Updated: Jun 16, 2020
Gainsborough, 1785, National Gallery
CAST: William and Elizabeth Hallett
FX: The birds tweet, the dog frolics in the bushes, William and Elizabeth walk blissfully in the park.
ELIZABETH This place is so idyllic. See how the morning light reveals its blissful beauty, the subtlety of the different hues ...
WILLIAM Your toy dog seems to like space. The estate is over 100 acres.
ELIZABETH I’m not really into figures. William, look at the sunbeams in the foliage, crossing the leaves with an ethereal light. It’s so like a Turner painting.
WILLIAM I’ve hired Gainsborough.
ELIZABETH Gainsborough?! Why not Turner?
WILLIAM Cos’ Turner is ten years old.
ELIZABETH How come we’re surrounded by his paintings?
WILLIAM, as if talking to a child: We’re in Room 34, Elizabeth.
ELIZABETH Room 34?
WILLIAM National Gallery, Room 34. Turner, Constable, Stubbs … And Gainsborough.
ELIZABETH Gainsborough … Well, that will do.
WILLIAM It would better do! 126 pounds!
ELIZABETH You commissioned a portrait for 126 pounds?!
WILLIAM Nothing’s too much for my beautiful bride.
ELIZABETH, to her: Especially when the bride pays the bill. To him: Walking here every morning, before the gallery’s open to the public, it’s just heaven. Oh William, I’m so happy to become your wife.
FX: They kiss. The breeze blows in the leaves.
WILLIAM Very soon. By the way, may we touch the 20,000 pounds dowry before D-Day?
ELIZABETH I’m afraid not. Playful: There’s a contract to sign first.
WILLIAM Right, right.
FX: They walk on a bed of moss and fallen leaves.
WILLIAM Elizabeth, I’m so in love with you.
ELIZABETH I love you too, William.
WILLIAM You’re the light of my life, the warmth of my heart, the joy of my … my … my … I’m stuck. Let’s kiss.
FX: They kiss again.
ELIZABETH I’m so happy, William.
WILLIAM Me too. Not even a tiny fraction of the dowry?
ELIZABETH, scandalised: No!
WILLIAM Well, that’s annoying, cos’ I’d like to bet at tomorrow’s -
FX: Some parakeets fly away from a nearby branch.
ELIZABETH What are those birds?
WILLIAM, not interested in the least: Parakeets. There’s a race tomorrow at -
ELIZABETH A rabbit race?
WILLIAM Horse race.
ELIZABETH Hmm. I didn’t know there were parakeets in the wild. I mean, in 18th century England.
WILLIAM Well, there are all sorts of stuff in London.
ELIZABETH, out loud: Pussy, come here! Pussy!
WILLIAM Pussy? You called your dog Pussy?
ELIZABETH Why not?
WILLIAM There’s a horse racing tomorrow called Pussy. Could it be a sign?
FX: The dog comes running.
ELIZABETH Here you are. Good boy, oh yes, you’re a good boy.
WILLIAM At the same time he lost every race last year. Yet I could go against the odds and cash in a fortune. Elizabeth, let’s withdraw a few pounds and bet on -
ELIZABETH What’s this noise?
WILLIAM, overexcited: A horse race!
ELIZABETH In the park?
WILLIAM I’ve let the estate to a racehorse breeder.
ELIZABETH You did what?
FX: The sound of the drill increases.
ELIZABETH What about my morning walks?
WILLIAM Enjoy this one. Could be the last. Got plans to sell the estate.
ELIZABETH Selling Canons?! Canons is the reason I chose to marry you.
WILLIAM As much as for my looks. Beat. I’m bored to death in the country. And my investment in horse breeding may change my luck at gambling.
ELIZABETH I thought you won at cards.
WILLIAM Well …
ELIZABETH Doesn’t sound like a horse.
WILLIAM, disappointed: No? Must be some building works.
ELIZABETH Building what?
WILLIAM Works. Old buildings always need to be renovated. A pain in the purse. About the purse, I lost at baccarat last night -
ELIZABETH I hadn’t realised you were a gambling addict. Wouldn’t they have moved us to another room if they were doing some building works?
FX: William and Elizabeth speak louder and louder as the drill increases intensity.
WILLIAM I’m more into gambling than construction. I need 50 pounds.
ELIZABETH 50 pounds?
WILLIAM It’s nothing in a 20,000 pounds fortune. A tiny, tiny straw.
ELIZABETH Which is tied up in trust funds.
WILLIAM Which is what?
ELIZABETH A security from my guardian. He used to say there were too many gamblers turned heiress hunters around London. He was paranoid.
WILLIAM Do you mean that once I’ve married you I won’t be able to touch the 20,000 pounds? What’s the point then?
ELIZABETH I thought you were in love with me.
WILLIAM I was in love with the dowry.
ELIZABETH And me with the estate!
FX: She walks angrily. The sound of the drill becomes unbearable.
ELIZABETH, shouting: These building works are spoiling my morning walk.
FX: The dog starts to bark.
ELIZABETH Stop it, Pussy!
FX: The dog barks frantically.
ELIZABETH Heel! There’s something wrong, William -
WILLIAM Run! There’s a loonie with a drill!
FX: The loonie with the drill slashes the painting in a large cross. The dog barks madly then moans before falling silent.
ELIZABETH Pussy! He’s stabbed Pussy!
WILLIAM And you’ll be next! Run!
FX: William and Elizabeth run across the woods while the drill continues to slash the canvas.
ELIZABETH Where are the security guards? I thought we were a National treasure! Ahhhhh!
WILLIAM On the left! The other left!
ELIZABETH He’s going to behead us!
WILLIAM Behind the tree! Faster!
ELIZABETH I can’t run with these bloody petticoats!
FX: They dive on the ground. The drill suddenly stops, thud in the background.
ELIZABETH Are you sure that was renovation works?
WILLIAM Conservation works, certainly.
Karen Eeckman for Cradles & Labels
Mr and Mrs Hallett ('The Morning Walk') is a painting by Thomas Gainsborough, displayed at the National Gallery in London.
Voices from the Vault is a series of plays inspired by objects in London museums, and intended to be performed as a podcast.