The school children are coming back on the first day of term after the long holidays; there are three school gangs: Raffers, Ditchas and Teenos. Everyone sings of how much better life could be ‘if only….’; in response to each wish, Mephistopheles appears, surrounded by devilish creatures, offering a contract, which one by one, children sign. Joanna Fossett is seen alone with her own ‘If only: “if only I could persuade them to fight against poverty, care for the Earth, judge each person by their true worth”. Mephistopheles appears but fails in his attempt to tempt her.
The class start coming into their classroom in their three gangs of Raffers, Teenos and Ditchas. We meet Joanna’s friends – Helen, teased for being a swat, Gretchen for being messy, and Maggie for coming from a poor family. Their PSHE teacher, Dr Dee enters and the class is clearly frightened of her. Joanna arrives late recounting her meeting with Mephistopheles, who Dr Dee says comes from Hell and works for the devil. It turns out that most of the class have signed contracts with Mephistopheles. As the only ones who haven’t signed a contract, Dr Dee sends Joanna with her friends Helen, Gretchen and Maggie down to Hell to fetch the contracts back. She summons up a demon, Asmodeus, to show them the way.
A barren hilltop outside town. The animals that work for Mephistopheles enter. They are exhausted after a hard day’s work. Mephistopheles enters and sings of his skills at temptation. His self-satisfaction evaporates when Crow enters and tells him that Joanna and her friends are coming down to Hell to get the contracts back.
Mephistopheles is fired up: ‘watch your step, Joanna Fosset, ‘cos there’s a line and you chose to cross it’.
A dark and dreary place on the way to the bottomless pit. Asmodeus enters followed by Joanna, Maggie, Gretchen and Helen. Asmodeus sings his song: ‘Every silver lining has a cloud’. There follow a series of temptations: in the first, Maggie is tempted by penniless consumers and Credit Angels to sign a Mephistopheles contract for ‘cash unending’. In the second temptation, Helen is drawn into a talent show by teen band Mixed Up Kids, and ends up winning, thereby signing a Mephistopheles contract. Finally, in the third temptation, Gretchen is led astray by smokers, drinkers and boys. ‘Hard work is not something our peers ever praise, and in the long run we’re dead’ she sings, signing a Mephistopheles contract.
Imps, the administrators of the Devil’s domain, are busy typing at their desks, sorting through contracts, or filing them away in filing cabinets. Mephistopheles enters, and later the Devil, who turns out to be Dr Dee. Mephistopheles is chastised for not tempting Joanna Fossett, but the Devil insists that ‘everyone has a weakness, you just have to find their heart’s desire’. The Devil manages to identify Joanna’s ‘if only’: if only people just did the right thing, if only Joanna could persuade them. As the Devil puts it:
Free will is a bad idea if people aren’t mature
and power can’t corrupt if you are absolutely pure.
I’ve seen a lot of sinners, and about one thing I’m sure:
good intentions pave the road to paradise.
Joanna leaves Hell determined to change the world, and the Devil is confident of success at having correctly identified her ‘if only’.
Joanna muses over her encounter with the Devil on the way back, troubled by the implications of her plan – ‘something’s not quite right’.
Back in the classroom, the Raffers, Teenos and Ditchas are hanging around. Maggie, Helen and Gretchen have been long back. All are now wondering where Joanna has got to. Joanna returns, with all the contracts from Hell, and encounters Dr Dee (who is confident of success). But she realises that rather than using the contracts to change the world, she should ‘give other people their due and acknowledge the reasons why they make mistakes’. She sings of how ‘What matters is not all the errors you make but whether you learn to do better’. Joanna’s classmates join in, while the exasperated Devil/Dr Dee sings ‘If only I could persuade her’!
Cast & instrumental ensemble
Joanna – an earnest young woman
Maggie, Helen, Gretchen – three girls who sit at the front of the class
Jem – one of the Raffers
Sash – one of the Teenos
Jagz – one of the Ditchas
Choruses of Raffers, Teenos and Ditchas
The Devil/Dr Dee – The Lord of Evil, disguised as a PHSE teacher
Asmodeus – A demon, summoned by Dr Dee to guide Joanna
Mephistopheles – A demonic sales rep
Scrunchwing – a senior bat, Mephistopheles chief assistant
Wibblestretch – A bat, apprentice to Scrunchwing
The Crow – Mephistopheles’ area manager
Burp – Chief of the Infernal Bureaucracy
Choruses of Bats, Scorpions, Toads and Imps
Clarinet in Bb, dbl. piccolo & bass clarinet
Trumpet in Bb
Percussion (1 player)
Good Intentions was commissioned by the W11 Children’s Opera Trust. It was first performed on the 15-16 December 2012 at the Riverside Studios, Hammersmith, London, by W11 Opera for Young People, Music Director Philip Sutherland.