The Charm: A Manx Comedy

The Charm: A Manx Comedy

by

Christopher R. Shimmin

Published for Yn Cheshaght Gailchagh (Manx Language Society),

By W. K. Palmer, Peel , Isle of Man

First performed at Peel, November 7th, 1912, with the following cast: —

Jem Quilliam, a Farmer – Tom Dodd.
Kirrie Quilliam, his Wife – Annie V. Caine.
Kaymad, a Neighbour – John J. Joughin.
Pyee, an Old Beggar Woman – Amelia Keegan.

Time — A Generation Ago.
Scene — A Farmhouse Kitchen.

The Charm

KIRRIE QUILLIAM (despairingly) — What’ll I do? What’ll I do? Tha’s so much to be done, I don’t know where to begin arrit. The breakfast things to wash up. A drink for the calves to make. The churnin’ to be done. Eggs to gather. Jem’s trousers to mend, and tha’s no time goin’ to look after me own clothes. The washin’ left over from las’ week, an’ tha’ll be a big wash when I start. The house wants a run o’ clanin’, too, an’ tha’s no time goin’ to do it. Am ashamed o’ the crockery on the dressar. I’s that dusty i’s a clane shaw. Oh the tired I am, I could cry, I could cry. An’ I’ll hev to get the broth on for dinner, an’ a curran puddin’ made, or Jem’ll be that cross I’ll get no res’ at all. Only tha isn time I’d sit down an’ hev a good cry, I would. The sof’ I was to get married, an’ me so nice an’ snug as I was. Well, I was always a bogh, an’ i’s a bogh I’ll be to the end. Shee Bannee me! an’ here’s Jem.

[Enter Jem.]

JEM (speaking crossly) — Here Kirrie, give the calves a drink, quick, an’ throw something to the hens, an’ run upstairs an’ get that thow I got las’ week. Am goin’ to the fair at St. John’s after dinner with the white heifer. Kaymad is goin’ to call about twelve o’clock, an’ we’ll go togather. Wha’s the woman waitin’ for? Get the thow, woman. (Stamps foot impatiently and shouts) — Are ye makin’ the rope? Are you gone to sleep? Are ye admirin’ ye ’self in the glass?

KIRRIE (from above) — I’m comin’.

JEM — Myghin y chairys, what a woman!

KIRRIE (carrying a rope, part trailing under her feet) — You mus’ hev moved it, Jem.

JEM (grabs rope) — Lif’ ye big feet, woman. Ye gor as many feet as a hen. Now give the calves a drink o’ male, an’ feed the hens, an’ give something to the pig to shut his row, an’ make the house look dacent for the time Kaymad will call, an’ get the dinner on, an’ don’t forget to pur a few currans in the puddin’. Come on, now. Be smart, an’ get something done.

KIRRIE — What’ll I do? Get dinner ready, or wash up, or mend Jem’s trousers, feed the crathurs, ready the house? Aw dear, dear! Well, I better give a drink to the calf first. Jem is gettin’ crosser be the day. I declare I’m gettin’ freckened of him. (Mixes drink in bucket and goes out.)

JEM (shouting in at door) — Don’t forget to pur a few stitches in the bottom of me trousis, an’ ye batter pur a lil rub on me Sunday boots, an’ get dinner ready soon! Mind now!

KIRRIE (rushing in bustling) — I must get me kairthaghs done, I batter get the dinner on the fire first. I’m getting freckendar of Jem every day, the sound of his step is makin’ me ready to cry. (Busy cutting up cabbage, potatoes, turnips, and makes pudding.)

JEM (comes in) — Well, how are you gettin’ on? Well, Guy heng! Whor a woman. She hasn’ got the dinner on yit, an’ me wantin’ to go to the fair soon. Whor ye goin’ to do with all that bulkan o’ turnips an’ priddas? Am sure am nor a big ater. We’ll not hev a turnip or pridda lef’ for the crathurs.

KIRRIE (meekly) — If tha’s any lavins, the’ll do nice for the pig.

JEM (noisily) — Did ye avar hear such a woman? Lavins! Tha’s navar any lavins when your done atin’. I navar saw the lek o’ you for atin. A lil bir of a miserable woman lek you ates more than a right body. Ye’r doin’ nothin’ but cookin’ an’ atin’ unless i’s lookin’ in the glass, ye are.

KIRRIE — I’s not much tha’s doin’ me.

JEM — Hear the woman! Talk, talk, talk! If i’s not atin’ she is, i’s talkin’. Give ye’r tongue a rest, woman. Ye’ll have it wore to the roots. Am wonderin’ ye jaws arn’ tired. Am wonderin’ ye can think of anything to say. Me head is weary listenin’ to ye. If I wasn’ here, ye’d talk to the birds. Ye’r tongue is like the clappar of a mill — navar stoppin, goin’, goin’, all the time.

KIRRIE — Who’s talkin’ now?

JEM — Who? You tha’s doin’ the talkin’ in this house. Ye’ll have the las’ word, as the man said before now. Did ye pur a stitch on me Sunday trousers?

KIRRIE — Not yet. I will as soon as I get the pot on the fire.

JEM — Aw, ye lhiggey my hraa! Did ye pur a rub on me Sunday boots? I asked ye special to do that.

KIRRIE — I navar heard ye.

JEM — Navar heard me! An’ me shoutin’ that ye’d hear me on the top o’ Slieu Whallin!

KIRRIE — I’ll do them as soon as I get me hands clane.

JEM — Jus’ now, traa dy liooar again, an’ she wants to clane her han’s before blackinin’ boots! No wonder ye’r so slow over the lil bir o’ work ye got to do.

KIRRIE (begins to cry quietly) — Am doin’ me bes’.

JEM — Cryin’, cryin’, the broth’ll be salt enough, woman. Don’t be sof’, woman. (Relenting and half ashamed.) Ye needin mind doin me boots, but pur a stitch on me trousers if ye got time. (Goes out.)

KIRRIE (crying, puts dinner on fire, gets trousers and starts mending, drying her eyes with corner of apron) — Jem is gettin wuss and wuss. I don’t know wha’s goin to become of us. He used to be nice, but now tha’s no pleasing him, no matter what I do. He’s gettin that cribbidjagh, wants everything done in a minute. If he gets any wuss, I’ll hev to lave him for a bit, and go to me mother.

[Enter Old Pyee.]

PYEE — I’s a fine growin’ day, Quilliam’s wife. That lil shower o’ rain last night done a power o’ good.

KIRRIE (with back to Pyee, and drying her eyes) — Yis, yis.

PYEE — The turnips is wantin rain bad. They’re sayin that down at the north the turnips hev failed, an’ lots o’ ones will hev to soo them again.

KIRRIE — Yis, so I’ve heard.

PYEE — So am toul.

KIRRIE — Yis.

PYEE (observing Mrs. Quilliam is depressed) — Maybe ye not so well to-day, Quilliam’s wife. They’re sayin tha’s lots o’ people havin couls. Tha’s a kind of a murran goin, they say. Very like ye got the thing tha’s goin.

KIRRIE — Very likely.

PYEE — I’s takin’ them in the head an’ the eyes, they’re sayin.

KIRRIE — Yis.

PYEE — Iss himself middlin?

KIRRIE — Middlin.

PYEE — He’s gone to the fair, maybe?

KIRRIE — Not yet, Pyee.

PYEE — I’s lek he’ll be goin after dinner?

KIRRIE — Yis.

PYEE — A nice coar man.

KIRRIE — Umph!

PYEE — Aw, a sogragh man for all.

KIRRIE — Sometimes, Pyee.

PYEE — A man tha’ wouldn’t be tuk in at all, though he’s not much for talkin.

KIRRIE (off her guard) — Isn’t he! You haven’t heard him.

PYEE — Well, but no harm arrim. Not meaning anything.

KIRRIE — Maybe not.

PYEE — Men don’t understand house things, an thas so much to be done. They think things will get done of themselves. They’re not short o’ feelins, but they don’t understand. But theer jawin’ i’s hurtin’ all the same. Yis, yis, i’s hurtin’ all the same.

KIRRIE — Yis, Pyee, i’s hurtin’ to be jawed after doin’ ye bes’.

PYEE — Thou’ll get lave, tha’s the way it is.

KIRRIE — Yis, thou’ll get lave.

PYEE- — Thou’ll be goin to the fair with him?

KIRRIE — No indeed! I never get any place; maybe sometimes chapel of a Sunday. (Finishes trousers and gets boots to black.) The pride vogh tha’s in some ones!

PYEE (with feeling) — He should be clanin’ thy shoes, Mistress Quilliam.

KIRRIE (with bitter laugh) — Clanin’ my shoes. I’d lek to see the day.

PYEE — I’ve seen stranger things than that.

KIRRIE — Navar, Pyee.

PYEE — Indeed an’ I did. Av heard me mother tell of a man on the South side tha was always coorse on his wife, an’ at las he lifted his hand to her, so she come to me mother an’ got a charm put on him, an’ he was a changed man, as kind as kind, till he would do anything for her.

KIRRIE — It didn’t take his senses anyway?

PYEE — Nor a bit, only made him kind.

KIRRIE — Didn’t affect his health at all?

PYEE — Navar was stronger, lived till he was eighty-five, an’ smart with it.

KIRRIE (sighing) — Them times have gone an’ the charm is lost, I suppose?

PYEE — No, me mother toul it to me.

KIRRIE — Am toul a woman mus’n tell a charm to a woman, or a man tell a charm to a man.

PYEE — Tha’s true. She didn’t tell it straight to me. She toul it to oul Illiam Quirk, an’ he toul it to me an’ I navar forgot it.

KIRRIE— An’ ye sayin’ it couldn’t do any harm?

PYEE — No harm, at all, at all.

KIRRIE — Theer now! An’ how would it be gettin’ done at all?

PYEE — Aisy enough! Put a few herbs in the pot, an’ after dinner say the charm, an’ after a lil sleep he’d wake up a different man.

KIRRIE — An’ ye sure it wouldn’t do any —

PYEE (interrupts) — Here, put this in the pot (giving a little package). It must boil for a quile or it won’t work.

KIRRIE (takes it hesitatingly) — Ye sure it won’t do any —

PYEE — Nor a bit woman, don’t be such a bogh. (Earnestly.) Woman veen, i’ll do no harm, an’ if ye don’t mind I’ll come after dinner an’ hev some of the broth meself .

KIRRIE (puts herbs in the pot) — Maybe ye could do with a pick o’ mate? I was that upset I forgot to ask ye if there was a mouth on ye.

PYEE — I’ll call in after dinner an’ hev a basin o’ broth, an’ maybe a lil pick o’ mate an’ puddin’.

[Exit.]

KIRRIE — Am all of a tremble, I declare. I’ve done it now. Suppose Jem is poisoned, I’ll be tuk an’ hung. Jem isn’ that bad after all. I’s only his way. I believe I’ll throw the broth away, an’ make a cup o’ tay for dinner, with the puddin’. Yis, I will! Me listenin’ to an oul beggar woman an’ her talk, instead o’ mindin’ me work. Suppose he got bad an’ tuk sick? I’ll throw it away, I will. I’s a shame spoilin’ the good broth, an’ it done so nice, an’ smellin’ so good, too. (Takes up pot and goes towards door.)

JEM (entering) — Well, Kirrie, where ye goin’ with the broth?

KIRRIE — To give it to the pig.

JEM (in amazement) — To give it to the pig? Is the sowl gone erf her mind? Come in, woman, an’ let me get away in good time. (Grabs pot and takes it in.)

KIRRIE (coaxingly) — I wouldn’t ate any broth, Jem. I’s bad for — for — for ones with weak hearts. Ate the pudding Jem, an’ I’ll make a cup o’ tay — ye’ll be quicker.

JEM (takes plate from dresser) — Come on, woman, an’ I’ll wait on ye. (Pours out broth.) What have ye been doin’ all the mornin’? Why arn ye ating, woman? The broth is extra good to-day. (She eats a little and they finish dinner.)

JEM — Did ye do me trousers? Now when am away, watch the sheep won’t get through the gap into the corn. An’ try an’ get the churnin’ done in dacent time. (Grows drowsy, sits on settle.) I’ll jus’ sit down till Kaymad ‘ll come. That curran’ puddin’ is terrible for fillin’ ye up.
(Goes to sleep.)

KIRRIE — I feel a lil bit drowsy too. I’ll take a rest in the big chair. (Goes to sleep.)

[Enter Pyee.]

PYEE — There now! There now! Ye didn’t think much of oul Pyee, Quilliam’s wife, but oul Pyee is no toot at all. I might as well hev a lil bit o’ the mate, an’ a bit o’ puddin’. The virtue is in the broth, bur am not carin’ much for broth. I’d rather something more solid. This mate is nice now, not too fresh an’ not too salt. Jus the way I lek it. Corned, they’re callin’ it, am toul! There now! (To herself.) Have another lil bit o’ puddin’, Pyee? Well, thank ye, thank ye, jus a lil bit. Have a lil sugar, Pyee? Well, very lil. Am careful of what I ate. Have a lil drop o’ milk, Pyee? Well, jus a drop in a basin. There now! There now! (Chuckles comfortably to herself. Jem shows signs of awakening.)

PYEE (stands up and waves hands — stick in left hand) —

Haney faney, figna fag,
Hoyley, doyley, edna mag,
Stony rock, calico bag,
Ham, bam, boush!

There now! He’ll go to sleep again for a bit. The fun tha’ll be in this house after am gone. I’d lek to stay and see it, but Quilliam’s wife wouldn’t be safe. She’d leather me. Now when I’m here I might as well hev a lil sight roun on the dresser things. (Examines crockery.) Tha’s a dreadful nice jug now, and the beautiful pictures tha’s on it. Tha’s things in it, too. Yis, latters, or bills, maybe. Am sorry I can’t read. Now i’s hard to say what the writin’ is. Maybe i’s himself’s will. (With awe opens it; shakes head.) Aw the beautiful writin’. (Replaces it.) The Family Bible. An look at the gran’ pictures in it. Now I can read them a bit batter. Yis, the lovely it is. Aw yis, himself is a man o’ good schoolin’, am toul. An’ look at the loaf bread. I wondhar wha’s in the drawers? Tablecloths! Aw! The beautiful they are. And the handkerchiefs! (Rubs her face with one and refolds it carefully.) (Indignantly.) I wouldn’t take one for a farm. Am poor, but oul Pyee navar tuk nothin’, no navar, navar. An’ look at the tay, nearly a pound (smells) an’ good tay, too. I’d lek to make a lil drop of tay, but there wouldn’t be time. (Mrs. Quilliam, restless, about to wake.) I think I’d better be goin’ me ways now. Good mornin’, Master Quilliam. Good mornin’, Quilliam’s wife. (Goes out.)

KIRRIE (wakes with a start) — I’ve been asleep! An’ look at that big lazy gorm on the settle, fast asleep, an’ so much to be done. (Calls out crossly.) Jem! Jem! Wha’s the meanin’ o’ this? (Shakes him.) Come on, me dooinney moar. Is this the way ye’ goin’ to earn ye’ livin’?

JEM (stupidly) — What is it? Wha’s the matter?

KIRRIE — Wha’s the matter? Lyin’ sleepin’ in the middle o’ the day. Ger up this minute, or I’ll make ye.

JEM (rising) — Aisy, woman! Give a falla a chance. I was only havin’ a res’.

KIRRIE — Don’t hev so much to say. Ye tongue is goin’ raa, raa, regular, an’ am not goin’ to stan it. Here am slavin’ night an’ day, an’ you sleepin’ and takin’ ye res’ (scornfully). Here, try an’ help. Clear away the dinner things. Tha’s hot water in the kettle, an’ mind an’ not break any dishes.

JEM — What batter I do fust? Where’s the dishclout?

KIRRIE — Here! (Whacks him with it.)

JEM — Aisy, woman, don’t hurt a falla. (Drops a plate.)

KIRRIE (brushing floor, hits him with brush. He ducks his head and holds up an arm to defend himself from blows) — Ye big, stupid gorm. Tha’ll not be a plate left in the house.

JEM — Aisy woman, be as aisy as ye can.

KIRRIE — Too long I’ve been aisy. I’ll aise ye, I’ll aise ye. (Hits him. He runs around cowering from blows, gets under the table, and defends himself.) Of all the boghs that a woman was ever tormented with, ye are the wuss — sleeping atin’, and talkin’ is all ye good for. (He puts out head furtively.) Keep ye head in, and keep out o’ me sight, ye big stahll.

[Enter Kaymad.]

KAYMAD (shouts at door) — Is himself in? Are ye there, Jem? We best be —

KIRRIE — Ye best be going’ home an’ doin’ some work, an’ not straavaghn to the fairs wastin’ ye time. Go home an’ help ye poor drollane of a wife, if ye’ve no farm work to do. You’re another “good for nothin.”

JEM (under the table signs to go away).

KAYMAD (bewildered) — Wha’s the meanin’ of this? Whor ye doin’ there, Jem? Is herself gone erf her senses? Is she gone clicky?

KIRRIE — I’ll dicky ye! (Runs at him with broom, and he goes.)

KAYMAD (outside) — Mind ye’self, Jem, boy.

KIRRIE— Come out o’ there, ye big sof’ crathur, makin’ a gorm of yeself. Ye’ll be the talk o’ the whole parish. Here, do something, go an’ get the churn an’ bring the cream in, and get to work to see if it’ll take some of the fat off ye.
(Both busy.)

JEM — I’ll be late for the fair, an’ we should try an’ sell the heifer.

KIRRIE — Are ye arrit it again? Do ye want a taste o’ the brush again? Ye goin’ to no fair to-day. Am jus’ beginnin’ to see through ye carryin’ on. Ye thought I was sof’, did ye? I’ll tell ye when to go to the fair. I’ll tell ye when to have a rest. I’m the mistress o’ this house, an’ ye got to do what ye toul. Mind that, now.

JEM — Well I thought —

KIRRIE — Listen to the crathur. “He thought.” You’re not supposed to think. You’re supposed to do as you’re toul. Go an’ get a can o’ water, an’ don’t be long. (He goes out with can.) A thing lek that givin’ me back answers! (Waiting.) Is he ever comin’ with the water?

JEM (entering) — Am thinkin’ i’s goin’ to rain.

KIRRIE — Anythin’ else, don’t you bother to think! I’ll do all the thinkin’ for this house.

JEM — Well, I —

KIRRIE — Houl ye tongue, an’ get on with ye work. D’ye see this brush? (taking it up). Now get on with the churnin’. Am goin’ to purr a sight on Mrs. Kelly. I haven’t seen the woman for weeks and weeks, an’ when the churnin’ is done, get the tay ready by the time I’ll be back. (Dresses and goes out.)

JEM (groaning) — Tha’s bucheragh on the churnin’. I’ve a mind to lave it. If herself is goin’ to be as bad as this, I’ll have to run away to America. I’ll not stand it. (Keeps on churning.)

[Enter Pyee.]

PYEE — I’s a fine everin, Mastar Quilliam, a fine everin.

JEM — I’s coorse weather in this house, Pyee.

PYEE — Och, man, och! Is herself moal?

JEM — Moal, thagraa! It’s the Bad Man tha’s in her I’m thinkin’. Tha’s bucheragh on this house. Herself is goin’ round with a whushan on her that I’m clane freckened.

PYEE — Och, man, och! Notions thou’re takin’.

JEM — No notions at all, Pyee. I’s the truth am tellin’. Herself is gone asgleden. Am posed with her. A lashin’ she’s wantin’, am thinkin’.

PYEE — Maybe tha’s somethin’ doin’ on the vogh millish, Master Quilliam. I’ve heard tell of the lek before now. There was a woman over at Balla —

JEM — ‘Deed! An’, Pyee, I’ve heard thou are good theeself for a charm, an’ for givin’ the herb. Here’s a shillin’, an’ do thee bes’ for us ; for this house is gone a clane shaw to the livin’.

PYEE — I’ve heard me mother say that a lil luss ny chulg or a bir o’ vervine is good for the nerves. A lil bit in her tay now would do herself no harm.

JEM — They’re good herbs, Pyee, but not strong enough for herself, an’ she would know the taste o’ them in the tay.

PYEE — Aw, no, laa! I’ll put a lil charm on it, that me mother had, an’ the tay will taste lek the best tha’s goin’.

JEM— Won’t do any harm, Pyee? I wouldn’t lek to harm herself for all.

PYEE — Nor a bit! Nor a bit! Put a screwveen o’ this in the taypot, an’ I say the charm, an’ the pair o’ ye will be thankin’ oul Pyee. (Going.) Well, I’ll put a sight on ye again. (Jem gets tea-table ready.)

KIRRIE (entering) — Navar done churnin’ yit, an’ look at the house the man has got. Ye big straam! I’d be ashamed of people to see it. Put the churn away, an’ make some tay. Am perished for a drink.

JEM — The butter will be spoiled.

KIRRIE — Let it spoil. Do as ye’re toul! Am the mistress o’ this house. (Jem puts tea in teapot, and slips in herb. Pyee peeps in at door, but retires quickly.)

KIRRIE (drinking tea) — Tha’s nothing like a good cup o’ tay. Kelly’s wife is usin’ the one-and-fourpenny trouse. Am wonderin’ at the woman. Am sayin’ still, if ye want good tay ye mus’ pay for it. Give me another cup. Don’t be so magganagh. Are ye kithag? (Spills a little.) Ye big stahll. You’re not fit to sit at a table. An’ look at the reeka of a fire the man has got. I’s enough to roast a body. I declare i’s makin’ me lazy an’ sleepy. (Nods.)

JEM — Hev a lil rest, chree . It’ll do ye good. ’Deed, an’ I could get it in me eye, too. (Dozes in chair. Both asleep.)

[Enter Pyee.]

PYEE (in motherly tones) — The crathurs! In the land o’ drames! The souls! Well, well, life is only a drame after all, an’ let’s try an’ be jonnack while we are here. Pyee wouldn’t harm a child — wouldn’t harm a child. No! (Repeats charm, waving her stick in the air with both hands, slowly making passes as if to mesmerise.)

Cushag, tramman, ushag, bollan,
Rhonnag, cammag, whussan, dhollan.
Herself will always jonnack be,
An’ Jem be coar to poor oul Pyee. (Retires.)

(Jem and Kirrie wake together, he laughing, she shivering.)

JEM — I had the queerest drame. I’s makin’ me laugh when am thinkin’ of it.

KIRRIE — What was it about, Jem? I had a queer drame, too, an’ am glad it was only a drame after all. It wasn’ a nice drame at all. I thought that —

JEM — Never mind tellin’ me if it wasn’ nice. I’ll tell ye my drame, but ye mus’n’ sit so far away from me. Come here! (Catches her and places her on his knee. She protests girlishly. He puts his arm around her saying) I dreamt that we were sooreying again, and that you were saying —

CURTAIN.

Put a few herbs in the pot, an’ after dinner say the charm, an’ after a lil sleep he’d wake up a different man.

The first performance of The Charm in the Peel in 1912 marked the beginning of the careers of both the Island’s most significant Manx dialect playwright and theatre troupe.

The Charm is a short one-act play about an unhappily married couple who undergo transformation through the effects of a travelling charmer. First performed in the Centenary Hall in Peel on 7 November 1912, the play was written by Christopher Shimmin in aid of the Manx Language Society. In his after-performance speech on stage, Shimmin spoke about the importance of this Manx element to the play:

Mr. Shimmin thanked the audience for their kind reception. He was a Manxman, and that was one of the few things he had to be proud of. There was one point he was very pleased of – the promoters, the players, Miss Morrison, and himself, were all Manx.

The play was produced by the newly formed band of performers, The Peel Players, under the initiation and direction of that driving force behind the Manx cultural revival, the Secretary of the Manx Language Society, Sophia Morrison. The Players were to become the most successful theatre troupe of its kind, with The Charm and Illiam Kodhere’s Will, also by Shimmin, being taken to successful performances on the Gaiety Theatre stage in Douglas and across for performances in England even within a year. It was a high-point for Manx dialect theatre never to be seen again with the onset of the First World War and the death of Sophia Morrison in 1917.

Well, well, life is only a drame after all, an’ let’s try an’ be jonnack while we are here.

Christopher Shimmin lived from 1870 until 1933 and was at various times a sailmaker, a sanitary inspector, a monumental mason, a Manx Labour Party founder, a Union leader, a tea-totaller, and a politician. But one thing he remained throughout all of his life was a strong believer in all things Manx. These factors coloured his writing of plays and short stories which would cause others to regard him as the Isle of Man’s greatest playwright.

Annie V. Caine as Kirrie Quilliam, in a promotional photograph taken in 1912