Here is an original seven-scene play for Drama and Theatre students in the style of Antonin Artaud’s Theatre of Cruelty.
Theatre of Cruelty demands a very different treatment to works in other styles. In this play, language is devalued as a communication tool, mostly replaced with stylised movement and dance. Some scenes are surreal, resembling a dreamscape. Lighting and sound play a pivotal role.
To enable the significant implementation of various elements of stagecraft, I have included recommendations for teachers and students for each scene in the areas of lighting design, set design, prop design, sound design, and costume design which can either be used as is, modified, or ignored.
Due to the sometimes violent and shocking nature of Artaud’s exploration of the human mind through movement, dance, light, and sound, this play is only recommended for senior high school students.
In this script with such limited dialogue, stage directions cannot be ignored. Read on the page and download the PDF of the script for free at the bottom. Enjoy!
This Play is Cruel
A Visceral Theatre of Cruelty Play
To embody Artaud’s Theatre of Cruelty, each scene should encapsulate an intense visceral and sensory experience that transcends traditional narrative structures and character development. In this environment, dialogue should be replaced by screams, chants, or physical expressions of primal emotions. Furthermore, design elements should work in harmony to create a chaotic yet deeply immersive atmosphere, invoking discomfort and intrigue in the audience.
Act 1: The Awakening
Scene 1: The Dream
The scene opens in a desolate and foreboding environment. The stage is saturated with jarring, dissonant sounds that instil unease and tension. The lighting is harsh, casting grotesque and exaggerated shadows. The boundaries between the real and the unreal blur as fragmented narratives unfold in a dreamscape.
In a space devoid of the constraints of time and reality, the characters navigate through fragmented memories and surreal visions. They are caught in a loop of disjointed memories and surreal occurrences, marked by their exaggerated and distorted physicality.
Through grotesque movements and vocal distortions, they communicate a language of anguish and confusion, reflecting humanity’s inner chaos. The broken mirror becomes a portal, absorbing and distorting their reflections, an ever-present reminder of the fragmented self.
THE SHATTERED: A representation of broken dreams and fragmented reality, communicating only through agonised movements and fractured, nonsensical phrases.
THE DISFIGURED: A living, breathing canvas of anguish and suffering, their appearance constantly shifting in a grotesque display of humanity’s worst fears.
THE VOID: An embodiment of existential emptiness, moving through the stage as a dark, devouring force, swallowing light and sound.
(The SHATTERED enters, dragging themselves across the stage, leaving a trail of broken mirror shards in their wake. They interact with the shards, their movements conveying a desperate attempt to piece together fragments of a lost identity.)
THE SHATTERED: (With a voice oscillating between a whisper and a scream) I… broken… reflection… shards… scream… see…
(The DISFIGURED enters, their body a canvas of shifting, nightmarish imagery. They move with an unsettling, disjointed grace, their voice a cacophony of agonised and discordant sounds that resonate with the audience on a visceral level.)
THE DISFIGURED: (An amalgam of voices, creating an unbearable symphony) Pain… fear… HELP!
(The VOID makes its presence known, a force of darkness that consumes light and sound, leaving an oppressive silence in its wake. It moves across the stage, interacting with the other characters in a predatory dance that leaves them even more broken and disfigured.)
THE VOID: (A deep, echoing voice reverberating through the audience, shaking them to their core) Consume… Devour… Nothingness…
(Throughout the scene, the characters engage in a violent, chaotic dance, their movements a grotesque ballet that portrays the darkest aspects of the human psyche. The stage becomes a living nightmare, where the boundaries between the real and the surreal blur, leaving the audience trapped in a labyrinthine journey through the darkest corners of their subconscious.)
(The scene ends with a crescendo of shrieking noises and flashing lights, leaving an afterimage of the horrific tableau, a stark reminder of the cruelty and nihilism at the heart of human existence.)
Scene 2: The Ritual
The environment transforms into a sacred ground, embodying a nightmarish ritual site where ancient rituals converge with contemporary narratives. The boundaries between the characters and their surroundings are indistinct, as they, now resembling primal beings, engage in a fervent dance that draws from many cultural myths and traditions.
This visceral dance serves as both a purging of societal masks and a cathartic transition into a profound consciousness. Within this space, primal sounds and rhythmic movements reign supreme, transcending the confines of language and linear time, unveiling humanity’s raw essence, deepest fears, and desires.
THE MASTERS OF CEREMONIES: Grotesque, almost demonic figures who orchestrate a horrifying ritual of human degradation.
THE SACRIFICED: Individuals who have lost all semblance of humanity, caught in an endless cycle of pain and humiliation.
THE WATCHERS: Shadowy figures who observe the ritual with perverse satisfaction, embodying society’s darkest voyeuristic tendencies.
(The MASTERS OF CEREMONIES take centre stage, their bodies contorting into unnatural shapes as they move in a hypnotic, yet repulsive dance. They chant incomprehensible phrases, their voices merging into a sinister harmony.)
THE MASTERS OF CEREMONIES: (With deep, resonating voices that create an unsettling soundscape) Bleed… Suffer… Rejoice…
(The SACRIFICED are led onto the stage, their bodies battered and broken, yet still forced to partake in the horrific ritual. They move with a grotesque grace, their pain transformed into a perverse form of art.)
THE SACRIFICED: (Screaming, crying, their voices creating a harsh mixture of human suffering) No more… Please…
(THE WATCHERS stand at the fringes of the stage, their features hidden in the shadows. They represent the dark, voyeuristic tendencies of society, finding pleasure in the suffering of others.)
THE WATCHERS: (With cold, emotionless voices that echo through the theatre) More… More…
(As the ritual reaches its climax, the lines between perpetrators and victims blur, creating a horrifying tableau of human cruelty and degradation. The audience is confronted with the rawest elements of human nature, forced to bear witness to the darkest aspects of existence.)
(The scene ends with a sickening thud, a sound that reverberates through the theatre, leaving a chilling, unforgettable mark on the audience’s psyche.)
Act 2: The Descent
Scene 3: The Labyrinth
The theatre transforms into an all-encompassing labyrinth, a hellspace that extends beyond the stage, engulfing the audience in a sensory experience marked by intense lighting, sounds, and scents. The characters and audience navigate through this world, lost yet seeking, in a journey that blurs the line between the spectator and the participant, dosorienting the audience. Sounds are magnified to an unbearable intensity, and the scent of decay pervades the theatre, creating a sensory overload that leaves no room for escape.
THE FORSAKEN: Individuals trapped in the labyrinth, their bodies and minds warped by the relentless assault on their senses.
THE BEASTS: Grotesque creatures that stalk the labyrinth, embodying the primal fears and desires that lurk within the human psyche.
THE SHADOWS: Omnipresent entities that manipulate the environment, ensuring that there is no escape from the labyrinthine nightmare.
(THE FORSAKEN navigate the labyrinth, their movements erratic and desperate. They communicate through guttural sounds, their language reduced to primal screams of fear and agony.)
THE FORSAKEN: (With cries that resonate with pure, unadulterated fear) No escape… No hope…
(THE BEASTS emerge from the shadows, their bodies a horrifying amalgamation of human and animal features. They move with a predatory grace, a constant, looming threat that embodies the audience’s deepest fears.)
THE BEASTS: (Growling, snarling, their sounds creating a primal symphony of danger and desire) Hunger… Lust…
(THE SHADOWS manipulate the environment, their presence felt but never fully seen. They embody the oppressive force that controls the labyrinth, a representation of the dark, manipulative forces that govern human existence.)
THE SHADOWS: (With voices that echo throughout the theatre, a constant reminder of the omnipresent darkness) Control… Dominate…
(The scene descends into chaos, a sensory assault that seeks to break down the boundaries between actor and audience, reality and nightmare. The labyrinth becomes a living entity, a place where the darkest aspects of the human psyche are laid bare for all to witness.)
(The scene ends with a crescendo of sounds, lights, and scents that overwhelm the senses, leaving the audience in a state of shock and disorientation, forcing them to confront the dark, hidden corners of their own minds.)
Scene 4: The Confrontation
A raw, unfiltered confrontation takes place where characters defy societal norms and taboos. This scene is an explosion of violent physicality, where boundaries are challenged, and the audience is subjected to a raw, visceral experience that aims to shock and unsettle, questioning the very foundations of society and human nature.
THE AGGRESSORS: Figures who embody the darkest desires and impulses of humanity, their actions a shocking display of cruelty.
THE VICTIMS: Individuals who bear the brunt of the violence, their suffering a testimony to the depths of human depravity.
THE OBSERVERS: Characters who watch the confrontation with detached amusement, representing the apathetic and voyeuristic tendencies of society.
(The AGGRESSORS take centre stage, their bodies contorted into grotesque parodies of human forms. They move with a brutal grace, their actions a horrific dance of violence and cruelty.)
THE AGGRESSORS: (With voices that resonate with pure, malevolent power) Destroy… Devour… Defile…
(The VICTIMS are dragged onto the stage, their bodies bearing the marks of extreme violence. Their movements are pitiful and desperate, a futile attempt to escape the relentless assault.)
THE VICTIMS: (Screaming, pleading, their voices creating a symphony of human agony) Mercy… Please…
(The OBSERVERS stand at the edges of the stage, their bodies flickering in and out of existence. Their laughter is a chilling accompaniment to the violence, a cruel reminder of society’s indifference to suffering.)
THE OBSERVERS: (With cold, mocking voices that echo through the theatre) More… More…
(As the confrontation reaches its climax, the violence escalates to an unbearable intensity. The boundaries between aggressors and victims blur, creating a vortex of cruelty that threatens to engulf everything in its path.)
Act 3: The Revelation
Scene 5: The Mirror Room
In this minimalist setting, the focus shifts to the internal landscapes of the characters. It is a surreal room filled with mirrors, each reflecting not only the physical, but also the deeply buried aspects of each character’s psyche, while the characters confront their deepest fears and desires. The dialogues are introspective, psychological, as the characters navigate the complex terrains of the human mind. The audience is drawn into this introspective space in a visceral, unsettling manner.
THE REFLECTIONS: Ethereal entities that mirror the darkest, most suppressed aspects of the other characters, revealing secrets, fears, and desires in a raw, unfiltered manner.
THE SELF-ACCUSED: Characters confronting their inner selves, a traumatic yet necessary journey into the depths of their own minds.
THE JUDGES: Shadowy figures that emerge from the mirrors, embodying societal expectations and norms, exerting an oppressive force on the individuals undergoing introspection.
(THE REFLECTIONS materialise, emanating from the mirrors, their forms fluid and constantly changing. They communicate through a series of distorted, echoing sounds, creating a soundscape that is both beautiful and horrifying.)
THE REFLECTIONS: (In haunting, resonant tones that reverberate throughout the theatre) See… Feel… Remember…
(THE SELF-ACCUSED stand at the centre of the stage, their bodies racked with the torment of self-confrontation. They communicate through fragmented dialogue, their words echoing the distorted sounds produced by the reflections.)
THE SELF-ACCUSED: (In broken, desperate voices that convey the agony of introspection) I am… I was… I will…
(THE JUDGES appear from within the mirrors, their figures imposing and cold. They bear down on the self-accused, their voices a cacophony of criticism and condemnation.)
THE JUDGES: (In harsh, authoritative tones that create a soundscape of oppression and judgement) Guilty… Unworthy… Conform…
(The scene evolves into a swirling vortex of sound and imagery, a psychedelic exploration of the human psyche. The characters move in a dance that is both chaotic and structured, a representation of the complex, often contradictory nature of the human mind.)
(The scene culminates in a climactic confrontation between the individuals and their reflections, a battle that leaves no room for escape or denial. The audience is left with a profound, unsettling sense of having witnessed something both deeply personal and universally human.)
Scene 6: The Transformation
The atmosphere transitions once more, the boundary between the real and the surreal becomes increasingly permeable. Art forms converge in a climax where dance, music, and visual arts create a holistic theatrical experience. Physicality dominates as the transformation is expressed through vigorous, frenzied movements, transcending the limitations of language and culminating in an intense, climactic dance sequence that signifies rebirth and evolution.
THE ASCENDANTS: The primary characters, now evolved into beings who communicate through exquisite, complex dances, their movements a language more profound and primordial than words.
THE ORCHESTRA: Ethereal musicians who produce a symphony that reverberates through the cosmos, reflecting the harmony and discord inherent in the process of transformation.
THE ARTIST: A figure embodying the visual arts, their canvases capturing the fluid, ephemeral nature of the transformation occurring on stage.
(The ASCENDANTS appear, their forms no longer bound by the physical limitations of the human body. Their dance is an intricate, mesmerising ballet that speaks of suffering, joy, death, and rebirth.)
THE ASCENDANTS: (Moving in a fluid, intricate dance that speaks of unity and divergence) We become… We transcend… We transform…
(THE ORCHESTRA takes position, their instruments not of this earth, but conjured from the elements. The music they produce is both harmonious and chaotic, a reflection of the universal forces at play.)
THE ORCHESTRA: (Producing a symphony that resounds with the birth and death of stars, a melody that encompasses the cycles of nature and time) Hear us… Feel us… Join us…
(THE ARTIST manifests, a figure of shifting colours and forms. Their canvas captures the dance of the Ascendants, a visual representation of the transformative journey undertaken by the characters.)
THE ARTIST: (Creating vibrant, shifting tableaux that echo the movements and melodies occurring on stage) See… Understand… Remember…
(The scene reaches its pinnacle in a climactic sequence where all forms of art merge into one, creating a multisensory spectacle that engulfs the audience in a whirlpool of sensations, evoking profound emotional responses and insights.)
(As the scene draws to a close, the audience is left with a vivid, pulsating tableau that encapsulates the ephemeral nature of transformation, a testament to the potential for renewal and evolution inherent in all beings.)
Act 4: The Resolution
Scene 7: The Return
The play culminates in a return to the dream-like quality of the initial scene, but now infused with a newfound understanding and resolution. The non-linear narrative and intense physicality continue, challenging the audience’s perception of reality and encouraging a deeper, more complex interpretation of the human condition. A labyrinthine garden bathed in the soft luminescence of twilight sets the scene. The fragmented realities and time loops reflect the transformed psyche of the characters who now embody a deeper understanding and acceptance of the complex tapestry of human existence.
THE ENLIGHTENED: Characters who have journeyed through the labyrinth of desolation and emerged transformed, their beings reflecting a harmonious amalgamation of light and shadow, the yin and yang of human nature.
THE GUIDES: Ethereal beings who navigate the enlightened through the new reality, their actions reflecting a delicate dance of guidance and companionship.
THE WEAVER: A mystical entity who weaves the threads of fate and time, their presence a constant reminder of the cyclical nature of life and the interconnectedness of all things.
(The ENLIGHTENED take centre stage, their bodies bearing the marks of their journey — a complex dance of strength and vulnerability, wisdom and naiveté.)
THE ENLIGHTENED: (Communicating through a language of nuanced expressions and movements) We witness… We understand… We embrace…
(The GUIDES emerge, beings of light and sound who assist the enlightened in navigating the new, complex landscape of reality. Their movements are a poetic dance that echoes the rhythms of the universe.)
THE GUIDES: (Communicating through a symphony of celestial sounds and lights) We guide… We protect… We inspire…
(The WEAVER appears, a figure shrouded in the mysteries of time and space. With deliberate and graceful movements, they weave the intricate tapestry of life, intertwining the past, present, and future into a cohesive, ever-evolving narrative.)
THE WEAVER: (With a voice that resonates with the wisdom of the ages) I bind… I create… I transcend…
(As the scene unfolds, symbols from earlier scenes reappear, but now they hold new meanings and depths, reflecting the transformation and growth experienced by the characters. The broken mirror is now a mosaic of experiences, the wilting flower blooms anew, representing the cyclical nature of life and the potential for rebirth and renewal.)
(The scene culminates in a final tableau, a harmonious and serene reflection of the journey undertaken, a testament to the resilience and adaptability of the human spirit. The audience is left with a profound sense of completion, a journey through the labyrinth of desolation that leads to enlightenment and understanding.)