Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Now We Are Pope

What do you think? A good title? Does it intrigue you or baffle you?  Does it help if I add the strapline: Frederick Rolfe in Venice?

The question arises because we (Arbery Productions) are planning our schedule for next year. We have already booked three slots for a week at the Space on the North Bridge in the middle of August for the Edinburgh Fringe and the middle slot is reserved for a one-man play, written by yours truly and featuring Christopher Annus, about Fr Rolfe. We had given it the provisional title In the Palazzo Marcello, the Venetian residence where Rolfe (pronounced "Roaf") died in October 2013, but we realised that such a title said almost nothing to the general public. So, on Sunday, aided by a bottle of Tesco's finest red wine, we came up with Now We Are Pope. It's a definite improvement on Marcello, but not yet set in stone. Whaddaya think?

Sunday was also the day when we went through the first draft of the script. I was already aware that the ending was weak and wondered what other changes would need to be made. It was a pleasant surprise, therefore, to realise that what I had created was Not Bad, and even the ending needed no more than tweaking. There will be changes, of course, when we start rehearsing in the New Year, but we both felt that we have a good strong play that brings out Rolfe's many idiosyncrasies and which will keep the audience absorbed as more and more layers of his character are revealed.

Frederick Rolfe 
Who? I hear you ask. Of my acquaintances fewer than one in ten have heard of Rolfe, a writer who died in 1913. A slightly greater number have heard of his most famous work - Hadrian VII - in which an Englishman becomes Pope. It was made into a play in the 1960s (and, apparently a short play on the BBC in 1968). This was wish-fulfilment at its most extreme, since Rolfe, a convert to Catholicism, had twice been rejected for the priesthood and never forgave the Church - or rather the Church's servants - for denying him the cloth.

Rolfe's life was almost as eventful in reality as in fiction. A would-be painter, a writer by default, a man who delighted in creating enemies yet who longed for one true friend, a long-term celibate who offered to procure young men, an impoverished self-styled nobleman who wandered the British mainland from the north of Scotland to Southern England, from Oxford to London, to Wales and was most at ease in Venice, where he might be found, homeless and starving, trying to sleep through winter nights in a gondola.

That is the man whom Chris and I are bringing to life. Before Edinburgh there will be try-out performances in London in the spring, as part of a double-bill with Christopher Peacock in another one-man play. Even as you read this, details are being discussed and will be announced shortly. It's good - exciting even - to be back in theatre mode again...

No comments:

Post a Comment