Archive for the ‘quotables’ Category

In ten years time she’ll still be dead

In classics long after, quotables on November 2, 2010 at 9:37 am

Notes on and quotes from 4:48 Psychosis (2000) Sarah Kane

“Some will call this self-indulgence / (They are lucky not to know its truth) / Some will know the simple fact of pain / This is becoming my normality”

When people say the psychic firestorm of Kane’s last play – entirely free of stage directions and thus endlessly re-interpreted since – symptomises a natural end, they show a want of imagination. Nothing was inevitable; if anything, art is the enemy, rather than the accomplice, of fate.

4:48 NYC

Such free plays, blank cheques from writers to directors, had been produced before – but even (for example) Handke’s Offending the Audience came with rules and sets. Kane waived such frames, and the form’s predominantly conceptual angle was here wrenched from public address to inward reflection (Crimp’s Attempts on Her Life had still mostly engaged from behind the third person). No directions, only text, and the text only fragments.

Although occasionally rising to the rhetorical highs of performance poetry, more often words pool in the (seeming) first-draft intimacy of diary depths. But beneath the stylistic scattershot and centrifugal emotional flux, there is a story. Of illness, and treatment. Of doctors who ask stupid questions, who understand less with each answer, doctors who prescribe drug after drug, each its own special effect. (“Please. Don’t switch off my mind by attempting to straighten me out.”) One seems to care, but cannot ultimately stretch beyond professional conduct: “You don’t need a friend you need a doctor” (After a pause: “You are so wrong”). Insomnia. And a moment of clarity – at 4:48.

“Nothing can extinguish my anger / And nothing can restore my faith / This is not a world in which I want to live”

4:48 2007

The title of this post is a quote from the playtext. It’s that reflexive, that tangled in tenses. Kane committed suicide in 1999. Even its first performance was posthumous. I could spin out sentences on what might have been, had she lived, but enough, I think, to acknowledge that her works have gone on to be mainstays of modern European theatre. Their questions live on.

“They will love me for what destroys me”


the stain of a scream

In classics long after, quotables on June 3, 2010 at 11:38 pm

Notes on and quotes from Crave (1998) Sarah Kane

“I am lost, so fucking lost in this mess of a woman.” (A)


Famously, fearing her reputation was saturating reactions to her work (for and against), Kane trialled Crave under a pseudonym – and this was possible only because its total rejection of setting or stage direction was so formally remote from the explicit scenes of her previous plays. Likewise, extreme characters make way for genderless, ageless ciphers – A, B, C and M. “…one can almost feel the intoxicating release of Kane’s writing as the borderlines of character evaporate entirely and her imagery moves from physical to textual realisation.” (David Greig)

“She’s talking about herself in the third person because the idea of being who she is, of acknowledging that she is herself, is more than her pride can take.” (C)

Without proxies, there’s a tendency to listen for Kane’s own unfiltered voice – though the text is littered with quotes from other works. “I am an emotional plagiarist, stealing other people’s pain, subsuming it into my own.” (C) In this it perhaps functions in a similar way to TS Eliot’s The Waste Land (itself referenced in the play), but presented in a headlong rush of multiple views and voices recalling Beckett’s Play. Unlike the latter, Crave is never still or clear enough to allow a stable narrative to emerge.

Perhaps the closest to a common element between the voices is some trauma in the past, identified by at least one voice as sexual abuse – the picture painted indelible. “An empty car park which I can never leave,” says C. “That moment which I’ve been hurtling away from ever since,” says A – and the tension between the two goes a long way to embody the permanent aftermath many abuse victims feel. Kane did hint the roles might be played by a pair of older and younger men and women, suggesting classic family dynamics.

Crave 2

In fact, the longer the play goes on, the less real distinction there feels between the voices, the more it begins to feel like a single mind – or body which has internalised a conflict it is doomed to repeat. “Guilt lingers like the smell of death and nothing can free me from this cloud of blood.” (A) The same emotions erupting periodically. The same lies rehearsed and recited. “The same lesson, again and again.” (B) There is the sense of a family splitting just as there is a single wrecked psyche attempting to understand its wrecker. As the play ends, it has turned toward a feeling of almost hysterical heavenly redemption, but there is no resolution – the final positive climax ultimately seems as jumbled a mass of emotions as the lows before – this is the difference between message-based and experiential theatre. It’s like music. It’s like the weather.

“What’s anything got to do with anything?” (C)

they burned your body

In classics long after, quotables on May 28, 2010 at 12:33 am

Notes on and quotes from Cleansed (1998) Sarah Kane

“Think about getting up, it’s pointless. Think about eating, it’s pointless. Think about dressing, it’s pointless. Think about speaking, it’s pointless. Think about dying only it’s totally fucking pointless.” (Grace/Graham)

If Blasted made Kane’s name via its full-frontal short-circuit of naturalism, Cleansed would start in a resultant afterworld denuded of socio-historic context. And if the form of the former was explosive, the latter is institutional – some curious, awful hybrid of university and death camp, to be exact. The play’s episodes are experiments – to measure the power or worth of love in the face of violence as pure as dissection.


Tinker is doing the dissecting. He’s a doctor and a dealer. It’s his institution, and he is god within his own creation. When Grace arrives looking for her brother – whose overdose, presented almost as ritual, constitutes the first scene – she gives herself up to be closer to his memory, which will shadow her through the trials to come. She will dress in his clothes. Eventually they seem to fuse.

“Listen. I’m just saying this once. I love you now. I’m with you now. I’ll do my best, moment to moment, not to betray you. Now. That’s it. No more. Don’t make me lie to you.” (Rod)

Meanwhile, among the other inmates, Rod and Carl – a couple – will be torn apart with exactitude. 1984‘s fear of torture used to invalidate or de-idealise love is only the beginning for this pair of pinned butterflies. And it is in the physicality of their relationship’s dismemberment that we see how far beyond the arm’s length etiquette of psychological normalism Kane was willing to go. When Carl speaks love, his tongue is removed, when he writes, his hands, when he dances, his feet.

Cleansed again

So, where her first impact came from epic atrocities visited with the sudden force of divine thunderbolts on realistic characters, her second original play dovetails equal brutality so deeply in its everyday structure that it seems a stable element, a fact of life. What became the talking point this time was not the starkness of the action, but the calculated challenge of its impossible stage directions – most famously ‘The rats carry Carl’s feet away‘ but also the anti-illusionistic magic tricks of flowers growing through the floorboards or wounds synchronising on different bodies. For all the bloody carnage, the emotional cruelty, the fallibility of body and personality alike, the power of the play is manifested in its visual poetry. Suitably, it’s difficult to think beyond Yeats to summarise it – “A terrible beauty is born…”

“Shh shh shh. No regrets.” (Tinker)

lines from blasted

In classics long after, quotables on May 20, 2010 at 6:34 pm


Blasted‘s 1995 debut was one of those rare productions which salmon-leaps from the digestive tract of the review section to the higher functions of the headlines. Sexual violence, xenophobia, war crimes, a total breakdown of order in and outside of a hotel room  – the verdict was kneejerk, the play and its author demonised and/or pathologised.

I found it myself some years after this initial reflux had ebbed and time’s better counsel had dredged up and widely acknowledged the terrible tenderness beneath the shocking surface. The transgression was material, but the transcendence I’d read about eluded me. I wasn’t revulsed by the plot, but felt short-changed by the language, the extremity of the characters (not in their behaviour, but their abject, almost binary displays of power or weakness). The violence seemed to sweep everything but its own logic and imagery offstage. So, even with hindsight, even having absorbed the praise of those critics who’d begun by condemning, my first reading was wrong.

I see it differently now, woke up to the fact Kane was a writer free enough of ego to mainline ugly actions in an ugly fashion. As has been argued elsewhere, this is not to say pain is presented raw – the collision of worlds which makes Blasted‘s scene progression more dialectical than accumulative would be disengagingly ridiculous if not weighted just so – but that her judgement and vision are as important as her skill in witholding the artful arrangement of parts dramatists routinely use to shortcut and symbolise – Blasted has to be lived through, experienced. So, let’s…

“Doing to them what they done to us, what good is that? At home I’m clean. Like it never happened. Tell them you saw me. Tell them…you saw me.” (Soldier)

You can find a perfectly serviceable synopsis over at Wikipedia – I imagine the gist is well-known, but in the simplest of terms, a rape in a hotel room somehow abruptly allows the war raging outside to rush in like black water through a stress fracture. Carnage ensues. In this unedited 19-page interview (pdf), Kane reveals the surprisingly simple genesis for the play’s seisimic shift from naturalism to nightmare: “I switched on the news one night while I was having a break from writing, and there was a very old woman’s face, a woman of Srebrenica just weeping and weeping and looking into the camera…I thought: ‘So what could possibly be the connection between a common rape in a Leeds hotel room and what’s happening in Bosnia?’ And then suddenly this penny dropped and I thought: ‘Of course, it’s obvious. One is the seed and the other is the tree…'”

“Punish me or rescue me makes no difference I love you Cate tell him for me do it for me touch me Cate.” (Ian)

If critics mistook Blasted‘s radical commentary for rebellious posturing, Ian’s language from the off would aid that first impression – there’s barely a line uttered which wouldn’t qualify as hate speech (although this is supplemented by an almost cheerful acceptance of his own corruption, physical decay and imminent death). In manipulating the soft-hearted and muddle-headed Cate, the audience witness a horribly inevitable crime. But the aftermath is anything but, as a laconic soldier whose main motivation seems to be to share the atrocities he’s taken part in makes Ian the next victim, raping and blinding him in turn. A bomb breaches the walls, the soldier shoots himself and the last semblance of civilisation as we know it collapses into something between Beckett (minimal, timeless bleakness) and a snuff nature doc.

Blasted later

Undermain Theatre production (2004) Dallas Texas. Set design by Clare Floyd DeVries, photo by Katherine Owens.


Kane knew what she was doing: “You have a nice little box set in the studio set somewhere and you blow it up… For me the form did exactly mirror the content. And for me the form is the meaning of the play, which is that people’s lives are thrown into complete chaos with no reason whatsoever.” And always remember, for all this, the play retains a sliver of hope amid the splinters of the set – for survival, if nothing else.

“My brother’s got blind friends. You can’t give up.” (Cate)

lines from the golem

In classics long after, quotables on March 11, 2010 at 8:27 pm

This is the last in what’s been a pretty skippy lookover of Jewish theatre, but I’d welcome any additional suggestions in that comment box down there. For now:

the golem

“I am the secret, not of darkness, but of light.” – Golem

Today’s play is another following a mythical spirit, as invoked by H. Leivick (“Slender, white-haired, a figure of austere simplicity, he had spent his life brooding over the problem of human suffering…when he turned from his rabbinical studies in his middle teens, he had already began to quarrel with God over the suffering he could neither understand nor justify.” – Joseph C. Landis, echoing the Jewish tradition of anti-devotional prayers).

The title names the creature in question – The Golem  – a robot-like creature of earth, created as a servant and famed for its (unthinking) defence of its creators. In Leivick’s brooding take, the relationship between servant and master, golem and world, will prove rather more metaphysical, as one would expect of a play containing characters called The Invisible and The Figure of the Uncreated, as well as scenes titled Clay, Walls and Through Darkness.

The first scene is perhaps the play’s most powerful, as Maharal, the Rabbi of Prague sculpting the golem’s body is visited by a ‘shadow’s shadow’: “I have come to warn you: create me not.” The rabbi argues the need for “A people’s champion, a man of might” but is answered by “A servant – to be ruled, commanded”. And without so much as a shazam, Golem is being led into Maharal’s study, and being labouriously instructed in the fundaments of living among people. He is taller than doorways and terrified – possessed by the infant’s existential confusion (“I want to twist / My head from off my shoulders, twist my arms and legs. / Put out the fire around me. / Take away the walls.”)

A giant naturally gathers attention, and this one is particularly thin-skinned, paranoia building with the mob’s questions and laughter – he is childishly dependent on his maker, and infatuated with his daughter (though what this means is closed to him). Maharal’s tactic would now be characterised as tough love, hoping he will grow with his mistakes – “I cannot always be with you. Know / That you came here to be alone.”

Golem completes missions for his master, but is stricken by a paralysing lack of purpose after – he has consciousness but not will, and his dependence on the Rabbi is deeper and darker than love: “Stay here with me forever in the anteroom. / I will give up my sleeping bench to you / And I will lie at your feet upon the floor.”

This need overrides all else – Golem spills ‘Jewish blood’ and, although it at first looks like this feverish strategem has won his desire, Maharal feeling he can no longer leave him alone, the Rabbi now announces Golem’s last mission. He instructs him to lie down. To close his eyes. “Breathe out your final breath. Amen.” Golem’s obedience, and the ease of his decease make the scene more shattering than any struggle could have.

“How good it was to be mere clay, / To lie, lifeless and calm, / among the sands and stone of the earth / Between eternities.” – Golem

lines from god of vengeance

In classics long after, quotables on March 8, 2010 at 1:20 am

Point one: there’s a title that doesn’t fuck about (“The boldness of its setting in a brothel and its introduction of homosexuality has not given the play a wholly untroubled career…” says Joseph C. Landis). Point two: its author, Sholem Asch is considered the best known Yiddish writer – by those who know, if you follow.

Set in a family home above a brothel – both ran by the father, Yankel – the play concerns his determination to keep his daughter uncontaminated from the vice that bankrolls the household. That its title is not ‘God of Typical Bourgeois Hypocrisy’ gives an indication that such a delicate balance may prove problematic, but Rivelke, the daughter, presents a mannered innocence from curtain-up to feed his hope. As the character quite literally known only as Woman Blind In One eye notes: “I tell you, as though she’d been raised in a synagogue, forgive the comparison – neat, pretty, more modest than all the respectable girls.” As for spiritual insurance:

“Don’t be afraid of your father. I love you. I love you very much. I’m ordering a Torah Scroll today. It costs a lot of money. For you, my child, for you.” (Yankel)

sholem asch

Sholem Asch

The scroll is installed, with no pressure whatsoever from the scribe who copied it for them: “Remember a Torah Scroll is a momentous thing; it supports the entire world…” and Yankel broadcasts his not at all screamingly neurotic dreams for her future, “Leave your father’s house and forget. Forget your father; forget your mother, and have decent children…”

We’re soon introduced to those who live (dig the symbolism) downstairs – a junior pimp and assorted prostitutes. It’s a bruised romantic called Basha who acts a poetic foreshadow, recalling her own father: “He’d kill me on the spot. He’s looking for me with an iron bar… My father is a butcher. Oh, the matches I could have made.” But she rejected her suitor: “He stinks from beef. Brr. They call him Medicine. How could I marry Medicine and every years have another little Medicine. Brr.” Worse, and most hauntingly, is her mother, dead of heartbreak: “I see her at night, in my dreams. She comes in her shroud, covered with thorns and briars because of my sins, and she tears at my hair.”

god of vengeance

In what one might see as a suspiciously prurient setpiece, it’s not long before Basha and friends are dancing in the rain – with Rivelke. Manke, who seems to have long been very close, takes her inside and the two girls play out a dream wedding – with Manke as the groom. They elope. “Had she died, I would have known that I buried a chaste child, an honourable child. But now what am I worth in this world? You’re sinful yourself and you leave behind a sinful generation. And so sin goes on from generation to generation” is Yankel’s predictable judgement, and even though his wife, Hindl, returns her to the home, the reunion is shortly thereafter followed by a self-destructive finale so rich in the infuriating, alienating logic of wounded honour  I can’t personally stomach repeating it (let’s say “Down to the house!” becomes something of a slogan and stage direction). Typically bourgeois after all…

lines from the dybbuk

In classics long after, quotables on March 3, 2010 at 2:03 am

First: yet more apologies for update slowdown – redrafting the play I have in development is taking most available headspace, but I will endeavour to make time late at night to keep this plate spinning. Hits have leaped recently, and I feel a wretch and a half for slacking. So, without further ado…

the dybbuk

Hanna Rovina as Leah'le in The Dybbuk

Just incredible; transfixing – and there’s no shortage of other images out there if you want to look for yourself – ‘The Dybbuk’ is almost certainly the best known Yiddish play because it reaches across cultures to capture the imagination (a fitting metaphor, as we’ll see). ‘The premiere, at the Elyseum theatre in Warsaw, did not take place until December 9, 1920 [it had been written in 1914], at the end of the traditional thirty-day mourning period that followed [author] S. Anski‘s death…’ (Three Great Jewish Plays, ed. Joseph C. Landis)

Anski had written: “From the Old Testament to the present, the central idea of all Jewish creativity is: physical force is not the force that wins… The physically stronger is defeated because he is spiritually weaker.” As his anti-hero, Khonnon, of the play notes: “The Holy Scrolls stand huddled together, calm silent. And in them are concealed all the secrets , all the veiled allusions, all the mysterious combinations from the six days of creation unto the end of the generations of men.

This relatively short, meticulously-ordered play begins in an old synagogue ‘with blackened walls’, where scholars and students gossip, debate and deal with those calling for their help. An elderly woman whose daughter ‘has been lying speechless, struggling with death’ is interceded for by a minyan (ten men praying) before a local noble arrives to celebrate the betrothal of his daughter. Khonnon, who has been terrorising his less kabbalistic brethren with dangerous insights (“There is no need to wage war against sin. Elevate it!“) falls into something between an emotional breakdown and a religious ecstasy when he hears – “So they were useless! All the fasts, all the ablutions, all that harrowing of flesh, all those spells…” – and swoons through visions to death.

“I saw his grave in a dream. And I saw him too, and he told me about himself…” (Leye)

We skip ahead to the wedding in question, where the bride, Leye – according to custom – paces the graveyard to invite her dead relative along. But that’s not all she finds: “There lived a young man who had a lofty soul and a deep mind. A long life lay before him. And suddenly, in an instant, his life was cut off, and strangers came to bury him in strange earth. What happened to the rest of his life? To his words that were silenced, to his prayers that were cut off?” And so she invites Khonnon, too.

At the altar, in a demonic set-piece that breeds shivers even now, Leye tears the veil from her face and ‘cries out in a strange, masculine voice’: “You buried me! But I have come back to my destined bride, and I will not leave her.

More Dybbuk

The rest of the play is almost a rabbinical procedural, as holy men seek to free the bride. The dialogue between Reb Azrielke and Khonnon (a Dybbuk, as I imagine you’d gathered, is a possessing spirit) has great power not through the wailing over-contrast of melodrama, but a kind of measured gravitas – Azrielke is sympathetic to the lost soul, especially as it becomes clear the two had been secretly in love. But Khonnon – speaking through Leye – is not to be reasoned out. “Wandering soul, I feel great pity for you, and I will try to release you from the destroying angels. But you must leave the body of this girl” is answered with “There is no more exalted height than my present refuge and there is no darker abyss than that which awaits me. I will not leave!

He is forced to leave. The rabbi shows mercy regardless, and revokes the exiled spirit’s excommunication. He rushes out to hurry the bridal company along, demanding they carry out the ceremony at once. Leye, left safe and sleeping in a magic circle, wakes alone – except for the voice of Khonnon, emenating from the darkness around. There follows an indescribably tender duologue. Leye: “Your hair was soft and it glistened as with tears, and your eyes were sad and gentle… But you went away and my light was put out and my soul withered… Then you returned and in my heart bloomed a life of death and a joy of sorrow. Why have you forsaken me again?” Khonnon: “I broke all barriers. I surmounted death, I defied the laws of the laws of the ages and generations…

“Return to me my bridegroom, my husband. I will carry you, in death, in my heart; and in the dreams of night we will together rock to sleep our unborn babes…” (Leye)

She steps out of the circle as this world’s bridal party finally arrive and folds to the floor, already gone. “Too late,” says Reb Azrielke, with sadness leavened by sympathy, as both souls depart.

lines from the betrothal

In classics long after, quotables on January 30, 2010 at 11:54 am

“Before you is the great veil of the Milky Way. Beyond it stretches the region in which your unborn children are waiting to show you the mother they have chosen.” (Light)

The last of Maeterlinck for right now (next? Phyllis Nagy) ’cause I’m dependent on what I can find at the library – which is why today’s entry relates to the sequel to his alleged masterpiece rather than the thing itself (this – The Blue Bird – I still haven’t read). The Betrothal (or, The Blue Bird Chooses) is described as a ‘Fairy Play’ (there’s something aboout the small magic suggested by that which could be applied to much contemporary drama).

The theme is very much coming-of-age, with our butterfly-winged deus ex machina, the Fairy Berylune returning to one of The Blue Bird‘s child heroes on the edge of manhood to arrange a lifelong lovematch.  And so, in troop a gaggle of village girls he’s lusted politely, distantly, unspokenly after (wonderfully-named: Milette, Belline, Roselle, Aimette, Jalline, Rosarelle), and they’re taken off on a journey to discover which will be his. The Fairy insists it’s predetermined, he should know but can’t seem to choose and, to complicate the hormonal cauldron, there’s one phantom-like girl tagging along who won’t have a face until he remembers her (yeah, I know, you just guessed the ending – but let’s see how they get there).

blue bird

“There are girls in the village, in the town, way back in the forest and in every house. You find them everywhere when your heart’s awake… Which is prettiest?” (The Fairy)

As a means of nixing a world of tiresome interactions, Berylune casts a spell which suppresses all concerned’s everyday selves: “We are now in a sphere in which men and women don’t quarrel or wish one another harm. All of that was merely make-believe and doesn’t exist deep down… If some of them are unhappy because you hesitate in your choice, they will none the less hope on until the end; and they know very well that where there is love there must also be sorrow…” It’s a neat way of forestalling quibbles – sign-posting supernatural additions to the storyworld’s rules of reality excises what would otherwise be obstacles to suspension of disbelief for some poor literalists.

blue bird chooses

“…we have always lived in each other; for you were already living in me when I was on the earth; and now I live in you while you are still on that same earth, which we seem to have quitted…” (The Great Ancestor)

The most intriguing aspect of the play for now is its genetic component – Tyltyl must be helped in his choice first by ancestors (Maeterlinck well-making the point that all family trees contain – relative – successes and failures, herroes and villains) and then by his own descendents: “…we know everything that happens inside you; we’re there ourselves. Besides, there’s very little that separates us from the ancestors: our interests are the same and our paths often meet.” (The Oldest Child)

lines from ardiane and barbe bleue

In classics long after, quotables on January 29, 2010 at 10:56 am

“I obeyed more swiftly than the rest / But other laws than his.” (Ardiane)

bluebeard & ardiane

Maeterlinck’s take on the Bluebeard story is the work from which I find it easiest to summarise how I feel about the whole damned corpus (that I’ve read thus far). So: it’s not difficult to imagine how Maeterlinck’s popularity came about – he attacked traditional stage convention (as the naturalists had already, and recently) but rather than closer to reality aimed deeper into his own uncharted unreality. His own peculiar strain of determined contrariness fed more from fairy and folk tales than the proven range of romantic stage templates.  For avant-gardists of whatever inclination, each play expanded possibilities further – in attempting to stage personal symbolism rather than the shared currency of conventional meanings, Maeterlinck was a seamouth for further experimentation. And, since he preferred symbols with no set value, the plays were ultimately unresolvable, not simply reducible as the allegories which had so long locked and indexed fantasy to reality. Cliches, after all, are only those expressions once so powerful that they – by echoing, or copying, or cloning through many artists’ work and audiences’ memories – claim a place in culture as a piece of shorthand.

(An aside: above, the first part of Pina Bausch’s version of Bartok’s ‘Barbe Bleue’ opera  – only vaguely related, but heart-arrestingly-not-literally powerful – seek out the others).

“He loves me: I am beautiful: So shall I learn his secret.” (Ardiane)

Ardiane has been cited as a feminist heroine for refusing the role of obedient wife – given six silver keys, plus one of gold she is forbidden to use, she reflexively ‘…throws away the keys of silver, which tinkle and ring on the marble flags.’ Her nurse uses the former to show her the treasures they unlock: ‘the two leaves of the door glide of their own motion into lateral recesses…countless gems…fall like a crumbling mass of violet flames…’ (and this is a good example of Maeterlinck’s startlingly innovative – precisely because ‘challenging’ – staging effects). Said nurse disgraces her position rather with gem-lust, but Ardiane can’t muster any enthusiasm: “I seek the forbidden door”.’

barbe bleue II wives

Behind this, she learns without much to do, are Bluebeard’s previous five wives and, caught, she joins them (when said monster, sad, says “It was a very little thing to ask,” it’s actually quite touching). But then: KER-SLAM. Our preternaturally calm protagonist wanders into darkness as if conducting a listless lap of a cottage garden – “fear not; he is wounded, he is overcome / But knows it not as yet.” Without spoiling the ending, the ragged, long-captive wives edge out of the dark…

lines from sister beatrice

In classics long after, quotables on January 29, 2010 at 1:31 am

“This heavy veil that so constrains your throat / And weighs upon your heart. ‘Twas made for death / Never for life!” (Bellidor)

‘A miracle play in three acts,’ the Sister Beatrice of the play’s title is set to fall for a passing prince – in her confusion confiding to a statue of the virgin “To look at, like your son”. After a long, fairly undignified tug-of-hearts between said statue and her lover (armed with hyperbolic declarations), she dumps her uniform and scampers tearily off. Left alone, the statue sings of forgiveness and,climbing off its pedestal, decides to take her place (if you saw that coming, you’re not clever, you’re psychotic).

beatrice poster

Proclaiming ‘the hour of pardon’, the Beatrice Formerly Known As A Statue (Seriously) drifts about the abbey casually (but not at all covertly) performing miracles – although most of the nuns are too busy bewailing the empty pedestal where their marble virgin used to be. Questioning (they think) Beatrice, they first believe her responsible for looting the thing (Sister Gisela: “Profanatrix!”) but then she explodes into more supernatural spectacle (flames, blossoming boughs, hosannas) so they saint her instead.

sister beatrice by meyerhold

“…all the house / Is void as though my sins had emptied it…” (Sister Beatrice)

The real Beatrice arrives back in rags (“O see to what estate have brought her love / And sin, and all that men call happiness!) after twenty years of ‘all that men call happiness’ while the statue creeps back to its plinth (“‘I wait,’ she said, ‘until my saint returns'”). Unable to convince her fellow sisters of her elopement – “I lost all shame / I lost all reason, and I lost all hope. / All men by turns this body have profaned…” being countered check-matily with: “She is worn out with miracle” – our heroine ends the play somewhat confused, perhaps unworthily exasperated, and ‘falls back exhausted among the sheets’.