2023 Cutlass Crew Synopsis

The Cutlass Crew Synopsis

(with links to demo recordings)




PROLOGUE - Dapper, insouciant, 16th-century privateer-turned-pirate Sir Digory Piper sets the scene.

Scene 1 The Great Hall, Arwenack House, Cornwall – It is January 6th 1583, Epiphany, and the Feast of Misrule. The world is turned upside-down: Lady of the Manor, Mary Killigrew, is dressed as a servant; while her servants, including her lady-in-waiting Betty, head butler Parry, Ned, Nan, Oswald and Susan, are wearing their masters’ clothes. A group of Travelling Players arrive, including Walter, Myles, Edmund, Thomasina and Clement, who sing of Tom O’Bedlam’s wild wanderings to the world’s end. Mary is intrigued by the prospect of wandering free. The Players then relate the adventures of Grace O’Malley, the Irish privateer turned pirate, before the Toastmaster presents the Epiphany Cake which, as the Cook explains, contains a dried pea that grants a wish to its finder. Mary finds it and makes a wish to be a pirate, like Grace O'Malley. But Mary's husband, Sir John Killigrew, bursts in, declares the party over, and warns everyone that Sir Digory Piper has been sighted nearby. Sir John expects Lady Mary to return to the normality of women’s tasks whilst he conducts man’s work, but she has Grace O’Malley in mind.

Scene 2 The English Channel, near the mouth of the River Fal A storm is brewing. The Sweepstake, captained by Sir Digory Piper, and the Spanish trading ship Sonora, captained by Don Diego de Varga, are moored off the Cornish coast. Piper’s men are eager to attack the Sonora, but Piper wants to wait until the weather is more cooperative. Don Diego’s passengers, merchant Don Felipe and his nervous wife Leonora, are seasick, and the three set out for shore, leaving a skeleton crew aboard their Spanish caravel. Meanwhile, Sir John Killigrew and his grooms man the cannons at Pendennis Castle, waiting to strike at the Sweepstake. Sir Digory passes the time by singing and playing his lute. When he strikes a lantern to read his music, the Sweepstake’s location becomes known to Sir John, who sinks it and takes Sir Digory prisoner.

Scene 3 The Long Gallery, Arwenack House – As the storm blows, Seamstresses and Ladies-in-Waiting celebrate the comfort of their feminine pursuits and indoor lifestyles. Gardeners and Footmen burst in and bemoan their strenuous lives. They feel the call of the sea, a call which seems to divide the sexes. Lady Mary laments her own sedentary life and reiterates her desire to be a pirate, despite Betty’s warning that a dreadful fate in the Tower of London befalls pirates like Sir Digory. Parry announces that a Spanish caravel just docked in the harbor. Mary thinks it must be part of a Spanish treasure fleet. This is her big chance for a new life.  She orders that the crew of the caravel be brought to her.

Scene 4 A jetty near Arwenack House  The storm is at its height. Don Diego, Don Felipe, and Leonora disembark from their sodden rowing boat. They console themselves with a Spanish carol before deciding to speak English (except for Leonora who only speaks Latin) and pretend to be wool merchants. Parry welcomes them to Arwenack.

Scene 5 The Long Gallery, Arwenack House – Lady Mary excitedly peers through her spyglass, surrounded by her servants. Meanwhile, Cicely the cook has put a sleeping potion in the welcome mead. Lady Mary spies Parry leading their Spanish ‘guests’ and anticipates becoming a pirate, with her servants as her pirate crew. She orders her servants to make stinkpots – bombs so noxious as to incapacitate even the hardest-bitten crew. Parry enters with Don Diego, Don Felipe, and Leonora. After being greeted, the Spaniards glug down a glass of the drugged mead, introduce themselves, and promptly pass out. Lady Mary and her crew-to-be prepare to capture the caravel.

Scene 6 Aboard the caravel, Sonora – The Night Watch (Pio, Paco, and Pepe) are playing cards, guzzling sherry, and philosophizing. Suddenly, stinkpots are hurled, and Lady Mary and her Cutlass Crew overwhelm the Spanish sailors. Lady Mary hides the Spanish treasure, discards the crew, and begins her new life as a pirate.



Scene 7 In a tavern 20 years later (and aboard the Sonora) – A crestfallen Sir Digory tells us that the Cutlass Crew are merrily marauding while he languishes. A group of revelers from the future recount those adventures. Next we see the dashing lady pirates celebrating their new lifestyle, then attacking and plundering a Dutch trading vessel off the coast of Aberdeen and sending its crew off the plank. Alas, as the revelers recount, the captain of the Dutch ship was a cousin of Queen Elizabeth I, and so the Cutlass Crew were denounced as traitors.

Scene 8 In the countryside near Falmouth – The Spanish crew of the Sonora have escaped after months in the dungeon at Arwenack House. They vow revenge against Lady Mary.

Scene 9 The Knot Garden, Arwenack – The Cutlass Crew are back home, once again as Arwenack House servants. The Queen is angry, and so it is time to lie low. Sir John arrives in a fluster, looking for Lady Mary. The Spaniards have been found and are accusing her of stealing their ship, and the Queen has sent soldiers to arrest Lady Mary.

Scene 10 The Royal Bedchamber, Whitehall Palace – Singers and musicians led by lute teacher John Dowland perform a melancholy song for Queen Elizabeth while her Maid, Jolye, combs her hair. The Queen demands that Piper be brought to her so that justice can be meted out.

Scene 11 The Bloody Tower in the Tower of London – A Soldier and Yeoman perform the Ceremony of the Keys. Lady Mary is held captive by Jeffries the gaoler, whose wife, Margery, and bloodthirsty daughters, Dorcas, Amphillis, Eunice, and Grissell, taunt Mary with gruesome details of the fate that awaits her. Mary tries to bribe Jeffries to let her escape, but he refuses, lest he be judged by Sir Julius Caesar, the Master of the Rolls.

Scene 12 The Royal Bedchamber – Sir Digory is brought before the Queen, with Joyle and Dowland in attendance. He explains that, as a poet and dreamer, he meant no offense by plundering English ships, and he brings a song and a unicorn’s horn as gifts. The Queen is delighted and they retire together.

Scene 13 The Bloody Tower – Sir Julius Caesar, accompanied by his quartet of Cringing Lawyers, tells Lady Mary of her grisly fate to come, but she remains defiant as she is taken to Whitehall Palace.

Scene 14 The Council Chamber, Whitehall Palace – All are gathered to watch Lady Mary’s trial, relishing the entertainment to come. Sir Julius ascends to the Judge’s bench and accuses Lady Mary of piracy and a most unforgivable crime: entering a man’s world. The Spaniards add to the list of accusations. Lady Mary says she cast off her submissive role not for greed, but to experience freedom and for love of Nation. Sir Julius is unmoved, but Queen Elizabeth emerges from a hiding place and delivers her verdict. She rejects the notion that hearth and home is the only place for a woman and offers mercy in the face of true repentance and appropriate recompense. Lady Mary suddenly remembers where she hid her ill-gotten loot and promises to hereafter serve the Queen and the Golden Mean.