Peter and The Ballerina
Friday, 15 August 2014
Pulling on Strings
This Festival, I am mostly appearing in other peoples shows. So far, I have done eight slots in open-mic performances, or as a guest, and may do more before taking part in a play in the last five days of the Fringe – a quirky, amusing piece called Brian. It’s about a therapist to the gods and celebrities who is cracking up. Naturally, I play Brian… not that I’m cracking up, but life as a mere mortal is never less than fractious.
Although I’ve not got my own show this year, I have been repeating some of the phone-box tales from last year’s show, including two stories which make it quite clear what I think of particular journalists. One of these stories was recently published on Dead Ink. You can read it here. It was doubly well-timed, not just because of the start of the Fringe, but with the death of Robin Williams, those gutter-sniping papers were at it again.
When the Samaritans circulated emails warning papers from dwelling on the method of suicide, their advice was blatantly ignored. I did not know Robin Williams, and I did not need to know the cause of his death. I knew some of his work, and would like to celebrate (and commemorate) how his life was a cause of great mirth to many. Sadly, the shits who publish papers think that making money out of someone else’s tragedy is acceptable. It is not. It is immoral, repugnant, and utterly damaging to society.
While not dashing around Edinburgh’s plethora of Festivals, I am also writing reviews for Broadway Baby. One of my five star write-ups was for Warrior, Jen Adam’s powerful piece exploring not only sectarianism, but also the way that the media adds their foetid fuel to the fire of personal tragedy. Yet again, the same old story. Our minds are complicated places, and to play so wilfully with emotions that are not ours to push and pull around is beyond cruel.
Which brings us to this month’s Tale from my collection…
from Charlotte & The Charlatan – and other cautionary tales
The people of Charlotteville waited for the Event-of-the-Year – the Shrovetide Fair – with fear and trepidation. The Charlatan presented a show, and although no-one guessed just how it would go, they knew it would be a sensation.
There was a puppet, a sad little fellow. Let’s call him Peter (or, in French, Pierre.) Oh, how he loved that Ballerina. From the moment he saw her, he was sure that he’d seen her before. Although he thought her movements slightly wooden, he couldn’t deny he adored her more than Petrarch loved Laura; Paulo, Francesca; or Tristan, Isolde. He longed to hold her, to make her his wife, to love her for the rest of his life.
However, a darker shadow fell over that puppeted fellow, the nature of which he could never define or explain. While his movements were firmly in his grip and his thoughts were established without a slip, his emotions were totally out of commission – because they weren’t governed by his own volition.
He emulated the gait of the much-admired Ballerina, yet his mental state was mired in dolorous musical moods. The pair were like melodies tripping over each other. Like the union between two incompatible lovers, her movements were jerky, ironic, impetuous, while Peter’s pathetic mien was ridiculous, dripping, laconic.
Peter prepared himself for an unrequited passion. But here’s the thing: she took him in. And that’s where the trouble started. There was something missing; it was as if she’d never allowed a lover into her life; or perhaps her heart had been promised to another. When they kissed, it was at the Ballerina’s instigation. But something wasn’t right.
On a cursory investigation he found the Ballerina’s Boudoir (a tent at the Fair) conspicuously bare. He expected fine linens, exquisite silks, exotic hangings and delicate charms reflecting her form; he was certain the colours and textures of her beauty would be matched in tapestries and curtains – but there was nothing there.
It seemed she too was governed by a greater force. As a dancer, she moved without emotion, her thoughts created little commotion, but over her body she had little say as to why she behaved either this way or that. Now the Charlatan introduced a third to this triumvirate of characters that he – as puppet-master – put down to ‘Theatre.’ Others of a religious persuasion would call him ‘Creator;’ while those who dabble in psychology would call them archetypes.
Come what may, the tearful puppet Peter and the wooden Ballerina were not ready for the darkness that descended. A mysterious character entered, unbeknown, although they sensed its presence. The Puppet checked his emotions (although they weren’t his own); Ballerina struck a pose (though not the position she chose) and when Peter said those three, fateful words – you know the ones I mean – it was clear to the gathering crowd that this was not a ménage-a-deux but a battle between three.
The superior mind, that dark and devious creature, moved among the lovers and at every opportunity undermined the movements of one and meddled with the heart-throbs of the other; playing on their most vulnerable places like fingers on a clavichord; bashing on their weaknesses like hammers on the strings of a piano. As they made music together, it was a motley melody that neither love, nor movement, could sustain.
They thought, of course, that they could overcome the meagre interruptions of intellect; put aside the assertions of those who relied on their brains; reject the analytical as merely clever. They would never be parted, even if it said in the Charlatan’s script, ‘both depart the scene broken-hearted.’ Ever fond of the over-dramatic, the Wizard introduced jealousy into his tale.
It was not the first piece of theatre to use a triangle of a devious tyrant, a madly jealous knave, and a seemingly innocent pawn: it’s a classic ruse. But as to who was who, I’ll let you choose. All the Charlatan had to do was pull a few strings to put his Shrovetide Show out of joint. The point is, the audience of Charlotteville were left wanting – not for more, but for answers.
Did Peter the Puppet kill the Ballerina, or vice versa? Or did something more sinister end the show? The Charlatan, a chancer to the last, told them: look, I cut their strings. That’s why these characters – I mean – things are lifeless and dead. That said, the crowd drifted away, and Charlotte arrived on the scene.
“Come on, let’s go,” she said, “The Festival’s over.” The Wizard looked up, hoping to find the ghost of Petrushka, or even the Ballerina above the proscenium. But the blackest thought came over him, since neither was there to be seen. What if the Shrovetide Fair was no more than a sad, elaborate dream?