Neil Coppen

writings/ plays/ poetry/musings/travel journals and newspaper columns

3 shorts extracts from ‘TIN BUCKET DRUM’



The table is turned to form a podium, and the narrator now slinks into the light as the tyrannical Censor wearing Military hat. The use of under lighting casts a looming shadow onto the behind screens. The Censor speaks in nonsensical evangelical rhyme. Gesticulating wildly and pounding fists on the podium for additional emphasis.

* Visual reference: Norman Catherine’s terrifying comic Apartheid policeman.

Censor: Good citizens, I have summoned you all to this urgent meeting

For it has come to my attention

That once again the silence has been disturbed

Censor whacks the table for emphasis, percussionist provides the sound.

By a hearts… Beat!… Beat!… Beating!

On each utterance of ‘Beat’, ‘beat’, ‘beating’ -He bangs fist on podium and percussionist accompanies him with drum

And it’s this, this Beat, Beat, Beating

This unlawful

Silence defeating


That has caused you all to stop,

With blatant disregard and in defiant fashion

Awaken and regard

Your own false and foolish passion

Good people of Tin Town -Who has led you to depths of such Sin?

Who has unleashed The Tyrannical beat the Rhythmic Devil’s?

The percussionist growing a bit cocky, rolls drums for emphasis, the Censor shoots him a disapproving glance to which he quickly shuts up.

That sounds and pounds within?

Who is it that sits amongst us today…. Eh?

He scans the audience suspiciously

Pulls you into this depravity

Who dares to challenge the Almighties

Sacred and Silent Decree?

Who is it that chooses to threaten this state?

Defy our leader?

Place our sacred silence in danger!

Another fist on podium and drum beat.

We must find the courage, good people

Weed out the culprit

Sniff out the stranger.

He sniffs into the audience, then something catches his eye.

Wena (who is it)? Woza (come here)

He motions for the culprit to come forward with a twitching finger. Silence as Nandi offers the child forward. He takes it carefully, holds his ear to the babes breast. A heart beat pounds proudly (3x), he looks up at the audience- appalled.

This….this…. child?

How can something so small, so harmless, make a racket so awful

Such an insolent heart beat in one so young

Is not just unnatural……. It’s unlawful!

It’s shameful, a disgrace

When children born into ‘Tin Town’

Do not obey the rules, the laws

When children do not know their place!

He bangs his fist on ‘Place’. The lights snap to an alternate state as the Censor switches to Nandi by taking off hat and turning her back to audience with pleading outstretched arms.

Nandi: I will teach her then, Give me time! She’s barely four weeks old. She has much to learn about the ways of this Town.

Then back into the unimpressed Censor staring down at her.

Censor: In order for this child to stay

From us all, she must be hidden away

And with each and every passing day

Offer her a hand- strong and stern

Guide her along her Silent way

I recommend then

…that to make a start

You crush the unlawful rhythms in her soul

Silence the beating of her heart!

He bangs his fists a final three times on the podium. Lights fade.


We revert to a flashback- Umkhulu disappears behind the screen, re-appearing as the Censor. This time he dissolves menacingly through the gauze screen- back lit by a red light. He is accompanied by frenzied percussion that weaves in and out of his speech.

Censor: Good citizens of Tin Town, I bring good news

The way of the Silent Sir, you can’t refuse

A life free of all this Rhythmic sin

Free from the persuasive Rhythms that tempt you from this tin


Making monsters from the mundane

Stirring ancestors from their graves to inspire REVOLUTION



A sacred relative to ritual

Inspiring, unlawful, ungodly behaviors

Dancing ……Drinking …Promiscuity



That devours, consumes and ravages

Obscuring the mind

Turning you to wild undignified savages!

Good people, weed out your instruments of mass disturbance.

Rid this town of its cultural plague.

Burn the Story books, the dictionaries, the drums

Silence the laughter, the whispers, The songs

For the Almighty Silent Sir, HE HEARS ALL

Silence is the way to your salvation

Without it you fall

‘Good people

‘To drive the devil and his music from your town

To silence the noise in your hearts

You must first close the ‘Mine’ and ‘Bucket Factory’ Down


The narrator appears from various points behind the central table, playing three gossiping town members.

Person1: It’s the work of the devil!

She’s an incarnation of evil

Breaking our silence

With that Rhythmic upheaval

Person 2: I’ve heard her before

Tapping on fences

Rattling tins in the shed

This child has demons

Tormenting her heart

Tormenting her head

Person 3: She’s Mad

She’s Distressed

She’s Wicked

She’s Possessed

The neighbors chatter wildly as the Censor rises menacingly to his podium accompanied by military drums.

Censor: ‘Good people calm yourselve’s, Calm yourselves’

‘I have decided, that it be only fair

In the interest of ‘ALL’ of our safety

To remove this Nomvula from her mother’s care.

It is now the responsibility of this state

To aid her in a sufficient recovery

In other words………

With watchful eye, and beady ear……


Wena, Woza!

The Little Drummer Girl’ accompanied by her trembling mother step forward.

Censor: After much consideration,



It has been decided that the child is to be sent away.

Made to sleep by the well on the outskirts of the town.

Each day she will be forced to carry out an arduous form of community service, she will be made to do this until the first rain falls’

Censor switches to Nandi, by taking off hat and turning back on audience

Nandi: ‘But it has not rained in twenty years. She’s only a child, my only child.’

Then back to censor

Censor: We must Stop her before she commits further sin

Ticks one more pencil

Rattles one more tin

Stop her before she’s allowed to strike one more unruly blow

My mind has been made

The little drummer girl


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