Mini Opera Entry: Swept Away
By Charlie Boucher
By Charlie Boucher
At the back of the stage is a huge mirror, reflecting the audience back at themselves. Two actors in impressive costume face it, taking their last bow to the sound of applause; we're watching the very end of a show from the back of the stage. A safety curtain lowers in front of the mirror, and the actors leave. Projected onto the white safety curtain two light images of them remain; the ghostly remnants of the actor's performance.
The projections turn to look at one another.
The Sweeper, a taciturn cleaner, enters, clad in a baggy and slightly moth-eaten jumper, shabby jeans, and boots. A cigarette dangles from his mouth. He looks at the projections, which turn to look back at him. One of them reaches out, imploring. The Sweeper bangs his broom on the floor. There’s a thundering boom. The projections flicker out and a small amount of glitter drifts to the stage. The Sweeper begins to sweep it up.
Behind the safety curtain a cluster of shadows forms; characters from previous performances who The Sweeper has already dispatched, jealous mournful souls who want to find their way back from the other side of the safety curtain...
Swept away, swept away,
Like so much dust,
Swept away from the light,
No more glory,
No more shining,
No more moments when you’re living,
When you’re free.
The Sweeper bangs his broom on the ground twice. The Shadow Chorus back away from the curtain - the one thing they fear is the broom. The Sweeper bends, lifts the curtain, and sweeps the glitter under. Two shadows appear behind the curtain - silhouettes of the two characters who just disappeared in a fall of glitter. The Sweeper lets the curtain fall back into place.
All that light,
Now this darkness.
By the breath,
By the smiles,
By the people.
Now it’s dimming.
The Sweeper takes a cigarette from behind his ear, and pops it in his mouth.
The Sweeper lights the cigarette.
The Sweeper exhales.
The Shadow Chorus back away and disappear.
A light appears in the centre of the safety curtain. An inky image begins to draw itself on the screen. A tattoo, it drips slow blood. The Sweeper grunts and flings down his cigarette in pain. This is the price he pays for sweeping the ghosts of performance away - a tattoo inking itself into his skin. This one is arriving on his left fore-arm. He stamps to put the fallen cigarette out and clutches his broom as his left arm begins to burn. The image on the curtain becomes the tattooed picture of the two characters he just swept away. The Sweeper growls and clutches his fore-arm. The broom falls to the floor and the Shadow Chorus surge to the curtain begin to sing:
Rough diamonds shaded grey,
Shadow; an oily blue,
Scales and tears and claws,
Stained a forgotten hue.
Eyes that see beyond time,
A mind that's now undone,
Narrow sharp desires.
It focuses on one.
The monster rises from under,
Filth falling like wasted rain,
Its mind reaches out to dreamers,
And begins to hunt again.
Its mechanical cry disturbing,
Its pitiless beak seeks fear,
And it tears the core of dreaming,
To lose its hunger there.
The Sweeper tears his jumper off and throws it away. Underneath he wears only a vest and his skin is covered with tattoos. On his right shoulder is a long and impressive grey dragon. He clutches his left arm to his chest and then pulls a handkerchief from his back pocket. He snarls and wraps it around his left arm. On the Safety Curtain the tattooed image blooms red with blood, is finished and defined, and then it fades.
The Sweeper looks up at the Safety Curtain. The shadow of a vast dragon swims across the screen.
The dragon roars. The Sweeper strokes his right shoulder, where the tattoo of the dragon is embedded into his skin.
A shadow claw is raised.
A rip appears in the safety curtain.
The Sweeper throws the handkerchief – now red with blood – aside. He reaches for his broom and bangs it on the ground.
The dragon roars and backs away.
The dragon surges forward again. A green eye blinks through the slash in the curtain.
The dragon rears away from the curtain and roars. Fire surges from its mouth, a bright orange glow behind the curtain
The Sweeper pulls his packet of cigarettes from his pocket and wrestles one from the pack. He throws a cigarette into his mouth and pulls out his lighter.
He lights his cigarette. On the screen the twin of his tattooed dragon draws itself on the curtain.
The Sweeper takes a deep breath and then stabs his right upper arm with his cigarette. A singed hole appears in the tattooed dragon on the curtain. The dragon roars with pain. So does The Sweeper. The Shadow Chorus wail with despair. The Sweeper falls to his knees, but keeps hold of his broom.
The dragon image burns away and the shadow of the dragon fades. The Sweeper pulls himself to his feet and bangs his broom; Once. Twice. The Shadow Chorus back away.
Their singing echoes away as they fade. The Sweeper gets to his feet. He bends to retrieve his jumper and, wincing slightly at the pain in both arms, pulls it on. He pulls a cigarette from the pack, pops it in his mouth and flicks open his lighter. He brings the flame closer, and then hesitates. With a sigh he tosses the cigarette away. He leaves the stage, sweeping up his cigarette butts as he goes.