A rich, aggressive merchant plots to seize the throne in 18th-century Egoland.
Who can save the country – and the world – from his destructive policies?
We find ourselves in the kingdom of Egoland a few centuries ago. Rich merchant Donald, bored with his empire of taverns, hunting grounds, racecourses and houses of ill repute, and annoyed by repeated demands for the tax he has evaded, decides that his best defence against the kingdom is to seize control of it. If he has a faint inkling that his meddling may destroy his country, and himself with it, that’s just another one of the realities he denies.
Three witches would surely be useful allies in Donald’s lunge for power. We see them first tending their cauldron, dancing round it weaving spells to bring about chaos. But our witches, unlike Shakespeare’s, don’t just announce the action, they enter into it, with three chaotically different objectives.
The first half of the play shows how the merchant seizes power, with an implication that he causes the death of the ailing present king. Then his problems begin. The chief of the witches, Tripsy, demands to become his queen as the price for her support. Her fellow witch, Grinny, is outraged by this betrayal. The third witch, Sandy, is actually an apprentice therapist on work experience, trying to turn the witches’ role to goodness – ‘healers, not harmers’.
Donald attacks every kind of established institution and expertise. The population is confused by allegations and counter-allegations of fake town crying. He instructs his courtiers to invent a mythical lineage to justify his ‘inheritance’ of the kingdom. But his long-suffering servant, Sundry, is quietly developing hidden ways of challenging his power.
Donald’s destructive approach to politics begins to expand onto the international scene as he plans to seize and imprison the queen of neighbouring Oland, who has given shelter to the rightful heir to the throne of Egoland whom Donald has usurped. Queen Tripsy, realising this could plunge them into a fatal war, plots with Sundry to whisk Donald away to secret imprisonment, then tells the people he has suddenly died, and rules in his place.
She instructs Sundry to visit Donald in the secret prison and report back to her on his condition. Doing so reluctantly, Sundry tries to keep Donald occupied with a game of chess, and finds himself teaching Donald the basic rules of human interaction. To thwart Tripsy and restore Donald to power, Grinny tries to rescue Donald, dragging Sandy along with her. But he is now seems too sunk into depression to trust them.
Tripsy is finding it difficult to rule the country, which is in turmoil. Sundry reports back to her just before a council meeting which is besieged by a demonstration outside the palace. She agrees to meet the leaders of the demonstration, who turn out to be Grinny and Sandy. Grinny then reveals that they have succeeded in releasing Donald, and produces him, urging him to take revenge and restore his malicious reign.
But Donald disappoints her by turning out to have been through a process of mental reform as a result of his isolation. He is now seeking reconciliation. It is unclear how Egoland will continue to be ruled, and by whom. Tripsy suddenly proposes appointing Sundry as ruler, and he agrees to take on a caretaker role if King Donald will work towards a transfer of power to democracy. Grinny is appalled at the ‘betrayal’ of Donald’s evil mission, and foretells that another, future Donald will arise to pick up the baton. She demands that Sandy help her find him. But Sandy, having completed her work experience, can now move on to become a therapist, and Grinny is grudgingly persuaded to join the final dance round the witches cauldron to celebrate the restoration of social order