calling dross-
MINISTER: No trial is so hard to bear as a sense of sin. If You should give us choice to live in pleasure and keep our sins, or to have them burnt away with trial, give us sanctified affliction.
MINISTER: Plough deep in us, great Lord, heavenly husbandman, that we being may be a tilled field, the roots of grace spreading far and wide, until You alone are seen in us, Your beauty golden like summer harvest, Your fruitfulness as autumn plenty. We have no master but You, no law but Your will, no delight but Yourself, no wealth but that You give, no good but that You bless, no peace but that You bestow. We are nothing but that You make us. we have nothing but that we receive from You. We can be nothing but that grace adorns us. Quarry us deep, dear Lord, and then fill me to overflowing with living water, that be live an upright life.
FARMER: Try being upright when ya’ve spent the morning bent over a pail.
The village disperses to continue about the day. Only the girl remains centre stage.
The sun is now up.
LASS: Everyone had their job and there was a job for everyone.
LAD: No one from the outside world bothered with us and we didn’t bother no one.
MAN: Nothing ever changed.
WOMAN: And everyone was content with the day to day.
LASS: Until one day a group of musicians arrived in the village-
The musicians enter with a cart and all their instruments.
MINISTERS: Musicians, in this village? The will be the devils work!
LASS: And the musicians has news…
LAD: We didn’t get a whole lot of news and we relied on people coming in from the outside world to tell us what was going on.
WOMAN: And what news.
MUSICIANS: The world is going to end tonight.
MAN: I don’t believe it.
MINISTER: Who told ya so?
MINISTERS: God talks through us, not a pack of vagabonds like ya. We will pray for yar souls.
The ministers go into a huddle and pray loudly.
LAD: Is the world really going to end?
MUSICIANS: Afraid so, lad.
LAD: But I’m only 9.
MUSICIANS: No one ever said that life was fair.
MINISTERS: Ya must all pray for yar sins.
MUSICIANS: Pray? At the end of the world? What utter madness. Praying is all ya’ve done and look what it’s bought ya – nothing but long hours and the apocalypse. There’s only one way to to see the end of the world and that, my friends, is to dance.
MAN: Dance? Good Christian men can’t dance.
WOMAN: Ya mean ya’re gammy leg won’t let ya.
TRADERS: We have no time to dance.
FARMERS: There’s the harvest to get in.
MINERS: And seams to be excavated.
LASS: But if it’s the end of the world, who needs food or coal or dresses?
TRADERS: The lass has a point, ya know.
MINERS: Do these look like dancing shoes to ya?
WOMAN: Ya can take yar bloody boots off, yar great apath.
LASS: If there’s no one here for our labours and if we’re going to go out in flames at the end of the world, I want to go out dancing. Please, will ya play we summat?
The musicians exchange looks and nod. They strike up a simple tune. The lass starts dancing.
LAD: And could she dance.
The lass laughs and pulls in the lad to join her. The song ends and they are both out of breath.
The traders enter. One of them gives beer and another bread to the musicians.
TRADERS: Ooooo, it’s been years since I danced. Do you remember Bernard? Play again and make these old bones reel.
The musicians play again. One of the traders starts to dance. The rest soon join. The lass and lad are pulled in.
The miners enter. They see the dancing. They watch. They drop their tools. As one, they dust themselves off, and steps into the dance. They bring their own beat and the music changes as they demonstrate stompier, rougher steps bourne out of life down the mines.
The farmers enter. They watch the dance. They drop their tools and crops. One of them throws a chicken in the air and leads the rest into the dance. They bring their own beat and the music changes as they dance the history and traditions of the countryide. The woman joins in as the spirit of the harvest. Finally the man joins in as Herne the Hunter. Now all the village is dancing. It’s wild and free.
LASS [out of breath]: Just fer a bit, we all forgot our worries and cares. The day to day faded into the rhythm of the music and the pounding of the ground.
LAD [out of breath]: But we also forgot the ministers…
The music stops. The dancers freeze.
MINISTERS: You forget the commandments and embrace your baser instincts. You forget God.
TRADER [toasting with a draught of beer]: To the end of the world!
ALL: The end of the world!
The music strikes up. Everyone starts dancing again.
The ministers follow the words of the woman.
WOMAN: The ministers stood by watching as the village danced. They crossed themselves and kissed their bibles. They started to pray for all the lost souls of the village.
The sky grows dark under the ministers’ prayer.
MINISTERS: Lord Jesus, give these our flock a deeper repentance, a horror of sin, a dread of its approach. Help us chastely to flee it and jealousy to resolve that our heart shall be Yours alone. Deliver us from every evil habit, every accretion of former sins, everything that dims the brightness of Your grace, everything that prevents our village from taking delight in You.
MAN: But their words went unheard. They were getting desperate.
MINISTERS: O God, we have no merit, let the merit of Jesus stand for us. We are undeserving of Your tender mercy. We are full of infirmities, wants, sin. We confess our sin, our frequent sin, our wilful sin; all our powers of body and soul are defiled: a fountain of pollution is deep within our nature. There are chambers of foul images within our beings; we have gone from one odious room to another, walked in a no-man’s-land of dangerous imaginations, pried into the secrets of these people’s fallen nature. I am utterly ashamed that I am what I am in myself; I have no green shoot in me nor fruit, but thorns and thistles; I am a fading leaf that the wind drives away; I live bare and barren as a winter tree, unprofitable, fit to be hewn down and burnt. Lord, do You have mercy on us? These musician bring a false god and false prophecies. But You, our master and lord, speak truth. Smite thy enemies. Send a bolt of lightening onto these musicians and show the village that false praise shall not be tolerated. We call to you oh Lord-
Suddenly there is a bolt of lightning from the sky. It hits the standing stone, which is rent asunder. The music and the dancing stops. The ministers fall to their knees in exaltation. The stone falls in two, revealing God.
God steps forward.
MINISTERS: Praise be!
GOD [clears his throat, takes a deep breath]: Dance, ya buggers, dance!
The musician strike up. God starts dancing. The village after a respectful period join in. God is handed a tankard of beer and he toasts to the village. Gradually, one by one, the ministers join in. Cautiously they drop their bibles and give in to the joy of dancing. The throw off wigs and restraints of the layers of their clerical clothing.
LASS: The village were happy and carefree as they danced the night away.
LAD: Even though it was the end of the world.
LASS: And gradually one-by-one the village dropped to the ground exhausted-
The villagers dance themselves to sleep where they fall.
LAD: And drunk-
LASS: Some were drunk, but slept the sleep only people who have let their hair down for a night could really sleep.
The musicians pack up their cart and exit the village.
LAD: And when they woke up..
TRADERS: The musicians have gone.
MINERS: So it weren’t the end of the world.
WOMAN: Well, no.
MAN [to ministers]: And did God strike you down?
MINISTERS: Well, no.
FARMERS: So we must go back to our work?
LASS: Well, aye. Sorry.
LAD: There is a job for everyone and everyone has a job.
The villagers pick themselves up off the ground. They pick up their tools. There are sheepish smiles as people exchange mixed up hats and dust off jackets.
LASS: I’ll be honest, that were bloody good larks.
MAN: Yes, lass.
The villagers start to make their way reluctantly about their day.
The villagers freeze.
MINISTERS: Lad, do you still have that pipe?
MINISTERS: Can you play it?
MINISTERS: Let us talk.
The ministers lead the lad into a huddle.
The lass stand on the split standing stone.
LASS: And things went back to the way they were.
WOMAN: Well, sort of.
The huddle breaks up. The boy climbs on to the stone next to the lass.
MINISTERS: You, our lord and master, know that every day is a fragile thing. Our time on this earth is short, and we will never know when the world will end. So, we will pray and we will work in your honour oh lord. But as the sun sets in the East we will end each day with a grand dance in your honour. So dance, you buggers, dance!
The lad strikes up on his pipe and the village dances. The music builds and the musicians join the rest of the cast on stage. The audience is pulled into the dance.
The sun sets.