This Dickens’ story skewers the large property owners, the accountants and bankers, and wealthy-by-birth noblemen who have nothing but disdain for the common working man.
Toby Veck feels guilty that his late wife had to live in poverty during their years of marriage. He promised her that, if nothing else, he would provide a wedding for his daughter when the time came. Meg now wants to marry on New Years Day but his pockets are empty. The entrenched and wealthy business men and their families for whom he provides services have plenty for themselves and their holiday and little for him, except disdain and dishonesty in their dealing with him.
Driven to despair as he scampers about London in search of employment, Toby finally finds himself on the top of a church steeple, haunted by specters of his own fears and disappointments. Will he overcome them and find the courage to beat the wealthy and arrogant bureaucrats at their own game? Will Toby attend his daughter’s wedding on New Years Day?
From the Play
The Cast List:
Toby (Trotty) Veck: a ticket porter in his early sixties. He walks with a distinctive gait, something like a little hop.
Meg his daughter, a pretty young girl.
Richard: Meg’s fiancee, a handsome young man.
Mr. Filer: a business man, serious and given to statistics.
Alderman Cute: a chubby alderman who always seems to be stuffed into his clothes.
Sir Joseph Bowley: a titled, self-important man.
Lady Bowley: his wife.
Mr. Fish: secretary to Sir Joseph.
Will Fern: a workman.
The following characters may be doubled as indicated:
Wraiths (2) Mr. Filer
Figures (2) Will Fern
Wedding Party (3) Richard
Spirit of the Bells Will Fern
Mrs. Chickenstalker: Lady Bowley
Gentleman: Mr. Filer
The Time: The time is the last day of the old year.
The Place: London in the 18th Century. The set is a unit set: a London street behind which there is a facade of houses. An area upstage, center, represents several living quarters: the home of Toby Veck, of Mr. Filer, and of Sir Joseph Bowley. There is time between the street scenes to make minor alterations in furnishings and decor. To the side, there is a church doorway with a passage leading up to a steeple with a platform and bells. If separate, these residences can be suggested by “doorways” of curtains which open and close.
Scene One: A field behind the Palace of Sign
Scene Two: The Court of the Lord of Sign
Scene Three: Back to the field again
Scene Four: In the Palace
Scene Five: In the Court of the Lord of Sign
CUTE: I need this delivered within the hour. (TOBY seems to hesitate.) There’ll be a shilling in it for you—
TOBY: (beaming) I’m waiting and ready. (to MEG) The bells told me there were a job coming today—And just in time, too—and for a shilling, too!
(TOBY reaches for the letter, but CUTE keeps it from him rereading it pompously. As he does so, he notices the morsel of tripe. He and FILER examine the morsel of tripe up close, TOBY watching them—and the letter—carefully.)
CUTE: And what is this?
FILER: Animal food—otherwise known as meat, Alderman. Commonly called “tripe” by the laboring population
CUTE: (licking his lips) Ah.
FILER: Let us give some thought to this matter. Tripe is by far the least economical article of consumption the markets of this country can produce. It is more expensive than the hothouse pineapple. (pointedly to TOBY) Very wasteful, indeed.
FILER: The waste on a small amount of tripe would feed a garrison of five hundred men for five months and three days over!
TOBY: I had no idea!
RICHARD: (muttering) Neither does he—
CUTE: The Waste! The Waste!
FILER: According to my calculations, you, sir, are snatching your tripe out of the mouths of widows and orphans
MEG: We had a poor enough table ourselves.
FILER: (glaring at her) Alderman Cute, divide the amount of tripe I mentioned before by the number of widows and orphans who currently reside in our great Nation.
CUTE: (counting on his fingers) Done! There’s barely a scrap for each of them. And not a gram left over for this man. (He takes the fork with the tripe on it from FILER, looks at the tripe and puts it in his mouth and chews.) These are sad times indeed. We need to go back to the Good Old Days. (glaring at MEG.) When people knew their place.
And I can prove it with charts and tables!
CUTE: Tables? This ‘un don’t understand tables. There’s not the least mystery in dealing with this sort of people if you can talk to ’em in their own manner.
FILER: You’re famous for your touch with the common people. Alderman Cute!
CUTE: That I am. (to TOBY) You see, my friend, there ‘s a great deal of nonsense talked about. About good people being ‘hard up,’ you know–that ‘s the phrase, isn’t it? ha! ha! ha!—“hard up” A very bad phrase indeed, and I intend to Put it Down. Any man who can’t feed himself and his family is morally at fault in my book.
RICHARD: There are people who are poor through no fault of their own.
Jean Klein holds an MFA from the University of Iowa’s Writer’s Workshop. Her plays have been produced at numerous theaters throughout the country. Her play Anansi won first place in the Virginia Highlands Festival and her Reflections in a Stained Glass Window has been among the top ranking plays in the Eugene O’Neill theater competition. She is currently an adjunct professor teaching playwriting in the MA Creative Writing Program at Wilkes University.