A theatre play
The scene is set in the housemaster’s study at an elite public boarding school. It can be set anytime between the 1930s and the early 1960s but it has to be ‘old fashioned.’ If theatre resources allow the room should have wooden panels. At the very least it must have an old wooden desk with a chair for the housemaster. In one corner there is a hat / coat / umbrella stand. Hanging from it are at least three traditional whippy punishment canes. There can be more but however many are available, the canes must be of different lengths and thicknesses.
There are two characters the HOUSEMASTER who is aged fifty-plus. Ideally, he will be dressed in an academic gown. His mortar-board cap can hang alongside the canes. If the gown is not available, he should be dressed in a formal suit. He may leave the jacket hanging also.
The second character is REYNOLDS, a senior boy. He is eighteen years old and soon to be leaving the school. He is dressed in traditional school uniform of pale-grey trousers, grey socks and black shoes. He also wears a white shirt with a striped tie. He should also wear a school blazer with a crest. Since this is an elite school it is preferable that his blazer is not just a simple black one. Ideally it should have some colour (red, blue or green are typical) or it can be in different colour stripes. There is no need for him to be wearing a school cap.
Throughout the scene the HOUSEMASTER adopts a stern visage and tone of voice.
HOUSEMASTER (H.M.) is seated behind his desk. There is a whisky bottle (almost empty) on the desk. He holds a glass in his hand and is staring blankly into the middle distance. There is a knock on the study door that wakes him from his apparent stupor. Suddenly realising that the bottle and glass are visible, he hurriedly opens a drawer to his desk and hides them there.
The door opens slowly and REYNOLDS stands half in and half out of the doorway.
H.M. Don’t dawdle boy. Come in.
REYNOLDS reluctantly enters the study. He stands uncertain what to do next.
H.M. Close the door boy.
REYNOLDS closes the door.
H.M. Stand and face the wall boy.
H.M. waves his arms about and vaguely indicates a spot against the wall. REYNOLDS shuffles into position. He slouches.
H.M. Stand up straight boy. Hands on head.
REYNOLDS does this. H.M. sits still at his desk. It is obvious that he has no pressing business to attend to. He merely wants to make Reynolds wait; to let him stew. After a few moments H.M. rises from his chair and slowly paces the study. REYNOLDS can hear his footsteps and turns his head slightly to see what is going on.
H.M. Face to the wall boy!
H.M. paces some more staring intently at REYNOLDS all the while. After about one minute of pacing H.M. returns to sit at his desk.
H.M. Turn around Reynolds. Stand there
H.M. indicates a spot in front of his desk. REYNOLDS tries to look unconcerned (although he is). He slouches.
H.M. Straighten yourself up boy. How dare you present yourself to your housemaster in such a fashion.
REYNOLDS straightens himself up with his hands by his side. Thinking this makes him look too much like a soldier, he clasps his hand behind his back. He looks directly at the H.M.
H.M. Well Reynolds you know why I have summoned you.
H.M. pauses expecting an answer and when none comes he continues.
H.M. I have it on good authority that you have been frequenting The Three Fishers public house.
H.M. pauses once more. REYNOLDS looks ahead blankly. He starts at a spot somewhere over the H.M.’s shoulder.
H.M. Well boy what have you got to say for yourself.
REYNOLDS shrugs his shoulder but does not answer.
H.M. Pah! Don’t add dumb insolence to your crime boy. Were you or were you not in The Three Fishers?
REYNOLDS. [Almost inaudibly] Yes sir.
H.M. Speak up boy. Were you in The Three Fishers?
REYNOLDS [Louder] Yes sir.
H.M. leans forward in his chair and steeples his fingers. He glares at REYNOLDS.
H.M. You are aware that The Three Fishers is out of bounds. To all boys. Seniors as well.
REYNOLDS. Yes, sir.
H.M. You are aware that earlier this term the headmaster himself announced that fact.
REYNOLDS. Yes, sir.
H.M. And yet Reynolds you took it upon yourself to ignore the headmaster’s instruction.
REYNOLDS stares down at the floor and wrings his hands behind his back.
H.M. Well Reynolds. Do you believe the headmaster’s instruction does not apply to you.
REYNOLDS continues to look at the floor.
H.M. Well boy! Answer me Reynolds!
REYNOLDS. No sir.
H.M. No sir. That is correct Reynolds. The rules apply to you and to the other boys equally. You have deliberately flouted the headmaster’s instruction and for that you must be punished.
H.M. hauls himself from the chair and paces the study once more. He stops at the hat stand. REYNOLDS follows his progress with his eyes. H.M. looks intently at the canes dangling. He chooses one and flexes it between his hand. He acts as if he had never seen the cane before. He puts it back and takes a second cane. He flexes this as before. He swishes it through the air. He puts that back and selects a third. He flexes and swishes it. Then he turns to face REYNOLDS.
H.M. I shall cane you Reynolds.
REYNOLDS looks alarmed. He waves his arms.
REYNOLDS. You can’t do that sir. Cane me. I’m in the Sixth. A senior. Seniors aren’t caned sir.
H.M. glowers at REYNOLDS. He flexes the cane menacingly.
H.M. How dare you Reynolds! Such impertinence. I shall cane whomsoever I wish.
REYNOLDS. But sir. I’m a senior. Eighteen. I’m too old to be caned.
H.M. leans into REYNOLDS. He is so close the boy can smell the whisky on the H.M.’s breath.
H.M. As long as you remain a pupil at this school REYNOLDS you are never too old to be caned.
REYNOLDS. But sir. It’s not done sir.
H.M. Not done! Not done. It might not have been done before in recent history but never have I been faced with a wretch such as you Reynolds.
H.M. wobbles the cane and points to his desk.
H.M. Take off your blazer. Leave it on my desk.
REYNOLDS rubs sweat from his face.
REYNOLDS. Sir you can’t cane me. Really you can’t.
H.M. Outrageous! Truly outrageous. If you do not comply with my instruction immediately, I shall take you to your headmaster. Rest assured he will flog you before putting you on the next train away from here. Expelled Reynolds. Never to return.
REYNOLDS is sweating. He stares anxiously at the cane in the H.M.’s hand. He looks across at the desk. Slowly, he unbuttons his blazer, slips it from his shoulders and carefully places it on the desk.
H.M. wobbles the cane and points to a spot in the centre of the study.
H.M. Stand there boy.
Reluctantly, REYNOLDS shuffles to the spot. H.M. swishes the cane through the air.
H.M. As you were quick to remind me Reynolds you are a senior boy, I shall deliver a senior boy’s beating. [He pauses for dramatic effect] Take down your trousers.
REYNOLDS looks shocked. His mouth gapes. He thinks about making a further protest. The words “But sir” form on his lips, but he says nothing. There is a long pause before, his hands shake as he struggles to get his belt undone and the fly buttons of his trousers open. The trousers are open but he holds on to them so they don’t fall.
H.M. Drop the trousers Reynolds.
REYNOLDS lets go and the trousers fall to his feet. He is wearing traditional white cotton Y-front underpants.
H.M. Bend over boy.
REYNOLDS glares at the H.M. before he bends down and places his hands on his knees.
H.M. All the way REYNOLDS.
REYNOLDS grabs his shins.
H.M. Pah! Right down boy. Touch those toes. Knees straight.
REYNOLDS struggles to get into the right position. H.M. watches him thoughtfully flexing the cane in his hands. At this point the theatre group must decide how to proceed with the caning. It might be possible if REYNOLDS keeps his back to the audience for some protective padding to be hidden inside his pants. Or he may be required to bend at such an angle that it looks like he is being caned, but the cane actually misses – it would prove difficult to do this in such a way that all members of the audience wherever they are seated are deceived. It is also possible that the young actor playing REYNOLDS is sufficiently dedicated to his craft that he is prepared to take an authentic caning. This would be the author’s preferred course of action but it is recognised that if the play has a long run at a theatre the actor will have to endure a corrugated bum for the entire duration.
H.M. tucks the cane under his arm and then takes hold of the elasticated waistband of the underpants and pulls so that they hug the contours of the buttocks. There should be no creases in the cotton. He then gently rubs the palm of his hand across first the left buttock and then the right. He gives one cheek a playful slap. Then he slips the cane from his arm into his hand. He steps back and stands to the boy’s side and gently taps the point of the cane across the very centre of the buttocks. REYNOLDS visibly flinches. H.M. “saws” the cane from side to side across the tensed buttocks. He raises the cane and swipes it across the buttocks with tremendous strength.
REYNOLDS. Ouch! Oww!
REYNOLDS shakes his hips. Almost raises from the touch-toes position. Steadies himself.
H.M. Tucks the cane behind his back and slowly paces the study. He reaches the far end and from a distance he admires the figure of the submissive boy. He does this pacing after delivering each stroke. H.M. knows that the boy’s buttocks are blazing and it will take a few seconds for the intense agony to ease before he can lay on the next stroke. He paces back to the boy and takes aim again. A little lower this time. REYNOLDS visibly tenses. H.M. swipes the second. H.M. tucks the cane behind his back and paces again. Then he repeats the tapping and sawing and delivers the third stroke.
H.M. I trust I am getting through to you Reynolds.
REYNOLDS [Gulps and gasps] Yes sir.
H.M. Will you be visiting The Three Fishers again?
REYNOLDS. No sir.
H.M. I’m very glad to hear it.
H.M. tucks the cane under his arm and with both hands he takes hold of and pulls at the elasticated waistband of the underpants.
REYNOLDS. Oh no sir. Please no sir.
H.M. Snorts. He peers under the cotton at Reynold’s backside. He is only checking to see how accurately his cuts have landed. He lets go of the waistband, tugs again and with the palm of his hand he smooths creases from the cotton.
H.M. A fine set of marks so far Reynolds.
REYNOLDS shuffles his feet slightly. He is finding it hard to take this severe caning.
H.M. [Barks] Keep still boy. Steady. Let me get on with my job.
H.M. taps and saws and whacks down stroke number four into the underside of the cheeks. REYNOLDS yelps and starts to stand. He just about manages to steady himself and bends over again so that he brushes the toes of his shoes with his fingers.
H.M. Yes Reynolds. Stay in position. If you do that again I shall administer extra strokes. And we’ll see how you like it with your underpants at your ankles.
H.M. taps and saws and strikes across the centre of REYNOLDS’ bum. REYNOLDS’ body shakes. His head rises and shakes. It takes a monumental effort for him to stay bent over touching toes.
H.M. Nearly over Reynolds. Two more to go.
H.M. taps and saws and lands a terrific swipe. REYNOLDS goes through a litany of wriggles and shakes while yapping and yelping. H.M. presses his hand into Reynolds’ back to stop him jumping up. When he is satisfied the boy is steady H.M. paces the study. He returns, taps and saws.
H.M. Last one boy. Brace yourself.
H.M. swipes the hardest cut yet.
REYNOLDS yells. His knees buckle, he almost topples onto his face.
H.M. You may stand Reynolds. Get dressed.
REYNOLDS jumps to his feet and hops from foot to foot doing the spanking dance. Both hands grasp his buttocks and he rubs furiously. H.M. stares at him with undisguised contempt. After much jumping about REYNOLDS reaches for his trousers and pulls them up. He flinches as the trousers touch against his roasted bottom.
H.M. Take your blazer and leave.
REYNOLDS grabs the jacket from the desk and not waiting to put it on he rushes from the study. H.M. watches him go. Then, slowly H.M. walks across the study and returns the cane to the hat stand alongside the others hanging there. He is breathing heavily. Unsteadily he slumps in his chair at the desk and he tugs open the drawer. He grabs the whisky bottle and holds it up to the light. It is almost empty. A look of fear crosses his face. He doesn’t bother to pour it into the glass but raises the bottle to his lips and drains the last of the whisky.
Light fades to dark
Picture credit: The Magnet
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More stories from Charles Hamilton II are on the MMSA website
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Charles Hamilton the Second