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One Act Plays – Burton in Africa

(4 male actors, minimal sets and props)

Sir Richard Burton, the famed explorer, is on expedition to find the headwater of the Niles. Sick with fever, he has let his incompetent and hated assistant, John Speke, go forward.

Burton

(Doubtful) The Mountains of the Moon… you think you’ve found them?

Speke

And more. Everything we’ve sought. It’s there. Just seven days easy walk from here. The plains you walk through are like Eden, with mango trees and antelope…

Burton

I’m glad you had good hunting.

Speke

As I stood on the shore I thought it must be a landlocked ocean. I took the initiative and named it myself. Lake Victoria, and where I stood, The Gulf of Speke. You’ve never sen its like! The water’s sweet and stretches from horizon to horizon There can be no doubt it’s the Nile’s headwater.

Burton

What!

Speke

I stood there, thinking to myself how pharaohs, emperors, Alexander the Great, all had longed for this moment I now had. To look upon the great Nile’s secret head… How much you and I have suffered, and there it was… spread out before me under heaven’s gaze, as if to say, “I have been hhere always. I have been waiting for you…”

Burton

(to his chief guide, Seedy Mubarak Bombay)

He’s out of his head. He’s hallucinating…

Seedy Bombay

No, Master.

Burton

He reached Lake Tana?

Seedy Bombay

No, Master. It was an ocean of fresh water, as he says. Unlike any I have seen before.

Burton

(Rises to strike Seedy) You’re lying! You’re both lying to play a practical joke on me! (sits, exhauster)  That’s very unkind of you, Jack.

Speke

It’s not a joke.

Burton

Here I lie, feet swollen, eyes nearly blind, while you go off – you who cannot even talk to your bearers but through the offices of Seedy Bombay… The last time you went off on your own you didn’t even succeed in hiring the boat I sent you to get…