Below is an original “Disaster Melodrama” play script suitable for classroom use by middle school students.
Disaster Melodramas were one of a number of sub-genres of the melodrama form involving natural disasters. These plays were full of escalated tension and heightened emotions. Other types of melodramas included social melodramas, nautical melodramas, gothic melodramas, domestic melodramas, animal melodramas, and sensation melodramas.
This play includes many of the conventions 19th-century melodramas were famous for, including sentimental dialogue, music, heightened emotions, and use of the aside.
Though not essential to a classroom reading or performance, this script also includes staging conventions, including trap doors, gaslights, and footlights.
Stock characters in this play include a villain, a hero, a heroine, a villain’s accomplice, and servant characters. There is even a ghost of ancestors past.
There is plenty of fun to be had with this melodrama script, as students learn about the characteristics of the most popular form of theatrical entertainment in England and America for most of the 19th century.
Melodrama Play for Students
Inferno at Hawthorn Manor
A Disaster Melodrama in Three Acts
“Inferno at Hawthorn Manor” is a gripping three-act Disaster Melodrama designed for a middle school Drama class. Set in the grand Hawthorn Manor during the late 19th century, the narrative unfolds amidst a catastrophic fire that engulfs the manor. Incorporating heroes, heroines, villains, and even a touch of the supernatural, the play employs various melodramatic conventions and staging elements.
Act I: The Gathering Storm
Scene 1: The Ballroom of Hawthorn Manor
The opening scene takes place in the Ballroom of Hawthorn Manor. The set is lavishly decorated to resemble a grand estate’s ballroom, complete with a chandelier, a fireplace, and large windows with heavy drapery. A large table is set with an array of food and drink. Gas lighting illuminates the room, and footlights cast dramatic shadows on the characters.
LORD VALOUR: Age 30, a virtuous and courageous man, dressed in formal evening attire.
LADY EMILY: Age 25, an innocent and kind-hearted young woman, dressed in a sumptuous ball gown.
COUNT VILE: Age 35, a villainous and manipulative man, wearing an ostentatious suit with a top hat.
(The curtain rises. Lord Valour and Lady Emily are centre stage, greeting guests who are mimed by the ensemble. Count Vile lurks upstage, observing the proceedings. Soft chamber music plays in the background.)
Lord Valour: (To Lady Emily) My dear, you have outdone yourself. This ball is the talk of the town, and the setting could not be more splendid.
Lady Emily: (Smiling) Thank you, Lord Valour. I only wish to do some good with the privilege I have been granted. All proceeds tonight will benefit the local orphanage.
Lord Valour: (Nods approvingly) A noble cause, indeed. I dare say your kindness is as radiant as the chandeliers that light this room.
(Count Vile moves closer to the protagonists, eavesdropping on their conversation.)
Count Vile: (Aside, to himself) Ah, kindness and charity! Tools of the weak. There is more wealth here than these fools could imagine, and I intend to make it mine.
(Lady Emily notices Count Vile lurking and addresses him politely.)
Lady Emily: Count Vile, I see you’ve been standing alone. Would you care to join us?
Count Vile: (Feigning a smile) Ah, Lady Emily, you are as perceptive as you are beautiful. I was merely admiring the artistry that surrounds us.
Lord Valour: (Suspicious) Artistry, you say? Or perhaps you were admiring the material wealth that decorates these walls?
Count Vile: (Laughs nervously) Wealth is merely the palette with which we paint the canvases of our lives, is it not?
Lady Emily: (Innocently) I like to think of it as a tool, Count. A tool to build a better world for those less fortunate.
Count Vile:(Curtly) How altruistic of you, Lady Emily.
(Count Vile starts to move away, plotting as he goes.)
Count Vile: (Aside, as he exits) Tonight shall indeed be a gathering storm, but not of charity or goodwill. Tonight, the flames of greed shall consume all.
(Curtain falls as chamber music reaches a crescendo, signifying the looming disaster.)
Scene 2: The Library
The second scene is set in the library of Hawthorn Manor. The room is filled with towering bookshelves, antique furniture, and various artifacts. Dim lighting casts the room in a dark ambience, complemented by eerie sounds that seem to emanate from the depths of the manor itself. Wing lights are positioned to cast ominous shadows on the characters, enhancing the sense of foreboding.
COUNT VILE: Dressed as before in his ostentatious suit and top hat.
SHADOW: Age 40, Count Vile’s conspirator, dressed in dark, nondescript clothing that helps him blend into the shadows.
(The curtain rises. Count Vile is seen pacing near a desk laden with artifacts, examining them with greed in his eyes. Shadow enters from stage left, cautiously. Eerie sounds underscore the scene.)
Count Vile: (To Shadow) You’re late. What took you so long?
Shadow: (Whispers) I had to ensure that we weren’t being followed. This is a risky endeavour, Count.
Count Vile: (Scoffs) Risk is the mother of reward, my friend. Have you procured the layout of the manor?
Shadow: (Produces a rolled-up parchment from his coat and hands it to Count Vile) Yes, right here. The artifacts and the treasury are well-marked.
(Count Vile unrolls the parchment on the desk and examines it with glee.)
Count Vile: (Smirking) Excellent. Once the guests are preoccupied with the ball, we shall make our move. This will be a night to remember.
(As Count Vile speaks, a mysterious, ghostly warning suddenly appears on a bookshelf behind them. This is achieved via a magic lantern, projecting the words: “Beware the Flames of Greed.”)
Shadow: (Startled, points at the bookshelf) Count, look!
Count Vile: (Turns, then scoffs at the warning) Superstitious nonsense. Probably some trick to entertain the guests.
Shadow: (Nervously) Are you sure we should ignore this?
Count Vile: (Resolute) I don’t believe in omens, only opportunities. And this, (gestures at the artifacts and the parchment), is an opportunity we cannot afford to miss.
Shadow: (Still uneasy but nodding) Very well, but let’s be quick about it.
Count Vile: (Smirking) As always. Prepare the tools; we make our move in one hour.
(Both characters exit the stage, Shadow more cautiously than Count Vile. The ghostly warning fades as the eerie sounds reach a crescendo, amplifying the sense of impending doom.)
Act II: Flames and Fears
Scene 1: The Servant’s Quarters
The setting shifts to the Servant’s Quarters of Hawthorn Manor, a more humble but well-kept area with usable furniture and functional items. Practical props, including buckets of water and antique fire extinguishers, are strewn about the stage. Coloured gels simulate the flickering light of the developing fire, gradually intensifying as the scene progresses.
LADY EMILY: Dressed as before in her elegant ball gown.
SARAH: Age 40, Lady Emily’s loyal maid, dressed in period-appropriate servant attire.
JOHN: Age 50, the Butler, also dressed in servant attire.
ALICE: Age 30, another maid, similarly dressed.
(The curtain rises. Sarah and Alice are in the midst of hurriedly filling buckets of water. John is wrestling with an antique fire extinguisher, trying to get it to work. Lady Emily rushes in from stage right, visibly alarmed.)
Lady Emily: (Frantic) What is happening? What is this commotion?
John: (Anxiously) My lady, the manor is on fire! We’ve tried to contain it, but it’s spreading too quickly.
Sarah: (Turning to Lady Emily) Your safety is paramount, my lady. You must leave the manor immediately!
Lady Emily: (Resolute) I cannot leave until everyone is safe. What can I do to help?
(Sarah hesitates, then comes closer to Lady Emily.)
Sarah: (Whispering, with urgency) My lady, there’s something you must know. Your ancestors left a secret treasure hidden within the manor—a treasure meant to aid the less fortunate. It must not fall into the wrong hands!
Lady Emily: (Stunned) A treasure? But how—where?
Sarah: (Mysterious) A secret compartment in the library’s fireplace. Only members of your family know of its existence. It must be retrieved before the fire reaches it.
Lady Emily: (Resolute) I must get to it at once. But what about the fire?
John: (Frustrated, puts down the malfunctioning fire extinguisher) My lady, we’re doing our best, but I fear our efforts are in vain.
(Alice comes running from stage left, carrying a bucket filled to the brim. She nearly spills it, signifying the urgency and chaos.)
Alice:(Panting) The fire’s moving this way! We haven’t much time!
Lady Emily: (Determined) Then we must act swiftly. Sarah, come with me to retrieve the treasure. John, Alice, continue your efforts to contain the fire. May fortune favour us all!
(Lady Emily and Sarah make a hurried exit to stage right, leaving John and Alice to continue their firefighting efforts. The coloured gels intensify, simulating the growing fire.)
(Eerie sounds echo, and the curtain falls, leaving the audience in heightened anticipation.)
Scene 2: The Grand Staircase
The grand staircase of Hawthorn Manor serves as the setting for this climactic scene. The opulent staircase, once a symbol of the manor’s grandeur, now appears haunting under the glow of the simulated firelight. The atmosphere is intensified by sound effects of a crackling fire. A backdrop rotates to gradually reveal a burning setting, marking the manor’s descent into chaos.
COUNT VILE: Dressed as before in his ostentatious suit and top hat.
LORD VALOUR: Elegantly dressed as before in evening attire.
LADY EMILY: Age 25, still in her ball gown.
SARAH: As before.
(The curtain rises. Count Vile is sneaking down the grand staircase from stage right, clutching a bag filled with stolen artifacts. Lord Valour enters from stage left, noticing Count Vile. Lady Emily and Sarah are on the opposite side of the staircase, unseen by Count Vile but visible to the audience.)
Lord Valour: (Confronting Count Vile) Count Vile, what villainy is this? Release those artifacts at once!
Count Vile: (Snarling) Lord Valour, always the righteous fool. These treasures will be much safer with me, I assure you.
(As they speak, a chandelier suddenly falls from above, effectively blocking the path. This is achieved through a trapdoor or flying apparatus for the effect.)
Lady Emily: (Shouting from across the staircase) Lord Valour, is that you? We must hurry; the fire is spreading!
Lord Valour: (Noticing Lady Emily and Sarah, then turning to Count Vile) There are lives at stake, Count. Abandon your greed.
Count Vile: (Irritated but realising the imminent danger) Very well, but this isn’t over, Lord Valour.
(Count Vile drops the bag of artifacts and rushes to exit stage right. Lord Valour moves towards the fallen chandelier, assessing the situation.)
Lord Valour: (Calling out) Lady Emily, Sarah, stay where you are! I’ll find a way around this.
(Lady Emily and Sarah, clutching the bag with the family treasure, exchange anxious glances.)
Lady Emily: (To Sarah) We cannot wait. We must find another way out and ensure this treasure reaches safe hands.
Sarah: (Nodding) Agreed, my lady. Time is of the essence.
(Lord Valour exits stage left hurriedly in search of another route. Lady Emily and Sarah ascend the staircase, exiting at stage right. The backdrop fully rotates to show the manor now entirely engulfed in flames. Sound effects of the fire reach a crescendo.)
(The curtain falls, marking the climax.)
Act III: Smoke and Mirrors
Scene 1: The Sealed Room
The setting changes to a sealed room within the manor. Its opulence has succumbed to the ravages of time and neglect, illuminated dimly to set an eerie tone. A trapdoor is discreetly set at the centre of the stage for the ghost’s entrance. A limelight is prepared to spotlight the ghostly entity when it appears.
LADY EMILY: Now in a slightly charred and tattered ball gown.
ANCESTOR’S GHOST: Ethereal and dignified, draped in period attire that resembles old portraits in the manor.
(The curtain rises. Lady Emily is seen pacing nervously, examining the sealed doors and windows. The atmosphere is tense, filled with the muffled, distant sounds of a raging fire.)
Lady Emily: (Frantic, talking to herself) There must be a way out. There must!
(Suddenly, a spectral glow emanates from the trapdoor at the centre of the stage. Slowly, it opens, and the Ancestor’s Ghost rises into view. A limelight spotlights the ghost, casting an otherworldly aura.)
Ancestor’s Ghost: (With gravitas) Fear not, Lady Emily. I am your ancestor, the founder of Hawthorn Manor.
Lady Emily: (Stunned and speechless, she finally musters the courage to speak) What are you? A figment of my desperate imagination?
Ancestor’s Ghost: (Gently smiling) I am as real as the legacy we uphold. Our manor is crumbling, but you must save its most cherished principles. You have the treasure?
Lady Emily: (Nods) Yes, it’s safeguarded.
Ancestor’s Ghost: (Serene) Good. Then it is time for you to leave. This room was designed with an escape route, a hidden door right behind that bookshelf. (Points ethereally to stage left where a bookshelf is set.)
Lady Emily: (Elated but cautious) Why are you helping me? And why now?
Ancestor’s Ghost: (Reflective) It is a moment of reckoning for our family. Times of crisis reveal our true selves, and you have shown that our legacy of compassion and courage endures. Now go! Ensure it continues to thrive.
(The ghost slowly descends back into the trapdoor, the spectral light dimming until it completely vanishes. Lady Emily, energised and with newfound resolve, rushes to the bookshelf and activates the hidden door mechanism. A door creaks open.)
Lady Emily: (Pausing before her exit, softly speaking) Thank you, my ancestor. Your legacy will live on.
(She hurries through the hidden door, clutching the bag of treasure tightly as she exits stage left. The sounds of the fire diminish, but a low rumble remains, hinting at the manor’s impending doom.)
(The curtain falls, marking the end of the scene.)
Scene 2: The Garden
The final setting transitions to the once elegant garden of Hawthorn Manor, now cast under an uneasy light that mimics the dying embers of the fire. Firefighters, portrayed by extras, are seen in the background, working to subdue the remaining flames. Characters regroup here for the resolution of the play, each emerging from different parts of the stage to signify their varied paths through the crisis.
LADY EMILY: Holding a bag of her family’s treasure.
LORD VALOUR: Looking slightly dishevelled, but steadfast.
COUNT VILE: His ostentatious attire now disarrayed, a look of defeat on his face.
SARAH: Equally weary, but relieved.
FIREFIGHTERS: Extras dressed in period-appropriate firefighter costumes.
CONSTABLE: A minor role, dressed in period police uniform.
(The curtain rises. Firefighters are busy in the background, their actions choreographed to simulate the firefighting efforts. Lady Emily and Sarah enter from stage left, Lord Valour from stage right. Count Vile is ushered in by a Constable from stage rear-centre.)
Lord Valour: (Noticing Lady Emily) Lady Emily, you’re safe! And Sarah, you too, thank heavens.
Lady Emily: (Smiling warmly) Lord Valour, your courage tonight has not gone unnoticed.
(Constable brings Count Vile to the forefront.)
Constable: This is the man suspected of looting the manor, my Lord, my Lady.
Lord Valour: (Sternly) Count Vile, your days of villainy end here.
Count Vile: (Resigned) Ah, it appears the game is up.
Lady Emily:(Opening the bag and revealing its contents) Indeed. And it is fitting that you should know what you attempted to steal—deeds to lands that my ancestors earmarked for the poor and destitute. You weren’t just stealing artifacts; you were stealing hope.
Count Vile: (Showing a flicker of shame) Well, that certainly adds a new layer to my infamy, doesn’t it?
(Sarah steps forward, handing a small box to Lady Emily.)
Sarah: My lady, the charity donations from the event. Despite the chaos, they were saved.
Lady Emily: (Grateful) Splendid. These funds, along with these newly discovered lands, will ensure the charity event achieves even more than we’d hoped.
(Firefighters in the background give a signal to indicate the fire is under control. A collective sigh of relief emanates from the characters.)
Lord Valour: It appears the worst is behind us. And moral order is restored, both in this manor and in our lives.
Lady Emily: (Nods) Yes, and it will extend beyond these walls, reaching those who need it the most.
(Constable leads Count Vile away, exiting stage rear-centre. Lady Emily, Lord Valour, and Sarah take a moment, looking at the remnants of the manor, then at each other, acknowledging their shared trials and triumphs.)
Lady Emily, Lord Valour, Sarah: (Together, lifting their heads high) To new beginnings.
(Curtains fall, signifying the play’s resolution.)
Epilogue: The Ruins of Hawthorn Manor
The ruins of Hawthorn Manor are depicted, scorched remnants and ashen walls standing as a testament to the disaster and the history that unfolded. A projection of a magic lantern is prepared to reveal the ghostly ancestor watching over the characters in the final moments, a spectral visage of approval. This is the denouement, a space for reflection and prospective planning for the surviving characters.
LADY EMILY: Now in more modest attire, reflecting her recent trials.
LORD VALOUR: Also in simpler, yet dignified clothing.
GHOSTLY ANCESTOR: An ethereal projection, appearing only in the final moments for a brief instant.
(The curtain rises on the sombre backdrop of the burnt manor. Lady Emily and Lord Valour stand amidst the ruins, contemplating the aftermath.)
Lord Valour: (Softly, his voice tinged with a sense of sorrow and awe) The end of an era, yet perhaps the beginning of something new.
Lady Emily: (Pausing, absorbing the weight of his words) Indeed, Lord Valour. With destruction often comes the opportunity for creation.
Lord Valour: And what of the charity event? The purpose that initially brought us all together?
Lady Emily: (Smiling, a hopeful undertone in her voice) I believe we can still make a meaningful impact. In fact, now we have a mission not just to aid, but to rebuild.
Lord Valour: Rebuilding is a monumental task. It will take more than just bricks and mortar; it requires resolve and vision.
Lady Emily: And that vision extends beyond these ruins. The deeds I discovered suggest we own lands near the city orphanage that was destroyed last winter. I propose we rebuild both—our manor and the orphanage.
Lord Valour: (Touched, his face lighting up) Lady Emily, you continue to surprise me with your depth of compassion and sense of duty. A home for ourselves and a home for those without one—it is a noble endeavour.
(The atmosphere subtly shifts, and through the magic lantern effect, the ethereal image of the Ghostly Ancestor briefly illuminates the backdrop, casting a protective and approving aura over the two characters.)
Lady Emily: (Feeling the presence, her face softening, though she does not turn to see the image) It appears we have a guardian spirit watching over us. We are not alone in this, Lord Valour.
Lord Valour: (Also sensing the presence, his voice tinged with reverence) No, we are not alone. To new beginnings, then, and to fulfilling the legacies left to us.
Lady Emily: To new beginnings.
(Lady Emily and Lord Valour face the audience, their gaze optimistic yet grounded, as if they see the bright future ahead but acknowledge the weight of the responsibility it carries. The ethereal image of the Ghostly Ancestor fades, but its aura lingers as the curtain falls, ending the play.)