Niall Carmody, A Life Worth Living

Niall Carmody is a writer and actor based in Limerick. His comic drama, Play on Words, was recently performed in Smock Alley Theatre for Scene &Heard. He is currently working on a performance piece for The Galway Theatre Festival.

Person #1
Person #2

Lights up.

Upstage there is a large white wall. Attached to the wall, stage left, is an industrial safe. Upstage right is a clothes rack with various seasonal clothing. Beside the rack is a photography screen with a collection of backdrops on it. Upstage left is a video player. Downstage right is a photo projector. Beside the projector there is a fridge. Downstage left is a closed wooden coffin on wheels. The stage is littered with cardboard boxes overflowing with photographs. A video begins to be projected on the back wall. The video shows flashing images of various stages in a man’s life. It quickly documents his life from birth to adolescence. There is a moment’s silence on the stage. The coffin opens and a man comes out. This man is Alan, he is the man in the video. He climbs out of the coffin, stretches and looks around the stage. Alan reaches into the coffin and removes a yellow lunchbox. He walks to the safe, opens it and places the lunchbox inside. He looks at the video player.

Alan: Hello again.

The video player beeps at Alan.

Alan: You enjoyed it?

The video player beeps again.

Alan: You think they’ll enjoy it?

The video player makes a lower toned beep.

Alan: Maybe.

Alan walks to the video player and presses a button. The projection starts again but skips, repeating the start again and again. Alan presses the button again, trying to fix it. The tape jumps forward and begins rewinding and fast-forwarding throughout the video. Alan becomes upset with the video player and begins to hit it repeatedly, leading to the beginning of the video replaying his birth again and again. Eventually Alan screams in frustration. He snarls, bites and claws at the video player, attempting to stop its projection.  Finally Alan tears at the video player, ripping it from its station and holding it above his head. The movie stops playing. Alan begins to relax. He takes one breath. Suddenly the movie begins to play again. Alan screams at the video player and drops it to the floor.

Alan: STOP!

The movie stops. A gurgling is heard from the video player. The video cassette is released from the player. Alan sees this and picks it up calmly. He takes the video player and examines it. He blows some dust off it and spits on it, wiping it with his shirt. He whispers ‘Shhhh’ to the video player and cradles it. He places the video player in its original place and pats it gently. Holding the cassette, Alan walks across stage towards the fridge. Stopping halfway, Alan turns and blows a kiss to the video recorder. It beeps, he giggles. Alan is calm. He walks to the fridge, opens the door, then removes a large brown envelope. He removes a black marker from his back pocket and writes on the envelope. He places the video in the envelope and licks it.

Alan: It will have to do.

He takes the envelope and places it on top of the coffin. He looks at his watch and glances to the back wall. He looks to the video player.

Alan: Do you think?


Alan: Am I worth…?

Alan’s sentence trails off. He walks to the rack of clothes and examines them. He begins to assemble different seasonal outfits on the floor in front of the wall. He carries out a mock fashion show for the audience. When Alan holds up certain clothing the video player beeps. Alan looks to it looking for approval.

Alan: Yeah?

Video player beeps again.

Alan: I don’t wear it anymore.

Alan has assembled his outfits on the floor. They vary from summer to winter clothing. He walks towards the coffin. He reaches inside it and takes out a clipboard. He examines a list.

Alan: Video of current progress, yes. Fashionable, yes. Interest in mus–

Alan is cut short by a beeping and a mechanical voice recording. The stage is dark except for a single light focused on Alan.

Voice Over: #421 Alanson, Alan.


Voice Over: #421 ALANSON, ALAN.

Alan jumps and replies to the recording.

Alan: Yeah.

Voice Over: Confirmation of identity required.

Alan: Ya, it’s me.

Voice Over: Photographic ID required in 3…

Alan: Is this necessary?

Voice Over: 2…

Alan: You know who I am!

Voice Over: 1!

On ‘1’ the large click of a camera is heard and a blinding flash of light fills the stage. At the same time Alan bends his knees, sticks out his tongue and crosses his eyes. His hands are both raised in a ‘cool gesture’ (a fist with pinkie and thumb extended). Alan screams ‘WAAAASSSSUUUPP!’ After the flash of light Alan returns to normal. A picture of Alan is projected on the wall in his pose, another picture of a younger-looking Alan with longer hair striking a similar pose appears beside it.

Voice Over: #421 identified.

Alan: Fucking photo.

Voice Over: #421, you will find–

Alan: Can I change the picture?

Voice Over: Negative.

Alan: Please. I was going through a phase.

Voice Over: Negative.

Alan: Please?


Alan: It’ll be quick.


Voice Over: On the sixteenth birthday each member of the race must provide their photographic ID. This ID will be used to confirm the member’s identity before each arbitration. This ID will stay in the system until the member’s thirtieth birthday; herein enough time has passed that significant ageing has befallen the human. This can include: wrinkles, laugh lines, blemishes, moles, scars, gain of weight, loss of weight, gain of height, hair loss, loss of limbs, acne, late puberty, growth spurts, second puberty, drug addiction, etc.

Alan: I know but–

Voice Over: On the sixteenth birthday each member of the race must provide their photographic ID. This ID will be used to confirm the member’s identity before each arbitration. This ID will–

Alan: I look like a complete tit!

Voice Over: On the sixteenth birthday each member of the race must provide their photographic ID. This ID will be used to confirm the member’s identity before each arbitration. This ID will–

Alan: Forget it!


Voice Over: #421, you will find the parameters of your assessment within your provided casket. Please make sure you read the instructions carefully and ensure–

Alan: I have it! (Alan waves the clipboard).


Voice Over: #421, you will find the parameters of your assessment within your provided casket. Please make sure you read the instructions carefully and ensure that all materials are made available for arbitration…

Alan: (Under his breath). Christ.

Voice Over: (Continued). Late or incomplete documentation will not be accepted. All members under the age of sixteen will have their documentation assembled by their parent/guardian. In the case of family members sharing documentation, duplicates must be provided to the arbitration committee. Family members will be assessed on an individual basis. When your preparation time is completed, please climb into you casket and await further instructions. Your time will begin…


Alan: When does–

Voice Over: Now.

Alan: Fucking hell.

A large LED countdown clock appears on the wall displaying 20:00, and begins to count down. Alan looks through the clipboard.

Alan: Video of current progress, yes. Interests…

Alan goes through a box of photographs and begins pulling them out. He places each one on the photo projector and as he does they appear on the back wall. They are all visibly damaged and have had sections of them cut out. He scurries through them, picking them up and discarding them as he goes. Each one shows Alan alone.

Alan: Interests. Interests include….

Alan picks up a photograph and places it on the screen. It is of him at a concert with his arm around somebody who has been cut out.

Alan: Music.

Alan pulls blue tack from his pocket and places the photo on the wall upstage. He returns to scurrying through the boxes of photos. He picks up a bunch of them and places them one by one under the projector. On the back wall an image of Alan beside the leaning tower of Pisa, the Eiffel tower, and the pyramids are seen in each photo. The photograph has been cut so it is only Alan in the picture.

Alan: Travel.

Alan returns to the photographs and begins to shuffle through photos again. He takes a handful of pictures and brings them to the projector. He places one tattered photo down after another. A photo of a group of young children in a school picture appears.

Alan: Education.

Alan places the picture aside and continues flicking through the photos. He places a picture on the projector that shows him at a sports game. He is wearing a jersey with a headband and face paint. He is laughing. Around his shoulders are a pair of small shoes, dangling. Alan looks at the photo briefly. He picks it up and, removing a pair of scissors from his back pocket, alters the picture to remove the shoes. He then walks to the wall and places the photo there.

Alan: Interest in sport.

Alan returns to the pile and grabs more photographs. He finds a secondary school photo and a college graduation photo. He grabs these pictures along with the primary school picture and places them all on the back wall together. He picks up the clipboard.

Alan: Education. Yes. Interests include: music, travel, sports, and…

Alan walks to the coffin, he opens it and removes a small Polaroid camera. He holds it away from himself and takes an awkward photo of him reading the clipboard.

Alan: Reading.

He places the picture on the wall.

Placing the camera on the coffin. Alan looks at the clipboard again.

Alan: Nicknames. None. Allergies. None. Medical History.

Alan walks to the safe. He undoes the combination and opens the door slowly. He removes a large brown envelope and walks to the projector. Opening the envelope, he places three x-rays on the projector one at a time.

Alan: Swallowed coins at six, fractured skull at eight, keyhole surgery for a benign tumour at seventeen.

Alan walks to the wall and places his x-rays with the photographs. He examines the clipboard.

Alan: Social life and friends.

He writes on the form.

Alan: I enjoy hanging out with my friends and meeting new people. I am a fun-loving guy.

Alan walks to the coffin and wheels it centre stage, angled diagonally from downstage right to upstage left. He puts the brakes on the coffin. Alan places the camera on the coffin. He takes a small clicker out of the coffin and steps back towards the photography screen. He presses the clicker and a flash follows. A photo appears from the camera. Alan picks it up and examines it. He drops it to the floor and places the clicker on the coffin by the camera.

Alan: Right.

Alan walks to the clothes he has laid out. Alan picks up the clothes and runs behind the screen. When he returns he is wearing all the clothes (they are layered upon each other). His outer layer is a ski jacket and ski gear. He claps his hands. As he claps ‘Crescendolls’ by Daft Punk plays. Alan runs to the photography screen and pulls at a blind string. As Alan pulls the blind string a different backdrop falls on the screen behind him. Over the next couple of minutes Alan takes photos as proof of his fun social life.

The first screen shows a snowy mountain with people skiing. Alan takes the stance of a skier. He poses, the camera flashes and the photo is created. Alan removes his ski jacket, revealing a Christmas jumper. He takes a paper Christmas crown and places it in on his head. Alan changes the screen. The backdrop is of a family at Christmas dinner. Alan imposes himself on the photo, pretending to pull a cracker with the grandfather in the photo. The camera flashes and the photo is created. Alan removes his ski pants, turns his jumper around and takes a scarf from his pocket.

The next backdrop is of an autumn day. A group of friends are drinking coffee on a park bench. Alan squats to impose himself into the photo. He throws his head back in laughter. The camera flashes and the photo is created. The next backdrop is of a costume party at Halloween; people are bobbing for apples. Alan removes his scarf and places it diagonally across his chest. He removes an eye patch and fangs from his pocket and puts them on. The camera flashes and the photo is created. The next backdrop shows a group of children at the beach with their families. Alan stops and looks at the screen for a moment then changes it again without using it.

The next photo is of a sunny day with a group of people hiking. Alan removes his pants to reveal shorts. He takes off his jumper and is left wearing a t-shirt. He joins the hike, making a face of exhaustion. The camera flashes and the photo is created.

The final backdrop is a sunny day at the beach. A group of people are playing volleyball. Alan removes all his clothes except for a small pair of speedos. He laughs with the people in the picture. The camera flashes and the photo is created. Alan claps his hands and the music stops.

Alan gathers all the photos, humming as he goes. He examines each one and sticks them to the wall. He goes back to his clothes, putting on a t-shirt and pants. As he stands by the screen he slowly goes through the backdrops. Alan stops at the backdrop of the children playing at the beach. He changes the screen back to blank and moves to the safe. Alan opens the safe and removes a video tape and a yellow lunch box. Then he hesitates briefly and, looking around, takes the tape and places it in the video player. The tape gurgles. The video begins to play on the back wall. Similar to Alan’s video this video chronicles the life of a young boy. It shows his birth until his seventh birthday party. The yellow lunchbox is featured throughout. Alan watches the video twice more. Then the voice over begins.

Voice Over: #421 Alanson, Alan.

Alan: Yes.

Voice Over: #421 ALANSON, ALAN.

Alan: Yes! I’m here!


Voice Over: #421, arbitration will begin shortly. Ensure that all documentation is available. Late or incomplete documentation will not be accepted.

Alan: Fuck.

The voice-over continues to talk as Alan prepares. Alan takes the lunch box and video tape and places them back in the safe. He hurries around the room, tidying as he goes. Finally he stops at the clothes rack and takes down a black suit. He dresses quickly, donning a white shirt and black tie. He picks up the clip board and quickly ticks a few boxes. He places it on the floor in front of the wall.  He places the brown envelope containing his video beside it. Alan takes the coffin and places it in its original setting.

Voice Over: Assume the position.

Alan hops into the coffin and closes the lid. After a few seconds two people dressed in black appear on stage. One picks up the clipboard, the other the video. They place the video in the player and watch as it is projected onto the wall. After the video is complete they examine the wall of photographs. The two examine each photo and make notes on the clipboard. After a few minutes they approach the coffin. Person #1 bangs on it.

Person #1: Mr Alanson.

Alan replies while in the coffin.

Alan: Yes?

Person #1: We are pleased to inform you that you have passed the inspection. Congratulations, your life is worth living. See you in twelve months.

The two people leave the clipboard and video on the floor. They exit the stage. After a couple of moments Alan appears from the coffin. He steps out gingerly. He picks up the clipboard, hurriedly examining it. He goes to the wall and removes the photos. He places the tattered photographs on the projector. Alan walks to the safe and removes the yellow lunchbox and tape.

Again the tape plays showing the young boy’s life. The video skips following the birthday party scene, showing a room not unlike the one Alan is in now. The two people in black are standing looking at a wall. There is a small coffin in the corner. Sound can be heard. Person #1 knocks on the coffin and informs Master Alanson that his life is not worth living. The people in black begin to wheel the small coffin offstage. Alan is seen running onstage screaming and attempting to stop them. A group of people in black remove him kicking and screaming. The video cuts out.

Alan turns to the projector and opens the lunchbox. He removes duplicate photos of the damaged ones seen earlier. In these photos we see Alan and the boy from the video laughing. We see Alan and a young boy at various locations having fun. We then see Alan and the boy in a hospital room, the boy in a gown with an IV attached. They are having a picnic on the hospital bed with the yellow lunchbox. Alan and the boy are making the same ‘Whasssuuup’ face as Alan made to identify himself.

The next photo is of Halloween. Alan is dressed as Wolverine from X-Men and his son as Professor X. There is a photo of Alan and his son on Christmas morning opening presents. Alan flips through more photos that begin to show him struggling to take care of his son. There is a photo of Alan looking depressed with his son on a ventilation machine. A photo of Alan struggling to feed his son. A photo of Alan cleaning soiled bedclothes from a bed. Alan looks at the photos then begins to cut the pictures of the healthy boy out of certain photos. He attempts to place the healthy boy into photos covering the ill child. As Alan places them one by one on the projector the lights fade to black.





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