The Play's the Thing: Part Two
In which magic is afoot, the finer points of language are observed, and deviations from the script become apparent.
The theatre was steadily filling up, and the Witches were getting an increasing amount of glares from those behind due to their refusal to remove their hats.
Morguss was busy examining the programmes they had been given.
“Says here that Esmeralda will be played by Felicity Wave,” she read with some disdain. “That doesn’t sound like the sort of person who should be playing the first Witch!”
“No one should be playing the first Witch,” Edna growled. “Do they have the story right?”
Morguss flipped through the booklet until she found the plot summary, “Act I. Baron Friday-Lunchtime meets the peasant Esmeralda, and invites her to live with him in the Haunted Woods. Act I... I. The Baron and Esmeralda travel to Faerieland, wherein tragedy strikes and the Baron is struck down. Esmeralda traps a Faerie in a book out of revenge. Act I, I, I. Esmeralda raises the Baron from the grave, but is caught up in a war with Fyora, Queen of Faerieland. As punishment, she is forced to sleep for thousands of years. Act I, V. Esmeralda is released from her sleep, only to be challenged and killed by a trio of ugly Witches.”
“What!?” Edna demanded.
“That’s what it says,” Morguss confirmed. “Act V. The Baron plots revenge on Neopia by invading Neopia Central, only to learn of Esmeralda’s fate and be defeated. Sounds about right, give or take.”
Around them, the lights began to dim.
“I’m reading!” Morguss shouted very loudly to no one in particular as the audience was plunged into relative darkness.
On the stage, the curtain was raised, revealing a flimsy wooden set of what looked like some sort of inn.
A blue Scorchio and a yellow Techo entered the stage from the right.
“Verily, and forsooth, my lord,” the Techo announced, talking more to the audience than the Scorchio, “Anon, ahead lies an inn of much repute. Care ye to rest thine head?”
“Aye, noble squire,” the Scorchio replied. “Let us walk among the common folk of this land.”
“Why are they talking like that?” Edna demanded loudly from the audience.
The Scorchio and Techo paused in their conversation briefly, staring out into the audience. They turned back to continue, but Sophie cut across them.
“It’s theatre speak; you can tell if it’s a good play that way. The less you understand, the better it is.”
“This must be amazing then,” Edna observed.
“Let us take a seat!” the Techo shouted over the Witches, hoping to silence them.
Numerous other actors appeared on the set as the two entered the mock inn. The Techo and Scorchio took seats at a table, and a Kyrii soon made her way over to them.
“Hail, fair gentleman, what is your desire this fine evening?” she asked.
The Scorchio and the Kyrii locked gazes for a moment... and then everything changed.
The cast of the play seemed to freeze, as if time for them had stopped. At the same time, the doors at the entrance of the theatre burst open, and a chilling wind blew down the aisle towards the stage. The actors jerked into life again suddenly, as if nothing had happened.
“A pleasure to meet you,” the Scorchio said, his tone quite different to the one he had previously been using, seeming more natural. “And what’s your name?”
The Kyrii smiled faintly back at him, “Esmeralda, sir.”
In the audience, the three Witches sat with open mouths. Not because of any quality of acting, but because they alone had felt what had just happened. Their hair was standing on end, tingling with static energy.
“Magic...” Morguss whispered.
Edna was on her feet immediately.
“Stop this play now!” she demanded.
On the stage, the actors continued as if she had said nothing. Edna turned to her fellow Witches.
“Backstage,” she instructed.
Heston Berkley stood with his mouth open in horror, a copy of the script in one hand as he stared agog at the actors on the stage. From his position backstage, the Tonu could see all of the action on the stage without being seen by the audience.
“Why, Archie?” he hissed. “Why? Not a single one of them is following the script! Is this some kind of joke? Are they making a mockery of my writing?”
The Quiggle next to him adjusted his collar nervously, “No idea, Mr. Berkley. They shall all be sternly talked to when the first act ends.”
“This is a disaster, Archie!” Heston continued. “The opening night is completely ruined!”
He turned away from the stage, where the Scorchio playing the part of the Baron was making an impassioned speech to Esmeralda, not a word of which was in the script.
“Maybe it’s sabotage?” Heston continued. “Someone must have paid them all to do this. Someone jealous of my gift, no doubt.”
“We shall question them during the interval!” Archie agreed.
From further backstage, there came the noises of a scuffle as three Witches fought their way past a Grarrl security guard.
“Vip tickets!” Edna declared to the Grarrl. “Vip! Means we can go anywhere!”
The three Witches marched ever closer to Heston, the Grarrl following as best he could.
“Sorry, sir, they barged past before I could stop them,” the Grarrl explained.
“Ladies, I’m afraid we normally don’t let the audience backstage until after the show. The actors can’t sign autographs while they are still on stage,” Heston told them.
“Autographs?” Edna questioned. “We don’t want autographs! We’re here to stop the show!”
Heston’s face almost crumpled with pain. “The errors with the script are that obvious? To offend such prestigious guests... rest assured, this is not representative of the true quality of my work.”
“What?” Morguss asked.
“The actors are not following their lines... you didn’t notice?” Archie supplied from nearby.
“Oh, that,” Sophie said dismissively. “That’s improvisation. Supposed to be very good, I’m surprised you didn’t know, what with working in the industry.”
“No, we’re here to talk about the magic,” Edna stated.
“The magic?” Heston enquired.
“A whole load of it,” Edna continued. “Something about this play, it’s charged with magical energy, and that’s dangerous. Something’s not right here.”
Heston’s face fell further. “Could anything else disastrous happen? Oh, you were right, Archie! We should have just stayed in Neopia Central!”
“We can’t put people in danger, sir,” Archie told him. “If the Witches are right, we have to cancel.”
“Yes... I suppose it’s for the best,” Heston agreed. “This way, the butchery of my script cannot continue.”
Heston straightened out his cravat and turned to go on stage. He stopped almost immediately, as if held there by some unseen force. Eventually he staggered backwards, looking quite disoriented.
“The strangest thing...” he mumbled, before marching forwards again, and meeting with exactly the same result.
Sophie rushed forwards and stretched out her hand. It too met an invisible barrier, stopping her from accessing the stage.
“Well, it looks like we’ve found what the magic’s doing,” she pointed out. “Could probably break through if we used enough magic... but it’d be a struggle...”
“You don’t think... is someone magically changing the words the actors are saying as well?” Archie asked.
“No!” Edna snapped. “Who’d do that? That’s a silly use for magic if ever I heard one.”
“I have angered a few theatre critics in my time, but I’m fairly sure none were wizards,” Heston supplied.
“But there’s something going on here...” Morguss considered. “Something to do with the play...”
Her eyes drifted upwards towards the rafters, and the luxurious converted ballroom, before they finally widened with realisation.
“This is the Baron’s house!” she hissed.
“Yes, so?” Heston asked.
“Well, what do you have in old houses in the Haunted Woods?” Morguss asked. “Aside from dry rot – ghosts!”
The eyes of everyone present drifted towards the stage.
“You think they are... being possessed?” Heston asked.
“A good old fashioned haunting.” Morguss nodded confidently. “It’s probably the Baron’s ghost, seeing as he’s tied to the building.”
On stage, the cast appeared to have reached the end of the dialogue they were adlibbing, and stood there, perfectly still for a moment.
The curtain came down, signalling the end of Act I. The actors seemed to stumble, as if they were dazed and disorientated. The Kyrii playing Esmeralda turned to one of the other actors.
“What just happened?” she asked. “We were doing the inn scene and now... I’ve moved, how did I move?”
“The possession has been lifted!” Heston cried with joy as he ran onstage, finding the magical barrier gone. “We’re saved!”
“Possession?” the Kyrii asked. “There was nothing about that in my contract!”
“You’re not saved yet,” Edna announced ominously.
“We’re... not?” Heston asked, his face threatening to reassume its previous glum appearance.
“This is the end of the first Act,” Edna told them. “We’ve still got four more to go.”
“Is there anything you can do?” Archie begged them.
“Maybe,” Sophie confessed.
“What?” Heston asked. “Please, anything!”
“Well...” Morguss explained. “It’s not really our area of expertise. We’re more into summoning up spirits than getting them to clear off.”
“But we can try things the old fashioned way,” Edna told them. “We can have an exorcism.”
To be continued...