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The Story of Maggie Reid By Marsali Taylor

The tragic story of Maggie Reid from 19th century Burra is portrayed in Marsali Taylor's 2004 play for secondary pupils.


MAGGIE REID; WILLIE, her fiance; TAMMY, Willie’s father; ELIZABETH, Maggie’s mother;  THE CHORUS : 1,2 and 3

Maggie moves to the door of the crofthouse. Willie comes to stand at the door. She turns to him.

MAGGIE : Six mont. A year. Twa, Guid kens -

WILLIE : No so very lang. It’ll shune pass, an den I’ll be hame, wi money in me pooch.

MAGGIE (falling in with his mood): And yarns fir da lang winter.

WILLIE : Icebergs taller as da cliffs o Foula.

MAGGIE : Whales bigger dan ships.

WILLIE : The Arctic skies, as thick wi stars as buttercups ida mödoo.

MAGGIE : Polar bears, an seals wi moustaches.

WILLIE (teasing): I tink du fell in love wi me traivels, no wi me.

Maggie suddenly clasps him to her.

MAGGIE : Willie, I’m faerd.

WILLIE : Noo, den, lass, whit’s dis? Faerd? (She lets her hands fall)

MAGGIE : I hae a feeling – dir’s dat muckle could happen tae dee.

WILLIE : Noo, Maggie, dat’s nae wye fir a seaman’s lass tae tink.

MAGGIE : No. I ken. I’m sorry.

WILLIE : Gie me a smile tae see me aff.

Maggie smiles. As they stand looking at each other, Tammy, Willie’s father, comes out to join them. They stand apart to include him in the leavetaking.

WILLIE : Noo, den, faider.

TAMMY : Guid’s blissin go wi dee, boy.

WILLIE : An wi dee. Du’ll tak care o Maggie fir me.

MAGGIE : An I’ll tak care o him.

TAMMY : Indeed sho will. Sho’s been da mainstay o dis hoose since dee midder died, Guid rest her sowl.

WILLIE : Aye, she’s ower weel.

TAMMY (mock indignant): Ower weel? Sho’s a jewel o a lass, an if I wis twenty year younger I’d a mairried her afore dee.

MAGGIE : Sees du dat? (teasing) Du’d better hurry back, or he’ll cut dee oot entirely, and du’ll hae a stepmidder instead o a wife.

The chorus react to that, shaking their heads.

1: Careful, Maggie.

2 & 3 (whispered echo): Careful -

WILLIE : I’d better be gaun.

He shakes his father’s hand, claps him on the back; a last hug for Maggie.

WILLIE : Here, lass, gie me dee ribbon as a token. (He puts it in his pocket.) Dere, dat’ll keep me safe. (As he speaks the others enter, including the children, who cluster around Maggie as soon as Willie moves away from her; the chorus put shawls over their heads, join their men: Willie’s friend Hakki, Maggie’s brother James.)

Hakki: Come on, den, boy. Sees du dat, James? It’s aye da wye wi dis Merchant Service men. Canna tear dem awa.

James: Joost lik dee in Seville wi dat Spanish lass, den.

Comments from the others. The men gradually tear themselves away in a chorus of ‘Guid be wi dee’; they swing themselves over the steps and head out through the auditorium, the women and Tammy watching as they go. A last wave and they’re gone. The chorus drift back into position; Tammy returns to the house with his children; Elizabeth puts an arm around Maggie.

ELIZABETH : Dinna fret, lass. Dee man’ll be fine.

MAGGIE : Oh, Mam, I hae such a presentiment. I tink I’m nivver gaun tae see him again.

ELIZABETH : Noo, lass, dat’s nae wye tae spaek.

MAGGIE : I’m no a bairn ony mair, tae be soothed wi tales. You ken, an I ken, da wark dir gaun til is as dangerous as can be.

A pause, as she controls herself. Softer.

MAGGIE : You ken what da shances ir dat oot o dis men wir seen aff da day, een or twa’ll no return tae wis.

ELIZABETH : Lass, do you tink I dinna?

MAGGIE (sweeping gesture): An da sea is cruel, and she can swallow even the biggest, finest ship in aa Lerook wi’oot even opening her jaws wide. We could loss dem aa.


MAGGIE : Tomorrow, next week, he could be geen, and I’d no ken. I’d cerry oan da rest o da voar, and da simmer, an da hairst, an da winter, tinkin he wis livin, waitin fir him tae com hom, and no ken.

ELIZABETH (with authority): Dat’s enyoch!

MAGGIE (stubbornly): It’s true.

ELIZABETH : Aye, it’s true. (Pause.) Du’s gaun tae be mairried tae a seaman. (Short laugh) Did du tink it wid be aesy? Du’s seen it aa dee life. Da voar comes, an dey go, (to her face) an dey dinna aa come back.

Chorus 1.2.3 softly, moving back to their spots. And we are left to do the work.

1. Dell da parks and plant da seeds.

2. Milk da kye and maet da hens.

3. Weed da crops and lamb da sheep.

1. Carry their bairns and go through birth.

2. Cook and clean and shoo and mak.

3. Juggle da debts to laird and shop.

ELIZABETH : An tak care o da men whaase sailin days ir done. An cherish da young eens dat canna wait tae go. An support each idder. An keep faith dat he will come hom. Dat da een at goes winna be mine. (Emphatically) Becaas if we didna, we couldna carry oan.

Mime sequence: the cast, including the children, move into working positions, moving about the stage, speaking their lines, building the sound, until Maggie stops.

MAGGIE (passionately) : It’s no fair!

The cast keep working; the chorus surround her.

[LX Harsher white light on the chorus.]

CHORUS : Did you think life would be fair?

1. When has life ever been fair?

2. It never was.

3. It never will be.

1. The rich are struck by plague, just like the poor.

2. The poor work all day and still are hungry.

3. We all die in the end.

1,2,3 whispered, diminishing as they back away: All, all...

[LX Chorus lights off; return to normal outdoor lighting.]

Women pause on stage, stretching backs, rubbing hands across brows.

The men return in the auditorium door, whistling. A moment, then one woman spots them, points them out. Excitement on stage, joy, tweaking of shawls and smoothing of hair and rubbing of cheeks, as they come to look, wave, run to meet their men.

MAGGIE : Quar’s Willie?

The laughter stills; they come towards her, uncomfortable, unable to meet her eyes, almost ashamed of being alive. Her mother comes to her, puts an arm around her; she breaks free.

MAGGIE : Willie –

She looks around at all the faces, closed against her; looks last at Tammy, who has realised his loss, looks steadily at her. A great cry.

MAGGIE : No! (Softer, working into crying) No no no no –

The women surround her, lead her to the house, sit her down; Tammy comes to lay a hand on her shoulder.


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