The Artful Dodger

A series of 2 separate plays. They are different to anything I have written before, in that they are adventure stories (with or without music, depending on the director’s choice) rather than a pantomime or straight play; hopefully, this means they can be performed at any time of the year and will appeal to both children and adults alike.

The Artful Dodger - What Happened Next

Or 'The Dodger's Opera' or even 'What The Dickens!'

Ten principles and a chorus of citizens and street children. Performed in two acts comprising eleven scenes, with four settings.  Scene 1 opens on a London street in the 1800s. On stage are the citizens and street children.

Synopsis: Jack Dawkins, a.k.a. ‘The Artful Dodger’, is watching the world go by, when two youngsters, Davy and Lizzie appear, setting down their basket of bread and buns, then trying to attract custom from the passing crowd. As they are both somewhat backward in coming forward, this is a dismal failure. Jack takes pity on them and steps up to show them how it’s done; his sales patter works a treat and soon Davy and Lizzie have an empty basket. When it comes to introductions, Jack is careful to gloss over his way of life but establishes that Davy and Lizzie are orphans, taken in by Mr and Mrs Magwitch, and earning their keep by helping Mrs Gamp, the housekeeper and baker, with all the cleaning and baking; it’s very clear that theirs is not an easy life.

Just then the Magwitchs arrive to check on progress, expecting the worst and therefore there will be no supper again for the children, only to find that every scrap has been sold thanks to Jack’s intervention. Realising that Jack could be an asset, they offer to take him on, in return for bed and board, which Jack agrees to.

We move to the Magwitchs cheerless house, where Mrs Gamp is packing baskets, when Mr Scrooge, a dignified and kindly gentleman, arrives and is introduced to Jack. He has come to see Davy and Lizzie about their father’s will, and when Scrooge goes to greet Mrs Magwitch, Mr Magwitch makes it abundantly clear that the children must give the impression that all is ‘sweetness and light’ in the Magwitch household, or it will be the worse for them. He then leaves and Jack and Mrs Gamp stay to listen as Scrooge explains that Davy and Lizzie’s father left everything to them in his will, but that whatever money there was has gone to pay off their father’s creditors, and that there is nothing left except a dark and dreary landscape picture. It’s agreed that the children will collect this from Scrooge’s office, as it is the only thing left to remind them of their father.

As he goes to leave, Scrooge drops a piece of paper, which was attached to the will; Jack picks it up and attempts to make sense of the rhyme written on it, which makes mention of a ‘prized possession’. When no one present can make sense of it, Jack asks to borrow it for another try; Scrooge leaves and Jack, Davy and Lizzie go to make their deliveries. The Magwitchs have been listening to all this and assume that Scrooge has lied and will be taking the children’s inheritance for himself; they resolve to enter his office and to take anything which might be the ‘prized possession’. However, rather than risk this themselves, they decide to use their shady associates, Messrs Pickwick and Weller.

So, the two turn up as arranged and are tasked with burgling Scrooge’s office, taking any valuables they can find, (not forgetting the landscape), as well as any papers that might lead to money. Having obtained the promise of half of any proceeds from the robbery, they leave; of course, the Magwitchs have every intention of double crossing them when it comes to the share out. Jack overhears all this and tells Davy, Lizzie and Mrs Gamp what is being planned; they decide that Scrooge must be warned.

However, they are too late, as later that night Pickwick and Weller break into Scrooge’s office and search it thoroughly. As far as they are concerned, they draw a blank – there are no valuables and no clues to wealth anywhere; unfortunately for them, they do not realise that a Da Vinci portrait, a Gutenberg bible or a Beethoven score, might have some value. They leave, taking only the dreary landscape.

The next morning, Scrooge is in his office when the children and Mrs Gamp come to warn him, only to find that they are too late; and now the landscape has gone, Davy and Lizzie have nothing to remind them of their father. When Jack explains that it was Pickwick and Weller behind the burglary, Scrooge says that they must tell the police; however, they realise that if the Magwitchs are arrested, Jack will be out of a job and Davy and Lizzie will be homeless. They decide to wait for inspiration as to what to do and have another think about the rhyme that came with the will; they come up with various theories as to its meaning, but when Jack suggests that it indicates something hidden in the picture or its frame, suddenly it all seems to make sense. They decide that when the stolen picture is delivered to the Magwitchs, they will find a way to examine it more closely.

When Pickwick and Weller turn up with nothing but the landscape, they get a very cool reception; and when Osric Flashman, an art dealer and expert who has been asked to value the picture, tells them it is worthless, things go from bad to worse. Once Flashman has left, Pickwick and Weller are told they will get nothing for their trouble; when they leave, Jack is told to consign the picture to the cellar. Before he does so, he shows it to the children and Mrs Gamp, drawing their attention to the canvas stretched across the back of the picture; this seems all wrong, so they decide to take it to Flashman for another look. In the meantime, they substitute one of Mrs Gamp’s pictures for the landscape, so that it won’t be missed.

When they arrive at Flashman’s office asking for his opinion, he tells them the painting has no value; however, Jack draws his attention to the canvas stretched over the back of the frame. This intrigues Flashman, who removes the canvas to reveal a painting of ‘The Weeping Cavalier’, by renowned painter Hans Frals, which is worth a king’s ransom. When Flashman asks why the children don’t take their thoughts to Mr Magwitch, they explain that he would sell the painting, keep their inheritance, and maybe would do them harm. Flashman agrees to keep the painting in his strongroom, while they consult Scrooge on what to do next.

Meanwhile Mrs Magwitch has visited the cellar and discovered that the picture has been swopped; she confronts Magwitch with the news, and they conclude that only the children could have made the switch and that the picture must have been valuable after all; also that Flashman and Scrooge must have colluded to get their hands on the children’s inheritance. Just then Pickwick and Weller arrive and are tasked with getting Davy and Lizzie sent to sea, as there is no reason to give them bed and board any longer.

However, a trap has been devised; Mrs Gamp let’s on to Mrs Magwitch that Scrooge has come into possession of a valuable picture; with this news, the Magwitchs decide that they will confront Scrooge, with Pickwick and Weller in tow, then take him and the picture to Flashman, who will be forced into buying it for a very good price.

Jack uses his knowledge of the streets to recruit allies to the cause, so that when the villains finally confront Scrooge, demanding that he produce the picture, they are surprised, outnumbered, and finally overpowered. A long period in jail awaits them. This, of course, leaves Davy, Lizzie and Jack homeless; but all is not lost, as Scrooge offers to become Davy and Lizzie’s guardian, and to take Jack on as his clerk and Mrs Gamp as his cook. So, all ends well, and when it comes to Jack and Lizzie, it may be the start of a beautiful friendship!

Dodger and the Princess

Being another adventure for The Artful Dodger.

Fourteen principles and a chorus of walkers in the park, drinkers at the Inn, Dodger’s friends (adults and youngsters), staff at the Palace and soldiers. Performed in two acts, with six scenes in each. Scene 1 opens in St James' Park in the 1800s. On stage are various citizens, enjoying the sunshine.

Synopsis: Following his adventure in ‘The Artful Dodger – What Happened Next’, Jack Dawkins is now a clerk to Ebenezer Scrooge, who has become the guardian of the orphans, Lizzie and Davy Oggins. Mrs Gamp has become Scrooge’s cook and housekeeper.

The children are enjoying their one day off from work or school, by taking a walk in St James’s Park; as they have no money, their entertainment consists of guessing what other passers-by do for a living or leisure. They come across three young ladies, very well dressed, but with hats and scarves hiding most of their faces. Lizzie and Davy put them down as well- bred ladies’ maids, but Jack recognizes them as Princess Victoria and two of her ladies taking a walk in the park, to escape their closeted existence in the Palace. Just then two men appear, who stand and watch the Princess intently; recognising them from his time roaming the streets of London, he tells Lizzie and Davy that they are two of ‘The Islington Angels’. Despite their name they are very bad news.

The men follow the Princess and her ladies out of the park, and once they have gone the children speculate what the men are up to; it is obviously no good. Lizzie insists that she, Davy, and Jack must do something to find out what is being planned, in order to protect the Princess. Jack is of the opinion that they should stay well out of it, however, Lizzie persuades him otherwise; Jack volunteers to go to The Swinging Door Inn, where the Angels hang out, to try to find out just what is going on.

So, Jack goes to the Inn, where he deliberately bumps into the table where all four of the gang are drinking; he apologises and sits down with them. When asked what he is doing in an inn at his age, he tells them he’s finding some ‘Dutch courage’, before he goes to deliver some legal papers to the Palace. Jack makes it clear that he has no time for royalty; however, because of his supposed access to the Palace, the Angels recruit him to find out when the Princess will next walk in St James’s Park, letting on that they intend to kidnap her and hold her to ransom. Jack agrees to do this in return for a share of the proceeds; once he leaves the men make it clear that once they have the information they want, Jacks’ fate is sealed.

When Jack returns home, Mrs Gamp sees that he is very worried and makes him divulge what he has discovered; she argues that they should have the Angels arrested, but Lizzie points out that they have no proof of what is planned. However, Davy comes up with an answer; they must use some of Jack’s street acquaintances to stage a fight in the Park, when the Princess next walks there. This could kill two birds with one stone – foiling the Angels and putting the Princess off visiting the Park again; his plan is agreed.

Sure enough, when Victoria and her ladies appear and just as the Angels are ready to pounce, a fight breaks out. Victoria tries to reason with the combatants, but gets only rudeness in reply; meanwhile, the would-be kidnappers are foiled as planned. Once back at The Swinging Door, they conclude that the fight must have been a put-up job, and that Jack could have been behind it. They resolve to track him down and get the truth out of him; luckily for them, one of the Angels, being suspicious of Jack at their meeting, had followed him back to Scrooges’ house. However, when they arrive there, Jack is nowhere to be found – Lizzie and Davy are taken as hostages, to be released only if Jack gives himself up. Mrs Gamp is left to deal with the problem and decides that her only hope is to call on an old friend for help.

At the start of Act Two, we find we find Mrs Gamp and Jack telling the story of what they have been doing and why, to Scrooge and Osric Flashman, the art dealer. Jack feels that his only option is to give himself up, but Flashman believes that this will solve nothing; he argues that they must find a way of setting a trap, to capture the Angels and to free Lizzie and Davy. To do this, they will need help, so Flashman decides that he will use his influence as an adviser on the royal art collection, to gain access to Princess Victoria herself.

So, Flashman, Scrooge, Mrs Gamp and Jack arrive at the Palace, and this motley crew are presented to Victoria and her ladies, Grace and Miriam. Victoria soon realises that Flashman has an ulterior motive for the visit, and when the kidnap attempt and the brawl in the park are explained, she thanks her visitors for their warning; however, when she hears of Lizzie and Davys’ predicament, in a spirit of adventure she and her ladies decide to revisit the park, to act as bait and to use her soldiers to trap the would-be kidnappers. But how can the Angels be enticed to try their luck once more? Mrs Gamp volunteers to go to The Swinging Door, apparently to trade the day and time of the Princess’ next walk in the park, in return for Lizzie and Davys’ freedom; in addition, if the children are released safe and sound, she will tell the Angels where to find Jack.

Just as planned, she visits The Swinging Door and makes the bargain; the Angels decide that three of them will make the kidnap attempt, leaving one to guard the children. So, when the three set off for the park, Flashman, Scrooge and Jack go to the inn, release the children, and arrest their captor. Unaware of developments, the other three Angels confront the Princess, Grace, and Miriam, who initially appear terrified; however, when the ladies are told to part with any valuables in their handbags, their attitude immediately changes, as they each produce a pistol. At the same time, soldiers disguised as walkers in the park move in, and the remaining Angels are arrested.

So, all appears well, but when Victoria turns serious and demands that our friends attend her at the Palace the next day, there is consternation. When they arrive, their worst fears are realised, as Victoria tells them that they are soon to learn their fate; however, of course this is all an act – she is teasing them. She thanks them for all they have done; Flashman is asked to be Victoria’s only adviser when it comes to art and Scrooge agrees to be her guide on matters legal. Mrs Gamp volunteers to create a cake recipe in Victoria’s honour, and finally, Jack, Lizzie and Davy are invited to be Victoria’s eyes and ears, when it comes to the world outside the Palace. Of course, they agree, and from now on they are to be known as ‘The Holborn Heroes’.