Unexpectedly Vacant – a 25’ opera
by Michael Maxwell Steer
for 3 performers and 3 instrumentalists.


The action is continuous. The section headings refer to the score.


Early evening. A conventional letting agent enters a bedsit apartment, showing it to a sparky young woman carrying a large case.

Agent   So, as I said, it’s unexpectedly vacant. The previous tenant was perfectly happy, but he suddenly got a job abroad and had to leave at short notice. As you can see: it’s in excellent condition, recently redecorated, good bed.


Is the neighbourhood safe? I often have expensive kit.

Absolutely. There are some houses at the back, but it’s residential and quite quiet. New bathroom fittings. Central heating. Is it just for yourself?

Yes. I want some time to myself. Even if it’s a shoe box. I'd rather be alone after … oh, some difficult things.

Agent huffily
This is a lot better than a shoebox!

Maybe, but not bigger! Anyway, I'll take it. Wistfully to herself: Beggars can't be choosers.

Good. Well, we went throu the paperwork at the office.

Who was the tenant before?

Agent sharply

Because there’s no sign that anyone actually lived here. So either they were mice or they trashed it so thoroly it had to be redecorated? And yet … I can't smell paint.

I told you - he was extremely quiet. In the security services I believe. Not here long, before he went overseas – the Far East I heard. Somewhere quite obscure.
Now you sign here. And so, I'll need the first month’s rent and your deposit.

There we are. I'm abroad myself quite a lot.

Ah yes, a photographer. Interesting work, I expect?

It can be. I'm trying to fund a project to photograph the effects of global warming on the deserts of the world. There are some terrible things happening, and I feel it’s all I can do to make folk aware of the implications of carbon usage. Oh, do you want a bank card?

No, there’s no need: we've already run a credit check. Just sign this direct debit – here. Thank you. Fascinating – where do you hope to go? The Sahara presumably?

Oh there are 8 more deserts in Africa alone. Desertification is a process noone fully understands. Did you know there are half a dozen in mainland Europe? And don’t get me started on Asia …!

Well, I never … What you learn! Plenty to keep you busy?
Thank you Miss Shawcross. Enjoy your stay. My card in case you need to speak. Goodnight.



The woman begins to settle in. Putting on the kettle, she opens her suitcase to find a teabag, humming happily to herself.


So! New home, new start –
new day, new heart.
I'm going to be happy here,
and free from fear.

Poor old Theo, poor old love (/sod) …
He just didn’t get it. Just – did – not – get – It … not one iota of it!
Who was it who said: the great tragedy of the world is that women don’t know that men don’t know? Well, I found out the hard way.

Oh, it does make me sad to think what we might’ve had if he'd ever closed his laptop.
Oh well. I can't ever say I wasn’t warned.
I should’ve known, I should’ve seen
he was just a geek with his head in a screen.
Oh, honestly, sending me emails in the same room! Sheesh!

I must’ve been sad; I must’ve been had.
I must’ve been completely mad
to fall for such an obvious fraud.
What the hell: it’s in the past. Let’s look to the future now.

What idiot designed this system anyway –
where men & women don’t have a clue what the other is on about?
Poor old Theo - what a nightmare. Nightmare!
O god, hopeless. Hopeless.
Why did I ever …? What did I think I saw …?
Lame dog & stile maybe? Yet underneath there was a beautiful person.
Oh well. I hope he'll be happy, well, less unhappy without me. Stop!

I've got a new home, new start –
new day, new heart.
I'm going to be happy here,
and free from fear.

A shoebox of one’s own? Not quite what Aunt Virginia had in mind perhaps!
Anyway, it'll look better once I've got my pictures up, I guess …

Kettle comes to the boil. She makes a call on her cellphone

Hey, Pakka! Guess what? I'm in! Just having a cuppa.
In my new home! Yes I did it!
Yep, picked my bags up & walked. You said I never would …
Oh, back of nowhere. Very snug but it suits me pro tem.
Yeah, I've got quite a bit of work. Magazine stuff. Portraits. But you know my big project?
I want to document the effect of global warming on deserts.
Oh, it’s dreadfully serious - & huge! So I've got to do some bigtime fundraising. I just feel if people saw whole towns disappearing, maybe they’d stop & think? I feel so passionate about it. No, well? Fat chance! But I can only try.
How’s Marcus? Could you get him to go & glue poor Theo back together?

Oh no? O shit! O God did you? Oh that makes me feel just awful. Just sitting in the street – without his shoes on? O God, O God, how sad! How infinitely, exquisitely sad. I must try to not feel guilty.
Yeah, I'm fine. Something like that really brings it all back. He may have been an eejit, but you can't spend 3 years without terribly missing someone. O God, O God. I don’t want to cry. Hell, I just miss him.

Look, ask Marcus to play the good samaritan & get hold of my big prints? I couldn’t face the scene involved in taking them.

Hang on a mo’ – I'm looking for the wastebin.

Opens cupboard under sink. In it she sees a sealed black binliner.
    O bloody hell, some moron’s taped it up. Call you back in a minute.

Intrigued, she rings off & picks at it. Inside she sees banknotes.

    Holy Moly …

It’s heavy, but fetching it on the table, she proceeds to open, and picks up a wad of £20.

A thousand …! How many are there here? 2, 4, 6, 8 … wow! Times 50, 60, 70. There must be a hundred thousand. Bloody hell! Enough for my project & then some … a hundred thousand …
OMyGod: it must be hot – and now my prints are all over it.

Why’s it here? What’s it from?
Who knows? Who’s it belong to?
The agent …? Absurd.
The landlord … but why?
The last tenant? No word.
Did somebody die?

It’s a trap, it’s a con.
O God, it’s all wrong.
And why’s it so clean?
It’s suspicious to me.
If they’ve got a key
They'll be back on the scene.

O what’ve I done?
It’s stopt being fun.
Was it used as a hideout?
Shall I call the police?
There might be a stakeout?
I just want some peace.

Think. Think calmly. What are the angles?

Phones again
    Pakka. I've got a question. If you found a lot of money what would you do?
Oh no, not at all. I mean … just found it.§
Well, you know … ‘found it’ … lying around – or, or in the street?
Of course, it’s purely theoretical. Damn, mustn't say that.
O you know, Theo-retical!.
Mm, I suppose so. That’s a point.
Well look, I'll let you get on. Come round - anytime.

Putting the phone down the woman searches obsessively for clues in the flat, opening drawers, looking under the bed, etc. All she finds is a visiting card for AirTree Resources.

    AirTree Resources? Hmm!

After a moment’s consideration, she googles spelling out as she types:

O get on with it. Ozone generating technologies. Taiwan!! Well! I don’t think I'll be calling them. What on earth has this to do with ozone generating technologies?

Was it used as a bribe,
or payment for spies,
a kickback from a deal,
or simply a steal?

I’d think I was dreaming
it’s all so unreal –
a practical joke –
but I know that I spoke
to my friend and was scheming.
Now it’s fear that I feel.

I’m sure that at least
I should call the police –
But does anyone care
if the money’s still here?
Bloody hell! Whyn’t I take it,
& just disappear?

If I ‘suddenly got a job abroad’
Who could accuse me of fraud?
If I were just to disappear
would anyone think it queer?
My parents would know where I was,
but nobody else could care less.

What are the chances of being caught?
If I think it throu carefully, then surely I ought
to be safe? And then, when I've bought what I need
and might be being sought, go abroad with all speed.
I'm not being thoughtless. The battle’s really on:
time’s short to save the planet, and it must be won.

This money would exactly finance my project.
I don’t see how anyonelse could object?
In fact it’s the least they ought to expect.
I'm beginning to think it’s an exciting prospect.

Looks around for a hidden camera
    Aargh! Suppose I'm being set up for a reality tv show?
OMyGod. What if the flat’s bugged, and they know already that I've found it?

Suddenly a bullet smashes a window pane, and pings out the light above her head. She screams, and in the semi-darkness we see her slam the bulging case shut, and replace the wastebin under the sink & struggle out, but in the bustle what we can't tell whether she’s returned the money or taken some or all of it.


When the lights go back up the agent is entering with a new prospective tenant (mute role).

Agent drearily   … so, as I said, it’s unexpectedly vacant. The previous tenant was very happy here, but she suddenly got a job abroad, and had to leave at short notice. As you can see: it’s in excellent condition, recently redecorated, nice furnishings, good bed.

As the tenant begins to respond fade lights

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