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Now We Are Pope
one-man, one-act play
"wonderfully believable"    reviews
Produced: London, Edinburgh 2014
Published: Arbery Books 2015



"I have many enemies, but what I need, Zildo, is a Friend. The Divine Friend. The Friend whose beauty shines from body and soul."

Writer Frederick Rolfe ("Baron Corvo") was born in London in 1860 and died in Venice in 1913. A complex, cantankerous and contradictory character, Rolfe destroyed friendships with the same intensity he sought to make them. A convert to Catholicism, his greatest ambition was to be a priest, but he was twice expelled from seminary.


Intensely proud, Rolfe rejected all charity while living off loans that were seldom repaid. Strongly attracted to handsome young men, he swore celibacy for most of his adult life. A talented author who described writing as a loathsome occupation, his works today are mostly out of print - except for Hadrian The Seventh, in which a man long denied the priesthood is suddenly elected Pope . . .


Now We Are Pope depicts Rolfe in Venice on the last day of his life, pottering around his room, occasionally addressing his companion-servant, whose presence is felt but never seen. As he looks back on his life, his thoughts both spiritual and carnal, his memories caustic and unforgiving, Rolfe's mind teeters into the fantasy that he is indeed Pope.


In writing the play - one of a series in which I explore themes of love, loss and death focused on the city of Venice - I borrowed heavily from Rolfe's own writings and words, as found in his fiction and letters. It is, I believe, a powerful and sympathetic portrayal of a talented, troubled individual. The published script includes a short biography of Rolfe and detailed text / biographical notes.
Extract opening scene


The stage is dark. Faint cheering can be heard. As the cheering grows louder a spot comes up on ROLFE, asleep in his clothes on his bed, clutching a bolster. The cheering gives way to a booming voice in a foreign accent:


VOICE (CARDINAL)
Now We Are Pope by Martin Foreman
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London Theatre poster

Annuntio vobis gaudium magnum: habemus Papam! Vi annuncio una grande gioia: abbiamo il Papa! I announce to you with great joy: we have a Pope! We have the Lord Frederick of the Ravens, Who has imposed upon Himself the name of Hadrian the Seventh!


The cheering returns even louder.


ROLFE (asleep)
Bless you, my children, bless you!



The cheering fades as a young man's voice is heard.


VOICE (ZILDO)
Sior? Sior! Sono qua, Sior. Cosa voeo?



ROLFE (asleep)
Niente, Zildo, niente.



In his sleep ROLFE begins to make love to the bolster.


VOICE (ZILDO)
Nalta volta, Sior? Makes affectionate noises. Si, Sior! Si Sior!



The cheering flares up again


ROLFE, still asleep, freezes.
Zildo! Zildo! Stop! Not here, not now! Not now We are Pope!



He sits up suddenly and stares blankly at the audience.


(in a monotone) Lord Cardinals. We thank you for your service and We invite those of you who are able and willing to attend Us, now, when we go to take possession of Our episcopal See.


ROLFE falls back on the bed. As he slowly wakes, full lights come on, revealing a shabby attic room with, in addition to the bed, a worktable covered in papers, books, tobacco tin, cigarette papers, spectacles, dead matches, old bread and other paraphernalia. A chair beside the table. On the walls a mirror, crucifix and a picture of a youthful St Sebastian. Finally conscious, ROLFE sees the bolster and pushes it aside.


ROLFE (looking round the room)
Zildo, dov' stai? Where are you, Zildo? That boy! Never here when I want him. (calls at the only door, which is closed) Zildo! My breakfast. Breakfast! Colazione!



No-one comes. He stands up slowly. His clothes are worn, dishevelled and half open.


(to himself, as if aware Zildo will not come) Breakfast, Zildo, breakfast.


(As he moves sleepily away from the bed, his foot kicks a half-hidden chamber-pot. He picks it up and examines its contents.) No rat today? I'm being abandoned like a sinking ship.

mid-play


I should have been a painter. But thanks to that damned Beauclerk, I lost all my apparatus and was reduced to a state of penury. I turned to writing --a loathsome occupation-- because literature was the only outlet which Catholicks left me. And oh, I have so much to say. It would make me rich if it were not for the publishers and agents and lawyers and layabouts who have all conspired to deprive me of my dues.


What books I have written, Zildo! Stories of young Italians as innocent and wise as you. The history of the Borgias, the greatest family that Italy ever knew. Tales of centuries past. Poetry. What has it brought me, Zildo? Nothing. All my efforts have made others rich, not me. From one book alone - the commercial future of Rhodesia - I should have made two thousand sterling but I lost it all and more to the military moron who published my work under his name. With that money I could have lived like a Doge on the Grand Canal instead of huddled in my boat on winter nights or shivering in this miserable room in a crumbling palace where the wind blows night and day.


No matter. I would have given it all up for the Church. The happiest day of my life was when I received into the Faith. It should have been when I became a priest. But my vocation, given by God, was denied to me by jealous Pharisees who could not accept that a man of my abilities should be granted the privileges that they enjoyed. Monsignor James Campbell. The Reverend William Rooney. Bishop Hugh MacDonald of Aberdeen and many, many more were deaf to God's command. God's command, not mine. A roll of infamy that will echo down the ages.


What good I could have done the Church! Make me not just a priest, not even a Cardinal. Make me Pope and I would cleanse the church of the hypocrites and toads and money-lenders. As Pope I would restore the Faith to the lands where it was forgotten. Bring order out of the Chaos that threatens all Europe. Instead of which, I was forced into spiritual exile. I have always found the Faith comfortable but the Faithful intolerable, almost every Catholick a sedulous ape, a treacherous snob, a slanderer, an oppressor or a liar.





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