The Speed of Love by Laura Park

This Play is the copyright of the Author and may not be performed, copied or sold without the Author's prior consent

Large sitting room ornately decorated with velvet curtains, feathers
in vases and lamps lit to create a romantic atmosphere.

The back of the stage is divided off with a screen behind which is a
buffet set up for dinner. There are two exits, one on either side of
the stage, to allow for all the coming and going that is about to take

Three small tables, each with two chairs form a triangle, with two
tables downstage right and left, and the third table upstage, centre.
A large gong is hanging next to one of the walls.

Six people (or, if a large cast is available and affordable, several
extras to suggest a larger gathering) mostly aged between forty and
their early-fifties are standing around awkwardly, holding drinks. No
one speaks.

Everyone is sporting a heart-shaped name tag and holding a card with
a list of participants' names.

A Strauss waltz is playing discreetly in the background.

MADAME NASTJA, an imposing brunette in her mid-fifties, wafts in on a
cloud of strong perfume. Music fades as she begins to speak. She has a
strong Russian accent and displays a disregard for definite articles
and other grammatical subtleties. She is alternately threatening and
charming, as the mood takes her.

MADAME NASTJA: Welcome, welcome my friends, to this evening's
Dating Dinner and Dance for over-forties. It is great pleasure to see you all here. In
one moment we begin getting to know each other, but first, brief introduction.
I am your hostess, Madame Nastja, short for Anastasja, or if you prefer, Stasja.
I have all three names written here on my name tag, to remind you - lest you forget.
Now, you are all here in search of friendship, romance, leading we hope, to love. I have
tried to create relaxed atmosphere to allow Amor to do his work. This not easy in speed-dating
where everyone rush rush rush. Still, to ensure successful evening, please observe rules.
When gong is struck, like so, (strikes gong) you go and find first name on list. You have
six minutes to chat. I strike gong again, music start and you dance till music stop. Then
procedure start all over again. Please stick to order on cards, otherwise we have chaos,
free for all, hullaballoo with people shuffling about partnerless. And that will not do.

BARBARA: (Anxiously): Excuse me, Madame Anastasja, may I just
ask something?


BARBARA: What does this mean at the bottom of the card: 'Remember
the Rule of Threes?'

MADAME NASTJA: Ah. Little tip to assist you when conversation
doesn't flow. If you get stuck, ask partner for three favourite songs or for three
adjectives that friends might use to describe him or her etc.

BARBARA: Thank you.

GORDON: What time's dinner, please?

MADAME NASTJA: Nine o'clock in here. Everything prepared behind

PHIL: Do you really need six minutes? There are online dating
sites where you only have a few seconds to decide. Seems to work fine.

MADAME NASTJA: I have found six to be happy compromise. Long
enough to encourage chemistry to flow, short enough to be painless if
no spark fly.

HEATHER: (Whispering to PHIL): I bet it can be interminable if
you're stuck with a crashing bore.

MADAME NASTJA: Six minutes is concession to romance. Romance is
delicate flower that require careful handling. Is easily killed in all this dashing
about. I am not friend of speed. Speed - especially in the not-so-young - is undignified,
clumsy. Unsexy. But, alas, I must move with times. And times dictate we have no time,
not even for love. Speaking of which, is time to start. In interest of good atmosphere, do not
congregate all in one place. We want pleasant, relaxed, comfortable atmosphere. Not station

(Her mobile phone rings.)

MADAME NASTJA: (To group): One moment please. (into phone): Are
you sure? This very inconvenient. Oh well, can't be helped. (To group)
Unfortunately it seems we are one lady short. (Considering) Hmm. What
to do? OK, I will fill in for Susi number four. Men, you can use me to
practise conversational skills. Oh, and Rule Two: no discussion of
work or earnings. Such talk is toxic, deadly, like weed killer on
flourishing relationship. So, now, please go and mingle.

(She picks up gong and strikes it. No one moves.)

MADAME NASTJA: (Impatiently): Well, what you waiting for? Six
minutes not eternity, believe me. Mingle, mingle for heaven's sake.
And please make effort to enjoy yourselves.

(There is a slow shuffling of feet and nervous coughs and laughter as
the group disperse to the exits left and right, with MADAME NASTJA
following, gong in hand.

HEATHER is left standing awkwardly on her own. She consults her list
and looks around the room.

PHIL, a man much too young to be at an evening for the over- forties,
enters stage right and approaches her.)

PHIL: Excuse me, are you Jemima?

(HEATHER points to her name tag).

PHIL: Oh, no. You're not. Hi. Heather. I don't suppose you've
seen a Jemima walking around have you?

HEATHER: Sorry, no.

PHIL: Can't seem to find her anywhere. (Pause) So, who are you
supposed to be chatting to now?

HEATHER: (Looking at her list): Erm. Gordon.

PHIL: Gordon. Ooh, bad sign, that. (Laughs) Gordon. It's never
going to make the top ten of boys' names, is it? No sign of him yet?
Maybe he's run away - with Jemima.

(Laughs at his own joke).

HEATHER: Look, I think I've made a terrible mistake.

(Starts to leave, then stops, because something has been bothering

HEATHER: What's that smell? Like boiled cabbage or something.

(Clatter of dishes falling to floor from behind the screen.

MADAME NASTJA runs on from the left)

MADAME NASTJA: What has happened?

(PHIL and HEATHER point guiltily to the screen; MADAME NASTJA takes a

MADAME NASTJA: Oh no, my Golubtsy. All over floor. You oaf,
butterfingers. Dolt. I said dinner not till nine.

(GORDON appears, chewing and carrying a plate. He has spilt gravy
down the front of his cardigan)

GORDON: I'm terribly sorry. I was starving. I haven't had a warm
meal for weeks. And these stuffed cabbage leaves are delicious.

MADAME NASTJA: Yes, yes. Golubtsy very good. Russian speciality.
But now, get out into room there and find woman.

GORDON: Do you mind if I take my plate?

MADAME NASTJA: (Snatching plate from him): Just finish mouthful
and find partner quickly, please.

HEATHER: Please don't let that be Gordon.

PHIL: (Indicating GORDON): Is that yours?

(Enter JEMIMA, a blonde bombshell. She beckons PHIL over to her. He
can't believe his luck)

PHIL: (To HEATHER and GORDON): Bye then.

(Exits stage left with JEMIMA)

GORDON: (Chewing): Hello.

HEATHER: Hello. Gordon. Erm… Do you want to clean up?

GORDON: Oh. No, it's all right. I'm always spilling dinner down
my front.

HEATHER: Ah. Well. As long as you're comfortable. Shall we sit

GORDON: Hardly seems worth it, really. For six minutes.
Three-and-a-half now. I'm late.

HEATHER: Right, then. Gordon. So - have you ever done anything
like this before?

GORDON: Oh no. It's my first time.

HEATHER: Mine too. (Pause) What are you hoping to find, then?

GORDON: I don't really know.

HEATHER: Any - personal qualities that are important to you?

GORDON: I'm not that fussed.

HEATHER: (Finding this difficult): That's er- good. OK, let's
try the rule of threes. Erm. What are your three all-time favourite songs?

GORDON: Oh, that's tricky.

(He does his best, but despite beginning some promising thought
process, never finishes anything. At least not out loud)

GORDON: Well, there'sand I quite likebut whether it's my
favourite No, it's got to beHmm… Do you think we've got time for this?

HEATHER: Oh yes. There's plenty of time.

(Looks at her watch in dismay)

HEATHER: Still almost three minutes to go.

GORDON: Er, okey dokey. Then I'd choose, let me see, what was the
name of that bloke with the you know on his head?

HEATHER: (Trying to help): Hat?

GORDON: No, no. At the back.


GORDON: No. Hang on a minute, it'll come to me. A long sort

HEATHER: (Increasingly at a loss): Ponytail? Dreadlocks?

GORDON: No, no. You know, what do you call it? More on top.

HEATHER: (Sarcastically): Crash helmet? Toupet? Tiara?

GORDON: No. It's no good. Sorry. My mind's gone blank.

HEATHER: Never mind. How about your favourite holiday

GORDON: (Matter-of-factly): Well, I wouldn't know that. I've
never been anywhere.

HEATHER: Right. So where would you like to go?

GORDON: Nowhere special. I've always been happy at home.

HEATHER: Well then, where is home?

GORDON: Croydon.

HEATHER: (Defeated): Oh.

(Searches around desperately for something to say).

HEATHER: Friends. How would your best friends describe you in
three adjectives?

GORDON: I don't have a lot of friends as such. None, if I'm
honest. (Pause) So, how much longer do we have to do this for?

HEATHER: (Looking at watch; relieved): Actually, our time's
almost up. Gordon, why don't you ask me something?

GORDON: Oh. What sort of thing?

HEATHER: Whatever you like.

GORDON: What, anything?


GORDON: Really? Absolutely anything?

HEATHER: Yes. Go on.

GORDON: Well, if you're sure.


GORDON: (Almost animated): Okay then.

(We see his internal struggle as he tries to get the cogs of his
brain working before he is forced to admit defeat)

GORDON: I can't think of anything. I'm no good under pressure. I
need time.

HEATHER: What on earth are you doing at a speed-dating evening

GORDON: My mother died last year.

HEATHER: Oh, Gordon, I'm sorry.

GORDON: It's okay. She was eighty-five. But now I could do with
a bit of company.

HEATHER: Of course.

GORDON: Mother was always saying I ought to get married. But I
never felt the need when she was there. Now it's just me. It gets lonely. I thought a
wife might help. (Pause.) He throws himself at her feet and clutches her hand) Do
you want to be my wife?

HEATHER: No! No. I'm sorry, Gordon, but I'm not looking for a husband.

GORDON: Why not?

HEATHER: I've got one. I mean I had one. We're divorced. It wasn't a terrible
experience as marriages go. It's just that I'm not necessarily interested in
repeating it.

GORDON: So what are you here for then?

HEATHER: (To herself): I'm beginning to wonder that myself. (To Gordon): Some
friends of mine organised this for me as a birthday present. I turned forty last week, and
they thought it would be - a bit of fun.

GORDON: (Puzzled): Fun. I never thought of that.


(Pause. Looking around, desperately)

HEATHER: Madame Nastja should have sounded the gong by now.

GORDON: This is hard work, isn't it? It wasn't like this with Mother.

HEATHER: So, what did you the two of you talk about?

GORDON: We didn't really. Well, you don't, do you, after years
and years of being together? You sort of just ignore each other. Think your own
thoughts. Get on with your own life.

HEATHER: Sounds like my marriage.

GORDON: (With no irony): Oh, so marriage is not so bad then.
(Pause) Can I ask you something?

HEATHER: (Relieved): Anything.

GORDON: Have we got chemistry?

HEATHER: Er - no.

GORDON: How do you know when you've got it?

HEATHER: Oh, believe me, you'll know.

GORDON: But how?

HEATHER: You'll feel it. It's like being a kid again, like being
all excited about Christmas.

GORDON: I won't miss it then?


GORDON: Let's hope I get it tonight.


(Offstage: the gong is struck)

HEATHER: Thank God.

(Dance music starts up in the background)

GORDON: You don't mind if we don't dance, do you?

HEATHER: No. That's fine.

GORDON: I might get gravy all over you your b-b-b. Bye, then.

( HEATHER exits rapidly stage right.

GORDON consults his list as the other couples return and look around
for their new partners.

PHIL and JEMIMA come on, rearranging their clothing.

Music fades and couples disperse, leaving only PHIL and BARBARA.
BARBARA sits at the table upstage centre. She is holding on to a large
cocktail as though on to a lifeline.

PHIL stands downstage and looks at his list. Then he looks at
BARBARA and smiles to himself.)

PHIL: Dynamic, charismatic. (Approaching the table; cheekily):

BARBARA: I beg your pardon?

PHIL: Dynamic, charismatic, acrobatic, Three adjectives. That's
how my last girlfriend used to describe me.

BARBARA: Oh. (Pause). Acrobatic?

PHIL: Yeah. Given the right circumstances.


PHIL: And what about you, Barbara?

BARBARA: Oh. Well, I've been called 'placid'... 'under-confident'... (animated):
'Good at foreign languages'.

PHIL: Foreign languages?

BARBARA: Yes. I've learnt sixteen of them over the years. It's
Latvian at the moment.

PHIL: So, you like travelling, then?

BARBARA: Not really. I just like languages. Are you a linguist?

(PHIL looks at her and gives a dirty laugh; clears throat and becomes
serious when he sees BARBARA doesn't get the implied dirty joke)

PHIL: Linguist? No. Not me. I'm useless.

BARBARA: Oh well.

PHIL: Yeah. (Pause) Come on, then. Tell us what you like to do
for a good time. I bet you're a real party animal, aren't you?

BARBARA: Oh no. It's been ages since I was last at a party. I
don't really go out much. Any more.

PHIL: Not a lot of common ground between us, is there?

BARBARA: I know. I mean, look at the age difference, for a

PHIL: (Defensively): What about it?

BARBARA: Are you even old enough to be here?

PHIL: (Checking that MADAME NASTJA isn't around): 'Course I am.

BARBARA: I thought you had to be at least forty for this evening.
You look very young. Not much older than my nephew.

PHIL: I'm well-preserved.

BARBARA: (Innocently): The acrobatics, I suppose.

PHIL: Yeah. (Beat) So, Barbara, fancy a shag?

[end of extract]

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