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The script contains many contrasting elements. A very striking and unusual example, preceded by farcical events and followed by farcical events but with a central dimension of horror, is discussed in Frozen clothes, a truce and modern art.
Many of the developments in the play have an unexpectedness, an incongruity, and although there's a continuous story, there are also sudden and unexpected changes of tone. These are integrated into the fluid and continuous action so that all the events, even the most unexpected, seem inevitable. This is a view of reality according to which stability, continuity and consistency can't be taken for granted - in events, but also, to an extent, in human personality. There may be irruptions of unexpected violence, irruptions of beauty, 'epiphanies,' tragedy suddenly giving way to farce, common-sense succeeded by a refusal to face reality, deep irrationality co-existing with practicality. The world of the play is exceptionally varied, including the grotesque and the deranged, extreme and nightmarish experience, completely normal experience and conversation, but above all good humour in abundance.
The incongruities in the play reflect the incongruities of life. Some of them are not much more surprising than the incongruities of real life. In the final scene of the play, after scenes conducted in dim light or darkness lit by lamps, theres bright sunshine and in this Himalayan scene theres a beach shelter with a colourful striped wind-break as a background. Mother sits in a deck-chair. Incongruous items have found a place in mountaineering sometimes, as in the successful Italian expedition to Everest in 1973. At Base Camp the leader had a carpeted five-roomed tent equipped with leather upholstered furniture. (Walt Unsworth, Everest.) There are also incongruities which are purely farcical, such as the episode which immediately precedes this one, an interpretation of the stage direction in The Winters Tale, the exit of Antigonus pursued by bear. The pursuit in this play is different. Both victim and bear are tired out and suffering from the effects of high altitude. They have to stop twice to recover their breath before the pursuit resumes - but then there is a sudden transition to ferocity.
In the first scene, which takes place in a hall in Las Vegas, the hall is dark and dismal and the inadequate lights fail - not the associations of Las Vegas and its bright lights. The fight in this scene is not between two boxers but between a boxer and a wrestler, and the referee isnt at all impartial. In one round, he keeps hitting the wrestler. Junkies, in the squalid urban setting of an underground car park, use their paint cans to spray very surprising graffiti on a wall.
In the play The King, an unsuccessful boxer, tries to become a concert violinist. Pressure is applied by his mother, his devious manager, Kiddo, and a crooked violin teacher. Later, in the Himalayas, Kiddo attempts an even more unlikely transformation for him, after the arrival of a bear, which Kiddo takes to be the Abominable Snowman. The King never speaks in the play, except, supposedly, for two words in the closing seconds, but it's some time before the audience will realize that he's no conversationalist. In the first scene, he is boxing, and boxers aren't expected to speak during the match. In the second scene, he's in desperate circumstances.
Although the play is predominantly light, it's essential in performance that the serious elements should be given enough weight. The piece should not be played in a whimsical or facetious way, not excluding the dialogue. The one exception is some banter near the beginning of Act 2.
The opening boxing/wrestling fight, conducted in half-light, has farcical elements, but these are contrasts within a deadly serious confrontation. (The wrestling in Ken Russell's film of D. H. Lawrence's 'Women in Love' is a suitable guide, although the boxing/wrestling match covers a greater area and should be amongst other things a display of very vigorous athleticism.) When The King appears to have been mortally wounded and his grieving mother is by his side, then the grief should not be mock grief. This will make the contrast which comes unexpectedly all the more marked. In Scene 2, which shows The King as a vagrant, his condition should be shown as shocking, his distress and destitution very graphically portrayed, even if the conclusion of the scene is comic. The plight of the junkies should be conveyed just as strongly. The gunfight should be shown as a determined confrontation, but not for long. It ends in pure farce, when Vic the Vegan uses progressively more powerful weapons but his aim is ludicrously bad. Violence is shown with full intensity in a later episode, in the artillery bombardment which precedes the truce.
When the King meets his first girlfriend, in grotesque circumstances, their embraces should be romantic and then more and more erotic. When the bear (or Abominable Snowman) is dying, this should be depicted with poignancy, as if this is a pet. The bear attack near the end of the play should be ferocious, without any admixture of farce. Kiddo, in a dismal hall in Las Vegas, should not show comic frustration but real frustration, disappointment verging upon panic, and despair at the poor results of his venture, even if his spirits lift very quickly. The poetic elements which irrupt into the play in Act 2, just as strikingly as the violence, should be deeply realized.
Vic the Vegan should be played as an incompetent buffoon as well as a violent and dangerous psychopath. This accentuates the contrast when a transformation takes place at the beginning of Act 2. He becomes The Guide, reflecting poetically. There are other transformations in this act. For example, the beach shelter - used instead of a proper tent and a very incongruous thing to find in the Himalayas - becomes transformed into a thing of beauty.
I've given a great deal of thought to form and structure, but in such a way as to eliminate very often the predictable. The unexpectedness of events includes events which occur unexpectedly and events which are expected and don't occur. In an essay on Arnold Schoenberg, Theodor Adorno wrote 'This absence of all mediations introduced into the work from outside makes the musical progression seem fragmented and abrupt to the unnave-naive listener ...' The dramatic progression of this play involves abruptness and a degree of fragmentation.
At the same time, there are recurring events in the play, which help to unify it, such as the appearance of The King's mother, managing to find him in whatever part of the world he is, and two chases which have similarities, although in very different circumstances - around the boxing ring and in the Himalayas, when the bear pursue Kiddo. The play is unified too by other elements - recurring fighting and conflict, and recurring sporting activity. There's boxing and wrestling, cross-country skiing, climbing - abseiling - and football.
The play has been produced by an amateur group, very successfully, although the script was very different from the revised and extended version given here. Even though much too old for the part, I played The King.
('The King' is usually abbreviated as 'T.K.')
The hall is very dark, lit by only a single small sign 'Vegas.' This isn't Las Vegas of the bright lights. Kiddo, The King’s manager, finds that most of the equipment in the dismal hall he has rented for the fight has been removed by bailiffs but the mat has been left. The chorus enters. They are spectators at the boxing match. The chorus can be few or many in numbers, depending on availability and finances. Here, there are four members of the chorus. Kiddo announces the name of the boxer, 'The King,' who bounds into the ring with massive energy. Next, he gives the name of his opponent, Vic the Vegan. When Vic enters the ring, it’s obvious that there has been a bad mistake. Vic is a wrestler, not a boxer. He shouts abuse at his incompetent manager, who remains out of sight. The manager has a habit of arranging completely unsuitable contests for him. After Vic gives a little homily, Round 1 begins. In this round, Vic has the advantage, bounding around the stage athletically and frustrating every attempt by the slower-moving King to hit him. In Round 2, Vic has the advantage again. The referee - far from impartial - repeatedly hits him. The Referee is Signor Capone, Kiddo's associate. In Round 3, Vic has the advantage to begin with but the referee hits him again and this time, Kiddo joins in the assault. The King, the referee, Kiddo and then the members of the chorus chase Vic in diminishing circles and fall on him. Vic the Vegan manages to extricate himself, pulls out a gun and shoots The King. . Despite lying flat on the floor, T. K. is declared the winner by the referee. Vic protests and then exits. T. K.'s mother enters - as she does at crucial moments throughout the play - and grieves over her stricken son. Kiddo, however, finds that he has simply over-reacted and is very much alive. Mother berates him for remaining in boxing. T. K., mother and Kiddo exit.
Scene 2. Speaker’s Corner, Hyde Park
Vic the Vegan speaks about his beliefs. The members of the Chorus are the hecklers, but they soon warm to Vic and are sorry when he exits. The Octogenarian has also been heckling, but is eventually outwitted. T. K. enters. He has been reduced to destitution, as his mother had predicted in Scene 1. A busker appears who plays Irish fiddle music and is very successful at taking money. T. K. improvises a drum, and plays to the music. One by one, the members of the Chorus begin to dance in an Irish folk style. (The dancing needs instruction and practice, and can be omitted.) T. K. steals the violin. His mother enters and orders him back home.
Scene 3. At home
T. K.'s mother and his manager, Kiddo, discuss, in his absence, his future. The mother tells of her yearnings. She would like him to have a cultural or intellectual career. As he now owns a violin, why should he not become a concert violinist? Kiddo finds this suggestion an interesting one. He would very much like to become his artistic manager. As luck would have it, he has a friend who ‘teaches the violin good. One of the best. Signor Capone. He only lives round the corner. I’ll give him a ring.’ He leaves to phone him. Very soon, Signor Capone arrives, carrying not a violin case but a viola case. He explains that he deals in violins as well as teaching the violin. He’s contemptuous of the violin (because it’s ‘out of tune’) and shows the mother the instrument he has, a Stradivarius, he claims. The mother asks, ‘Are you sure that it is a violin, Signor Capone? It looks much too large to be a violin. Isn’t it some other instrument of the string family?’ Kiddo replies for Capone, ‘Stradivarius made this violin specially for boxers, see? Boxers have big hands, an ordinary violin would be too small for them.’ Exorbitant terms are agreed for the purchase of the ‘violin’ and arrangements are made for violin lessons. Capone is persuaded to give T. K, a short lesson immediately, with Kiddo but not mother in attendance. During the lesson, T. K. hits himself hard and seems to be knocked out. After the lesson, a change of name for him is suggested and adopted. Mother is blissfully happy.
Scene 4. The Concert
The setting is almost identical to the dismal hall in Las Vegas where the boxing match took place. This hall, though, is at Salzburg - the Salzburg Festival Fringe. Kiddo admits the audience, played by the Chorus. They are Austrians and wear evening dress. They react badly to their surroundings, and to the lack of chairs but almost immediately they show that they are good-natured, in fact, high-spirited. Kiddo apologizes for changes to the programme. The very ambitious programme has been reduced. The Beethoven, Brahms, Mendelssohn, Tchaikovsky and Berg violin concertos aren't being offered. The conductor has phoned in to say that he's sick. The orchestra has also phoned in to say that they're sick - all of them, it seems. However, The King is here, and he'll be playing just one work, or one movement from a work, accompanied by a recording.
T.K. enters, dressed immaculately for the occasion. He handles the violin like a professional, puts it to his chin and waits for his entry, whilst the recording is played of the orchestral introduction to the Beethoven violin concerto. When the time comes for him to play, he's helpless. Kiddo calls 'Prompt!' The violinist who was the busker plays the first few bars of the soloist's entry.
Vic the Vegan now enters. His hopeless manager has blundered again and booked the wrestler into a classical music concert. Vic sees his enemy and draws a gun. Vic has other weapons as well - he’s armed to the teeth. A loud and protracted gun battle now follows. T. K. manages to take a weapon after some hand-to-hand fighting. The gun battle is bitterly fought and T.K. has both arms injured. Towards the end of the battle Vic, after using progressively larger weapons - a handgun, a mortar, what seems like the barrel of a field-gun - is shown up as incompetent again. He can’t manage to hit T. K. and Kiddo even at point-blank range.
Scene 5. At home
Mother and Kiddo discuss the concert and ways of furthering T. K.’s career in music. His social development is then discussed. It's agreed that this is holding him back. Kiddo exits. The Mother, embarrassed, calls her son and gives him a severely technical explanation of human reproduction. Before doing that, however, she asks him to play the violin for her. She's anxious to find out how much progress he's been making. Since he has not one but both arms in a sling, he finds this difficult. She tries hard to make him play, and accuses him of only pretending to have his arms injur
Scene 6. Interviews for the post of girlfriend
Mother has placed an advertisement in the personal columns of the local newspaper and those who responded have had to fill in an application form, as if applying for a job. The mother, with her son, now interviews the candidates, all of them members of the Chorus.
Candidate 1 screams (out of sight) as soon as she sees T. K. Mother is deeply hurt. Candidate 1 exits. Candidate 2 bursts out laughing (out of sight) as soon as she sees T.K. Candidate 2 exits. Candidate 3 is warned by mother that if she is successful, she will have a very hard time (later, she says that this is because of the manager.) The response of this Candidate is heartening. She will accept any number of difficulties. She soon finds there has been a mistake. She was under the impression that she was being interviewed for a post with a computer company. She insults T. K., the atmosphere is suddenly acrimonious and she exits. Candidate 4 makes no reply to any of mother’s questions. Mother becomes increasingly exasperated and says that she's unfit to be a girlfriend for her son, although, of course, in her silence she’s the exact counterpart of him. Candidate 4 exits. Candidate 5 is very pleasant but is soon antagonized and exits.
Candidate 6 almost glides into the room and gazes into T. K.’s eyes longingly. He returns the look. He still has both arms in slings but rips the slings off. When mother accused T. K. of pretending to be injured, she was not callous but perfectly correct. Soon, Candidate 6 and T. K. are embracing passionately. There is a prolonged, passionate, erotic exchange. They exit, arm in arm. Mother has watched all this in growing desperation. She shouts after him, “Don’t go! Don’t leave me!”
Scene 7. In the vegan restaurant
There is a diner (a member of the Chorus) with Vic in attendance. Vic, as often, is in a murderous mood. The diner makes a criticism of the food and Vic immediately shoots her. Her face falls into the dessert. Vic drags the diner out of sight. Mother, Kiddo, Capone, The King and Anne, who was Candidate 6 (now his fiancée), enter and sit down. Vic is surprisingly amiable, despite outspoken comments about the menu. Soup is ordered. Whilst it is being fetched, Capone is shown as completely ineffectual, the victim of Mother’s and Kiddo’s scheming. Anne is obviously a very compassionate person. She has an interest in rescuing stray animals. Vic brings in some sea-vegetable soup but spills it down his trousers. Kiddo: “Waiter, there’s soup in your fly!” Anne is very sympathetic. She exits with Vic. T. K. is distraught. He exits, together with mother, Kiddo and Capone.
Scene 8. The car park
The scene is dismal but
demonic. There is a wall with graffiti. The members of the chorus, now junkies,
enter and spray on words which were carved in the Temple at Delphi, the site
of the oracle, the original words and their translations:
The octogenarian Priestess (the octogenarian of Scene 2, Speaker’s Corner) is standing with head bowed. The mood is intensely charged. Mother, The King, Kiddo and Capone enter. The Priestess addresses them with cryptic warnings which predict, accurately, the events at the close of the play. All exit.
Scene 1. The Himalayas - a pass.
The Guide addresses the audience, setting the scene with a poetic evocation. There has been a metamorphosis. The guide is played by the actor who in Act 1 played the part of Vic the Vegan. He is now wise and profound. The King shuffles on stage, wearing cross-country skis. The sound of Sherpa singing can be heard. Kiddo enters, followed by the Leader of the Sherpa girls and then the Sherpa girls themselves. After some harmless banter between the Leader of the Sherpas and Kiddo, the Leader and her Sherpas exit.
Scene 2. An episode - conflict and a truce.
Kiddo feels very cold. He also finds the need to have a change of clothes. They haven't been changed since they left Kathmandu. He asks The King to get the clothes and the tent out of the rucksack. The spare clothes amount to four pairs of trousers and four shirts. The next events to take place are described in a separate section, Frozen clothes, a truce and modern art: an episode in the play.
Scene 3. After the truce, and entry of mother.
The King erects, not a proper tent, but a beach shelter. This is a further incongruity in the play - a beach shelter in the Himalayas.
At this point, mother enters. As in some previous scenes, she has been looking everywhere for her son, but her entry now is far more dramatic. There are various possibilities. (1) She abseils down a wall onto the stage (2) She swings on to the stage at the end of a climbing rope, like a human pendulum. Although neither operation is at all dangerous, with proper precautions, (3) mother can simply enter on foot, carrying a coiled climbing rope.
Mother, son and Kiddo get into the beach shelter. Light grows dimmer. Dusk is falling, then night. A lamp is turned on. The shelter is filled with soft, diffuse light and the scene is one of beauty. The Guide enters and speaks - a poem about falling snow.
Scene 4. The entry of the bear
A bear enters. T. K. looks out and tries to communicate what he has seen. A few moments later, mother and Kiddo see the bear for themselves. The three get out of the shelter as fast as they can. Kiddo shouts out that this is the Abominable Snowman, and then “Catch him!” The bear tries to get away. Kiddo shouts out, “Halt, or I shoot.” He’s reminded that bears don’t understand English, repeats the warning in German and then shoots. The bear falls but is only wounded. Kiddo claims that the bear is the Yeti, the Abominable Snowman. With T. K.’s assistance, he alternately tries to put the bear out of his misery and to save his life, all the alternations taking place in a mysterious and protracted state of great poignancy. Eventually, the bear dies. Kiddo drags him into the tent and asks T. K. to go inside as well. Mother is bewildered. The bear emerges again quite soon. Mother is even more bewildered. Kiddo explains that he has skinned the Yeti and put T. K. inside the skin. Kiddo is completely fed up with The King. He's a freak, completely useless, no good to man or beast but useful, perhaps, as a beast. He's going to sell him to a zoo. They will pay a good price for a genuine Yeti and Kiddo will at last make the money which T. K. failed to generate as a boxer or as a concert violinist. “Over my dead body,” she protests. “Exactly,” Kiddo replies. He grabs hold of her and begins to pull her towards the edge of the stage. The bear charges Kiddo, who releases his hold. The bear slashes Kiddo with his claws, producing shocking and bloody wounds. Kiddo falls. The bear grabs hold of him and drags him. They move out of sight of the audience. A long scream is heard. Kiddo has fallen to his death. If an acrobat is available, this gives him the opportunity to change into the bear costume, and to give a display of acrobatics in the next scene.
Scene 5. A proposal.
The scene is a colourful one. Behind the beach-shelter, mother has erected a wind-break, as used at beaches. She sits in a deck-chair. The bear frolics on the stage, retrieving in his mouth a ball which his mother throws towards him. [If an acrobat has changed into the bear outfit] he does an exuberant display of handstands, cartwheels and somersaults. He comes over to his mother, who embraces him and says that she's so happy now that Kiddo has gone. “He was never a good father.” T. K. realizes that he has killed his father. “Will you marry me?” T. K. replies, “I will.” His mother cries out, “His first words! This is the happiest day of my life!” The King is a modern-day Oedipus.
The horror in this episode is preceded by farcical events and followed by farcical events. It illustrates the swift modulations of tone to be found in the play.
The frozen clothes used in this scene are optional. If this effect is implemented: it's found that trousers and shirts which haven’t been folded properly before being put into a rucksack have been frozen into comical shapes in the intense cold of the mountains. (The clothes have been soaked and put in a freezer some time before the performance and removed during the interval.) The clothes are then transformed into a potent and desolate symbol - the broken bodies of the dead in no man's land, arms and legs splayed at grotesque and awkward angles. The awkwardness will convey vividly the state of the dead, not at all in peaceful repose, at the centre of the bleak and otherwise empty stage.
Not optional: the two protagonists re-enact - a section of a play within the play - the horrors of bombardment during the First World War. A truce is then re-enacted, the mood lightens and, as in some of the separate truces of 1914, there's a game of football, ending in the suspense and excitement of a penalty shoot-out. The truce ends, the two resume their hostility to each other. The wartime hostility is a vast intensification of personal hostility. The hostility shown by T. K. is Oedipal. The wartime truce is a vivid counterpart of the lulls which can interrupt personal enmities.
The stark emotional impact of the bodies in no man's land will be increased if care is devoted to (1) the preparation of the clothes before freezing, which gives the rigid figures needed (2) the arrangement of these figures on the stage. There’s a linkage with modern visual art. The arrangement on the stage may even amount to a genuine contribution to visual art. The theatre as well as galleries of contemporary art can display powerful and interesting art forms, and the theatre has the advantage of possessing, often, sophisticated lighting and sound systems which can be used in the creation of distinctive works of art, but always integrated into a performance rather than self-sufficient. Although the arrangement of figures will only be temporary - since the figures thaw out - the same is true of some other contemporary works of visual art, for example ones made with some natural materials. Transience isn’t an objection to the contemporary art work.
(1) The preparation of the clothes before freezing involves ensuring a degree of fullness for the clothes. They should not be flat, like the clothes on shelves. They can be packed with newspaper to some extent before freezing to give the degree of fullness, but the fullness of an actual human figure can't be achieved, unless a very large chest freezer is available. Freezing capacity rather than the capacity of the rucksack is the constraint. If the clothes are approximately the fullness of the human body, they certainly cannot be contained in even the largest rucksack. However, the Sherpas have carried loads, and some of the clothes can be contained in these packs, with a few alterations to the script. If the clothes are much less full and correspondingly flatter, then they can be frozen in quite a small chest freezer and will fit in the rucksack.
Very important are decisions concerning the approximate angles between legs and the angles between arms and the rest of the upper body, the degree to which there's bending at the knee and elbow of each figure. It may be decided, for example, that one of the figures will have arms raised when placed on the stage, like the dead soldier with outstretched arms on the right of Picasso's very well known portrayal of aerial bombardment, 'Guernica,' or with one arm raised. I would think differently, since this makes one of the figures a focal point and I think there should be no focal point within the ensemble, but it's an idea which can be used.
(2) The placing of the figures in the three-dimensional space of the stage involves many decisions. This need not require protracted thought and planning - there are many chaotic placings which would be very effective - but thought given to the matter will not be wasted. It will be best to experiment with models, such as artists' jointed models, on a flat surface which is a model of the stage. These artists’ models have one disadvantage, a rigid back. The arching of the back in itself can convey so much - from the residual power of the living person to a state of extreme tension (the arching of the back in untreated tetanus is this tension visible in extreme form.)
I myself would avoid placing the bodies in a heap, but there are innumerable alternative possibilities. The figures may be separated widely or not. What artists call the ‘negatives’ - the spaces in between - should not be consistent in size. Regularity of spacing is not called for here, or regularity of arrangement. A rectangle or circle could be used as an organizing principle, but the plan should be hardly discernible in the chaotic ensemble. If the four figures are placed 'at the corners of a rectangle...the eye tends to stay in the composition for longer as there is no obvious exit.' (Stan Smith, 'Anatomy, Perspective and Composition for Artists.') The arrangement of the group should not be linear, although linear composition can again be used as an approximate organizing principle. One at least of the figures should be significantly nearer to the audience. 'The tedium of regular visual repetition can be easily relieved through a change of scale...The eye which swept from left to right across the surface...is now forced to travel back into the picture space as well.' (Stan Smith.) Bombardment during the First World War sometimes flung apart upper body from lower body but I think it's best if the upper figure and the lower figure are closely associated.
Half the trousers and shirts are grey (the German uniform in the First World War was field-grey) and half are khaki, the British colour. I think that there should not be clear spatial separation between British and German but that the uniforms belonging to the opposing sides should be mixed.
The episode offers very great scope for artistic lighting, but I make only a few comments here. The activation of empty space by means of shadows, definition of form by means of shadows, other aspects of lighting, are very familiar aspects of theatrical technique. The episode begins with the stage in dim light. The thunderstorm begins and the stage is almost completely dark, as if black storm clouds are overhead, except for the flashes of lightning which illuminate the two actors and the bodies in no man’s land. Then the artillery action begins, and flashes of light from the guns, now predominantly orange or red instead of the cool white light of lightning, are the only source of illumination for actors and bodies. During this phase, the lighting effects, like the sounds, are 'in canon.' This is explained in the next section. When the truce begins, the stage is again in dim light, a light similar to the grey, wintry light which might illuminate a frozen lake. The football match should have something of the fluidity of skating on ice.
The sound of the artillery
barrage should be as loud as possible, consistent with the well-being of the
audience and actors. The artillery should seem to be firing very near to the
actors, by including, if possible, the clatter of large cartridges being ejected
from the guns after the shells have been fired. British and German artillery
fire should not be distinguished, even if experts could state differences
due to different calibres and other factors.
There should be symmetry in the sounds, two equally powerful and localized sound-groups, one German, at stage right, and one British, at stage left. The sounds should be 'canonic,' that is, using the musical form of canon. This accords with an interest in form and structure even for the portrayal of extreme events. One part begins and the theme is repeated by a second part. So, the sound effects could be arranged as two sections. During section A, the German sound source begins on the right, artillery fire at high volume, followed after a short interval by exactly the same sounds from the British sound source at left. During most of this section, the sounds from the two sources will reinforce each other, but at the end of the section, the British source will be alone and unreinforced, since it started later than the German. A short period of silence (except for the continued screams of Kiddo - T. K. is silent, as always) and then section B begins. Now, the British sound source begins first and the German sound source begins a little later, in canonic imitation. Lighting too - the flashes from the guns - is also canonic.
Optionally, the explosions of light and sound may be preceded by a playing of the Canon at the 12th from Bach's 'The Art of Fugue.' The canon is for violin and cello only. A cellist must be available, in addition to the violinist required for the production. The violinist and cellist are hidden, at opposite ends of the stage.
To present the light and sounds in this way is in accordance with the stylization to be found in this scene and reflects too the actual use of artillery in the First World War. As the war went on, artillery was used with ever-increasing control. This devastating instrument of war was used in accordance with meticulous plans and very precise timing.
The minimum cast size is 6, if the Chorus is reduced to one member, who also plays the part of The King’s Fiancee, all the Candidates for the post of girlfriend and the Octogenarian (whose face isn’t visible in the scene in the underground car park.) Otherwise, the cast size is 10. A musician, a violinist, is also required. The play can accommodate a larger cast, if preferred,, by adding to the number of the Chorus. If available, another musician can take part, a cellist, and a gymnast can be given a part. The gymnast wears the bear outfit and the bear can then perform somersaults or other gymnastic skills towards the end of the play, another aspect of the friskiness which the bear shows at this point. The gymnast would have to be male, since the bear speaks at the end of the play: the words 'I will,' in answer to mother's marriage proposal.
The King (T. K.) He can be played in very different ways. The stress may be upon the contradictory elements in his personality, as someone who is inscrutable, childish, confident, passionate, aggressive and his facial expression subject to innumerable changes. Or the stress may be upon him as a fundamentally damaged person, driven deeper into despair by the scheming of others, his face often showing the extent of his depression and despair. There are other interpretations, of course. Whatever the interpretation, he should show particular hostility to Kiddo. His physical vitality, his athleticism, should be emphasized. In Act 2, like Kiddo, he does suffer from the effects of high altitude and his breathing is often laboured. During the episode which re-enacts an episode of the First World War, his inner state undergoes intensification, a transformation into a shell-shocked soldier.
His mother. Resourceful, energetic (capable of climbing solo in the Himalayas), irrepressible, well-educated, very competent, often, but not always, warm. In Act 2, unlike Kiddo and T. K. she appears not to suffer at all from the effects of high altitude. Both her breathing and her speech are as usual. One limitation - not at all realistic as regards her son, T.K. All too easily, wonderful vistas open up and to imagine is to achieve. More than that, she clearly has some irrational ideas.
Kiddo (Mr Kid), The King’s manager. Amiable, although not always, unscrupulous, often world-weary. He shows hostility towards T. K. but more by facial expression than by his words, except for parts of Act 2. In Act 2, he shows increasing signs of altitude sickness. His speech tends to be more clipped and slightly slower, and he often breathes heavily. During the episode of the football match and the truce - the temporary ending of his general hostility towards T. K., which mirrors the truce of Christmas 1914 - his character changes very dramatically, in the ways indicated in the script, and so does his accent. During the episode, he has a German accent, although only a slight one.
Capone. A representative of the underworld, but a very limited one. Plays the part of the referee at the boxing/wrestling match. Wears the bear costume. Also speaks the lines of Vic the Vegan's manager. Mother uses the pronunciation 'Cah-poh-nay' and Kiddo pronounces the name 'Ca-pony.' (with a short 'a.')
Vic the Vegan. Someone who is very contradictory (the contrasts and contradictions in reality are a prominent theme in the play): idealistic, sometimes very good-humoured, usually incompetent and also fanatical, murderous. (Compare, for his fanaticism and murderous instincts the real-life vegan who murdered the Dutch politician Pim Fortuyn.) He brings to mind the murderer in Robert Browning's 'Bishop Blougram's Apology': 'Our interest's on the dangerous edge of things,/ The honest thief, the tender murderer... He's transformed in Act 2 into ... 'The Himalayan Guide', who resembles Sarastro in Mozart's The Magic Flute in his benign wisdom. In Act 1 he has an American accent, in Act 2 an English accent.
Octogenarian - is one of the hecklers at Speaker’s corner. Later, an Octogenarian Priestess, the Oracle.
Chorus, Four in number, although all the parts can be played by one person if absolutely essential and the Chorus can also be expanded in numbers. The parts are:
Spectators at the boxing/wrestling match.
Hecklers and (optionally) Irish dancers at Speaker’s Corner.
Members of the Austrian audience at the Salzburg Festival.
Junkies who spray graffiti in the underground car park.
Sherpa girls in the Himalayas.
Candidates for the post of girlfriend.
In ancient Greek drama, of course, the Chorus commented on the action and danced as well. In this play, they have other roles, but they comment on the action by cheering, applauding, jeering, heckling, and they are Irish folk dancers in one scene, although the dancing can be omitted, in view of the demands it makes.
One of the members of the Chorus is... Anne, The King’s fiancée, who is a very compassionate person, with a particular interest in stray dogs and a general concern for waifs and strays.
Bear/Yeti/Abominable Snowman played by Signor Capone in a bear-skin. If an acrobat is available, he later replaces Signor Capone and gives an exuberant display of acrobatics.
A violinist - a real violinist, rather than an acted one. There are no lines to speak. Plays the part of the busker, and plays mic at the concert. at the concert. May be male or female. If a cellist is available, then he can play music with the violinist - information in the next section.
Vic the vegan’s manager is a voice only. He's not seen on stage.
If possible, productions should make use of live music rather than recorded music. All productions require a violinist. If the violinist is able to play the viola, and very many violinists are also violists, and a cellist is available, then all the music in the production can be live. The members of the chorus can take part in a vocal Although all the music will be performed with reduced forces, except for the canon from Bach's 'Art of Fugue,' which is for violin and cello only, the gain outweighs the loss. Musical standards will obviously be much lower than the standards of performers with international reputations, but 'falling short' is one of the themes of the play.
In the comments below, I concentrate on the situation where a cellist is available as well as a violinist who can also play the viola. Directors can freely adapt, taking advice from musicians if they're not musicians themselves.
The first 22 bars only are played, with the reduced forces available, or, if necessary, in recorded form, not the later, better known loud and stirring passages with explosions, for a large orchestra. The opening passage of the Overture is written for two violas and four cellos only, and one violist and one cellist can convey its pathos. The musicians can make a fuller sound by using double stopping, if they wish.
This piece is performed twice in the play, in Act 1, Scene 1, when The King is thought to be dying, and in Act 2, Scene 4, when the bear is thought to be dying. The music:
I make no recommendations here. There are many, many suitable pieces. Irish fiddle music is played by the busker in Act 1, Scene 2.
This demonic music is played before and during the entry of the Octogenarian Priestess. As with the other music, live performance is preferable to a recording, even though live performance can only hint at the power of the original, shown here in full score, and above the power of the opening chords in bars 1 - 4. The violinist plays the first violin part and the cellist, if available, the cello part here. The members of the chorus - in this scene, drug addicts - scream the opening chords (at the musical pitch which falls within their range) and their vocal contribution will compensate to an extent for the lack of instruments.
This is optional. It can
form an intense contrast withthe effect of the canonic explosions of light
and sound which make up the artillery barrage. If a cellist is available,
then the cellist plays the music with the violinist.
The opening orchestral introduction is only a few bars long. A recording of this can be played, it can be played by piano or on a keyboard, or the members of the Chorus, knowledgeable and helpful Austrians in this scene, can do their best to sing it. If a cellist is available, he plays the music of the unaccompanied solo entry which follows.
Otherwise, the cellist of the recording is heard. The King fails to play any of his music and the prompt is called upon to play the beginning of the violinist's unaccompanied solo entry:
[The music of these two parts is playable by non-professional players. The music is much easier, technically, than the music which follows, not played here, when the two soloists play together. Before changing to the violin, I played the cello, and I've played the solo cello and violin parts, although not in a public performance.]
For productions, I can supply these things, at a nominal cost for hire and delivery: boxing gloves, climbing rope and climbing harness, *cross-country skis, ski poles and boots, beach shelter, wind-break, two blank-firing guns, violin and viola, each with bow and case, mechanical metronome, bear outfit.
clothes are used in the interlude, some time before the performance - at least
8 hours, although it may be days or weeks before - four pairs of trousers
and four shirts will have been soaked in water and the excess water squeezed
out. These are placed in the freezer with the legs and sleeves at various
angles. The clothes are removed during the interval of the play and are used
in the play within a short time so that they remain frozen stiff and maintain
*Downhill skis, poles and boots, which are much more widely available than cross-country equipment, can be substituted in a production. Although moving on the stage will be more difficult, the shuffling action is appropriate.
Here, in my wish to stress safe practices, I err towards stating the obvious, perhaps.
In Act 2 Scene 1, The King's Mother enters by either abseiling down a wall, the preferred method, or by swinging at the end of a climbing rope. If by abseiling, the standard safety precautions must be followed. It will need a little instruction. Many, many school pupils carry out abseiling every year, and the skill is very easily learned. If by swinging at the end of a rope (1) She wears a climbing harness, attached to two ropes, or two sections of the same rope. (2) The ropes have two separate points of attachment to a beam or other secure object. (3) The rope is short enough to ensure that she cannot make contact with the stage at the lowest point in the swing. (4) There are no actors or objects in the path of her swing. It's safer to have KIDDO and T. K. exit just before she enters and enter immediately after. (5) The whole system is checked by someone with a knowledge of simple climbing equipment. To avoid even these minimal risks, she can enter by walking, but carrying a coiled climbing rope.
When Kiddo hits the bear over the head with his gun (Act 2 Scene 2) the actor wearing the bear costume should wear head protection underneath the costume! A cycling helmet would be suitable.
When T. K. takes off his cross-country skis, he should take off the cross-country boots which have been the means of attachment to the skis and change into ordinary boots, since cross-country ski boots have smooth soles and will slide and slip very readily.
T. K. and Kiddo both suffer from lack of oxygen at the high altitude of Act 2 and breathe much more deeply to try to compensate. Since there can be ill-effects from hyperventilation, this should not be done to excess