The Darlaston Dog Fight

The new play for Regional Voice Theatre Company is well under way. It’s set in the Black Country in the early part of 19th century, and draws its inspiration from the history, legend and folklore of that period. It centres on the story of a character called Rough Moey, who’s wild, lawless and often violent lifestyle seems to me to have epitomised much of what lay at the heart of the Black Country. The play uses a mixture of narrative, dramatic action, dance, music and song to tell its story. Here’s a brief taster below. It deals with a mining disaster, of which there were many.

ACTOR 2:                    resuming his role as Fancy Dick. And I’m telling you, Munchin, there ain’t no such thing as Gabriel’s Hounds. It’s just an old wives’ tale, and the only folks who believe in it am women and children and folks who’m simple in the head. Which is why I reckon you take so much stock on it, Munchin.

ACTOR 1:                    You can say what you like, Fancy Dick, I ain’t going down that mine today, not when I’ve heard Gabriel’s Hounds calling, ‘cos afore the shift’s out somebody’ll be took.

ACTOR 2:                    And lose a week’s pay? You ain’t just soft in the head, Munchin, you’m a woman to boot. So have done with you. Stay up here hauling coal with the rest of the wenches, and let we men go down the mine and earn the wages.

MOEY:                         And off he went, along with Cheeky Ned and Billy Lane, Old Boxer and Dog Shot, and all the rest of the gang, leaving only Honest Munchin behind.

ACTOR 1:                    Not only me, Moey. You stayed behind and all.

MOEY:                         I did, that’s true, I can’t deny it. Not that I’m saying I believe them old superstitions or I don’t. I just like to keep an open mind. Better safe than sorry. Eh, Munchin? Anyhow, it was a good excuse not to go to work. And as there was a tavern close by we took weselves off there instead to pass the time with a pint or two.

ACTOR 1 AND MOEY SING

ACTOR 1/MOEY:       Now Sunday’s a holiday,

And Monday likewise,

Tuesday you mean to but cannot rise,

Wednesday you wants to

And Thursday to tries

Friday and Saturday the Whistler he cries.

ACTOR 2:                    But they’d hardly started when they heard a whump and a bang and run outside to see great clouds of smoke and coal dust belching up out of the pit.

AS HE SPEAKS THE ABOVE LINES, ACTOR 2 SENDS THE STRUCTURE OF CHAIRS AND TABLES CRASHING TO THE FLOOR. ACTOR 1 IS STARTLED. AND LEAVES MOEY TO JOIN ACTOR 2 TO ENACT THE RESCUE SCENE. THROUGHOUT THIS, MOEY SITS AT HIS TABLE, LOOKING DOWN INTO HIS TANKARD, AS IF OBLIVIOUS TO WHAT IS GOING ON.

ACTOR 1:                    And there’s a big hole where the pit used to be and the frame and the wheel and the engine and all the rest tumbled down into it.

ACTOR 2:                    And the lads who’d gone down there underneath the lot.

ACTOR 1:                    So straight off we got hold some picks –

ACTOR 2:                    And some shovels –

ACTOR 1:                    And started in to digging –

ACTOR 2:                    And cutting –

ACTOR 1:                    Through all the wreckage and rubble –

ACTOR 2:                    Till at last –

ACTOR 1:                    Here’s one –

ACTOR 2:                    And again –

ACTOR 1:                    Here’s another –

ACTOR 2:                    And here they am, all on ‘em –

ACTOR 1:                    Cheeky Ned, and Billy Lane –

ACTOR 2:                    Old Boxer and here’s Dog Shot –

ACTOR 1:                    Cut and bruised and lungs full of dust –

ACTOR 2:                    But alive and well, and glad to see the daylight again.

ACTOR 1:                    And they say as how they’d only just got down to the bottom of the mine –

ACTOR 2:                    When somebody said as they could smell gas –

ACTOR 1:                    And before they could put their candles out –

ACTOR 2:                    There’s a rush and a roar and a flash of flame –

ACTOR 1:                    And the timbers split wide and the whole shaft comes tumbling down on top of them.

ACTORS 1 AND 2:     CRASH!

THEY LAUGH, AS IF MAKING A GAME OF THE WHOLE THING.

ACTOR 2:                    Well, they thought they was dead.

ACTOR 1:                    But they wasn’t.

ACTOR 2:                    And they thought as they’d never get out.

ACTOR 1:                    But they did.

ACTOR 2:                    They got back above ground.

ACTOR 1:                    They was all safe and sound.

THEY SPEAK TOGETHER

ACTOR 1 & 2:             And they’ll pay heed from now on to Gabriel’s Hounds.

THEY LAUGH AGAIN. MOEY LOOKS UP FROM HIS TANKARD.

MOEY:                         And what about Fancy Dick?

ACTORS 1&2 STARE AT EACH OTHER

ACTORS 1&2:             Fancy Dick!

ACTOR 1:                    We picked up our shovels and started digging again.

ACTORS 1&2 MIME DIGGING.

ACTOR 2:                    The rest of the day and on into the night.

MOEY:                         Keep at it, lads!

ACTOR 1:                    Digging deeper than we’d ever dug before.

MOEY:                         Put your backs into it!

ACTOR 2:                    Like we’d dug right down to the bottom of the world.

MOEY:                         Don’t give up! He’s down here somewhere!

ACTOR 1:                    And pretty soon we’d be coming out the other end.

ACTOR 2:                    And just when we thought we couldn’t dig no more –

MOEY:                         Hold up!

MOEY STANDS.

Look there, lads! I can see a boot sticking out. And if it ain’t Fancy Dick’s, I don’t know who else’s it might be.

MOEY MIMES TAKING HOLD OF THE BOOT

ACTOR 1:                    He took hold of the boot and he pulled.

MOEY MIMES PULLING ON THE BOOT

ACTOR 2:                    He pulled and he pulled but it wouldn’t come out.

MOEY:                         Give is your hands, here, lads! Fancy Dick’s stuck fast.

ACTOR 1 TAKES HOLD OF MOEY

ACTOR 1:                    So we took hold and we pulled.

ACTOR 2 TAKES HOLD OF ACTOR 1

ACTOR 2:                    And pulled for all we was worth.

MOEY:                         A bit more effort, lads! He’s starting to shift!

ACTOR 1:                    So we heaved and we hoved with all our might –

ACTOR 2:                    And give one last great heave –

MOEY:                         And out it come!

THEY ALL FALL BACK THEN RIGHT THEMSELVES. MOEY STANDS HOLDING AN IMAGINARY BOOT IN THE PALM OF HIS HAND. ACTORS 1&2 GATHER ROUND, LOOKING DOWN AT IT.

ACTOR 1:                    Fancy Dick’s boot.

ACTOR 2:                    With Fancy Dick’s foot in it.

ACTOR 1:                    And that was it.

ACTOR 2:                    That was all we ever found of him.

ACTOR 1:                    His boot.

ACTOR 2:                    And his foot.

MOEY:                         And there wasn’t no point taking back to bury, so we just chucked it back and left it there.

MOEY GOES BACK TO HIS TABLE AND SITS

ACTOR 1:                    Speaking as Munchin. I tried to warn him. I knew as soon as I heard Gabriel’s Hounds that summat bad was coming. But he wouldn’t listen to me. He wouldn’t take no heed. And now look where he is. Nowhere, and he ain’t coming back from it.

ACTOR 2:                    Speaking as Moey. Don’t take on so, Munchin. It’s hard, I know, but he’s out of it, now, and it’s harder on the rest of we that has to carry on. Gabriel’s Hounds called him and he had to follow, cos Death had his name writ down in his book, and there wasn’t no blotting it out again.

MOEY:                         So there you have it. Death and the Devil and the deep mine. Munchin found the one down there and Fancy Dick found the other. Not that they had to look very hard. They was everywhere, dancing their crooked dance all over this country. Death and the Devil. We walked between them all the days of our lives, right from the first time we was shoved out squawking and skreeking into this grinning world. The stink of them in our nostrils, the darkness of them in our hearts. They made we what we was. So bear that in mind in all that’s to follow, and reserve your judgement on what you see.

CALLS OUT

Ale!

ACTOR 2 REFILLS MOEY’S TANKARD. HE DRINKS.

ACTOR 1:                    Moey didn’t weep when Fancy Dick died.

ACTOR 2:                    What?  Even though one of his best mates was gone for good?

ACTOR 1:                    Even though he was out of week’s pay into the bargain?

ACTOR 2:                    Weep? Rough Moey?

MOEY:                         I did not! The very next night after we found Fancy Dick – what was left of him – if you’d have took yourselves down to the White Horse Inn, you’d have seen some merrymaking going on. There was Blind Isaac the fiddler sawing away at his strings, and there was me, Rough Moey, up on one of the tables, singing, and drinking, and dancing.

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