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Ben and Joe's (m)
Los Feliz (m)
Now We Are Pope (m)
Tadzio Speaks . . . (m)
The Butterfly's Wing
First and Fiftieth
A Sense of Loss
"a clever concept written with flair and empathy" reviews
Tadzio Speaks ... Death in Venice Revisited
one-man, one-act play
Produced: London, Edinburgh 2013, 2014
Published: Arbery Books 2015
"I began to feel I possessed him. I recognised his clothes, how recently he had shaved, the books and newspapers he read, the food he preferred."
In Thomas Mann's novella Death in Venice, the ageing Gustav von Aschenbach becomes obsessed with the beauty of a boy he sees on the beach, the fourteen-year-old Tadzio. Although the two never speak, a silent relationship grows between them, a relationship which binds the older man inexorably to Venice even as his health fails and the city is beset by cholera.
Mann's story - and Luchino Visconti's film starring Dirk Bogarde - allows us to peer deep into Aschenbach's soul, while Tadzio remains little more than an opaque cypher. Yet if we accept the fiction that Aschenbach was real, we must also allow Tadzio life - and if we allow the boy life, we cannot help but
wonder what he felt, what he thought under the older man's intense gaze?
In this retelling of the story, we meet Tadzio decades later as he remembers that fateful summer. What went through the boy's mind when he realised what was happening? Did he welcome or resent Aschenbach's attention? What impact did it have on his adult life? Finally, Tadzio Speaks . . .
The script includes a synposis of Mann's original story, a short biography of the real-life boy who inspired Death in Venice and a brief essay on changing awareness of and attitudes to the psychological
relationship between the two characters.
Moonlight bathes the stage. The set is minimal - a deckchair with an abandoned newspaper, a linen jacket draped over the back and a suitable hat; a striped beach towel
centre stage towards the back; an old-fashioned high-backed armchair next to a side table on which sits a solitary book.
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TADZIO - 50s or older, tall, thin, elegant - enters. Daylight rises as he walks slowly round the stage contemplating each element of the set, coming to rest at the armchair. During the play different parts of the set remind him of incidents in his story.
I never spoke to him. I knew his name, but it was years before I realised who he was.
I was in Paris, a student at last, searching for something to read among the bouquinistes. A thin, unshaven man with a tired, dog-eared collection pushed a volume into my hand. "There, monsieur, read this. A marvellous book, the story of our times." It was The Abject, an old French edition. I was ashamed of my ignorance and showed it to the friend I was with. "You know it?" I asked. "Of course," he said. "It's his masterpiece. He died before the war." Only that evening, as I sat down to read and saw his name, did I once again remember the old man in his chair, the hazy sun, the sea and the sand.
We'd been at the hotel for a week when he appeared. I had been bored on the long train journey as field after field rushed past. Find a boy to play with," said Maria while Mother and Mademoiselle dozed in our compartment. "But there are none in this carriage," I said, "and Mother told us to stay here." "Always doing what Mummy says," Olga jeered. "Don't you?" I asked. "Yes," she replied, "but I'm a girl." I fell silent and for the rest of the journey wavered between self-pity, anger and hatred towards all three of my sisters.
The hotel was full at the height of the season. At dinner the first evening we followed Mother around the room greeting people we knew. I was happy to see the Andrzejewskis, especially Jaschiu, a boy a little older than me, and there were other families and children that we would get to know, but as I looked round I was slightly disappointed, as if I'd expected someone, an old friend or a new acquaintance, who wasn't there.
Most days, whatever the weather, we sat on the beach with a parasol and table in front of our cabin. The sea air was good for my health, Mother said, who was never convinced that the shortness of breath I'd suffered when younger would not return. She would calmly read or write letters while Mademoiselle fussed over towels and bags and other paraphernalia. The girls sat and gossiped, hiding from the sun and brushing sand off their clothes. I didn't realise that they didn't enjoy themselves; too old to play games, they could only talk or go for walks no further than Mother could see. I, meanwhile, a fourteen-year-old boy, could play with other children, build sandcastles, rush into the sea or lie on the sand whenever I wished. All I had to suffer was Mother's frown and Mademoiselle's fussy reminders not to exert myself - reminders that I usually ignored.
In my new-found confidence, I prepared to approach the old man and apologise if I had offended. I entered the breakfast-room; he looked up and saw me. As I approached his table, no longer averting my eyes, I saw for the first time that the old man's expression was not disapproval or anger, hostility or contempt. It was if my presence both amazed him and made him afraid. Suddenly he looked down and I found myself, all resolve forgotten, passing him and greeting my family. "Did you sleep well?" Mother asked as I sat down. I nodded, the night's attack as far from my mind as if it had never occurred. Coffee was poured into my cup, a roll set on my plate, my sisters prattled but I was lost in my own world.
What had I seen in the old man's eyes? Whatever it was, I was no longer afraid of him. Instead, I was sure, I had something to gain. From that moment on I no longer avoided him or turned away when his eyes fell on mine. Wherever I was he seemed to be there, or I sensed him the moment before he appeared. He seldom looked directly at me, usually focusing on something nearby, one of the children playing beside me, flowers at an adjacent table or the dessert tray a waiter offered us. But when our eyes did meet, his gaze was strong, hypnotic. Between us, it said, there is a mystery, a secret that only we share. Occasionally, it softened and there were times he almost smiled at me, a slight movement of the mouth, a twinkle in the eye that dissolved as soon as I noticed it. Under that gaze I often shivered, a sensation as keen and as delicate as when I was naked and alone.
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