A Port in a Storm (in progress)
Woman, I tell you, is a microcosm; and rightly to rule her, requires
as great talents as to govern a state.
Samuel Foote (1720 – 1777) - The Minor
List of Characters (in order of appearance)
Sir James Harris, Minister Plenipotentiary and Envoy Extraordinary
of the Court of St James’s
Chevalier Marie-Daniel Bourrée de Corberon,
Envoy of King Louis XVI of France
Fanny, servant to Harris
Daniel, coachman to Corberon
Elizabeth, Duchess of Kingston (also Countess of Bristol)
‘Major’ James George Semple
Miss Bate, companion to the Duchess of Kingston
Colonel Mikhail Alexandrovich Garnovsky, aide-de-camp to His Excellency
Alexandra Engelhardt, Maid of Honour to Empress Catherine II, and
niece of His Excellency
Prince Grigory Alexandrovich Potemkin
Count Alessandro di Cagliostro
Tourist guides, agent-provocateur, a hairdresser, a secretary,
a handsome footman, sailors, guards officers, courtiers, flunkeys
The Hermitage, St Petersburg, in the 21st Century. A multitude
of tourists, laden down with the the paraphernalia of technical
triumphs – cameras, videos, museum headphones – crowd around a glass
case; a troupe of bored Russian schoolchildren play pubescent games;
almost nothing can be seen of the exhibit inside, but we hear about
it from a babel of foreign tongues – each guide cut off in mid-sentence
by the next one:
FRENCH GUIDE [waving aloft the tricolour]: Voici
JAPANESE GUIDE [waving the flag of the rising sun]:
RUSSIAN GUIDE [waving the Russian flag]:
AMERICAN GUIDE [waving the stars and stripes]: ... the world-famous
golden Peacock Clock, made in England by James Cox in the late eighteenth-century
it was a gift from one of her many lovers to Catherine the Great.
It chimes every hour, and the peacock’s tail opens but we don’t
have time to wait we have to see the impressionists and then it’s
on to the Yusupov Palace where Rasputin was murdered.
The tourists leave the stage, followed out by the room guard who
turns off the lights. An amateur video film, shot at skewed angles,
zooming in and out of focus, is cast against a scrim showing the
same groups of tourists that we have just seen on stage, but there
are more glimpses of the automaton inside, moments when the ‘cameraman’
elbowed aside his competitors for a closer look; we hear the clock
‘chime’ and see some disjointed views of the peacock’s tail. The
film ends with the ‘cameraman’ leaving the room.
The English Embankment, St Petersburg, 1779; a time when this was
the most important street in the capital – the centre of trade and
prestige –; bordering the river Neva and lined with the great houses
of the nobility. Sir James Harris called it the most beautiful street
in all of Europe.
The action takes place on three levels: At ‘ground’ level the facade
of a Baroque mansion (pale yellow with white stucco ornamentation),
flying the British flag – the residence of the British envoy; a
sleepy uniformed guardsman patrols the outside of the building.
A coach is sited stage right on the roadside, the coachman is seemingly
asleep. Raised above stage level, through French windows that open
out onto a balcony on the piano nobile of this building, we see
a drawing room decorated in the English style – Adam furniture,
sporting pictures, Wedgwood plaques. The room is illuminated by
candelabra placed directly in front of large gilt-framed mirrors
that hang from the walls. Two men are seated at cards; their multiple
reflections are slightly distorted, for mirrors are in vogue (Prince
Potemkin owns the manufactory) but they are not yet perfect. At
‘sea’ level, anchored to an iron bollard embedded in the granite
embankment, there is the dim outline of a three-masted yacht, flying
the French flag from the poop deck. The name of the ship – Duchess
of Kingston – is painted in large gold letters on the bow. We hear
the sounds of a ‘ working’ river – shouts of the ferrymen, the sighing,
sawing creak of sails and timbers, the screech of seagulls, the
slap and splash of waves thrown against hulls.
It is dawn.
AGENT-PROVOCATEUR [handing the guardsman a piece of paper]: Catherine
is a usurper ... a foreign whore, a murderer. The real Tsar lives.
Land and a hundred souls apiece for the defenders of the true Tsar.
HARRIS and CORBERON are playing faro. A liveried footman stands
at attention by a door.
HARRIS: Stroganov held the bank; Prince Potemkin laid down a hundred
thousand roubles. Stroganov drew the cards: “My King beats your
queen.” Serenissimus merely smiled and lightly remarked, “He’s dressed
in the Prussian style, how apt.” Then that whippersnapper Rimsky-Korsakov
said crowing, “You’ve lost, You’re Highness.” Serennissimus pulled
out a handful of diamonds from his pocket, dropped them on the table,
and to no one in particular remarked, “But the battle has only just
begun,” then looking at Stroganov, he said “or would you prefer
marks ... and you sir” – this at Korsakov – “Shillings?”
CORBERON: Strange that he had no Pounds in his pocket. [Laying
a card on the table.] Carte anglaise
HARRIS: Potemkin lost his diamonds. The Empress, observing this,
unfastened her emerald parure, placed it on the table, and called
for another hand; “Russia will wager whatever it needs in order
to have what it wants.”
CORBERON: Quelle causerie. Korsakov plays a dangerous game.
HARRIS: C’est un garçon perruque de Paris
CORBERON: He has the Empress’s ear
HARRIS: There are more influential parts of the imperial anatomy.
HARRIS: They say he’s been very dutiful, three times in one night.
CORBERON: He exercise’s his functions not only with the Empress
HARRIS: Countess Bruce has found her second youth
CORBERON: Mais bien sur, there have been many more than that.
CORBERON: Potemkin has already introduced the new one
HARRIS: Even fashion is out of fashion, the Empress has declared
war on French fashion A fashion war. No more dolls from the Rue
St Honore No more French at Court
FANNY: Sir, The Duchess has returned
Both men leap to their feet and hurriedly come out onto the balcony,
at the moment when the lights come up on the exterior of the yacht.
On the bridge there is the outline of profuse exotic foliage; the
sounds of birds can be heard – a parakeet, a humming bird, a canary...
HARRIS: Unduchessed, I shall not receive her.
HARRIS: It’s him I feel sorry for.
CORBERON? The Duke? But he’s dead.
HARRIS: Hervey. Lord Bristol.
HARRIS: Such a pity we have to be at war.
CORBERON: America is a long way away
The lights come up from within the yacht (the exterior lights correspondingly
dim), revealing a richly-furnished bedroom decorated in Rococo,
a style that is passing out of fashion: Louis XV furniture – a marquetry
writing desk, a commode, a fauteuil – varnished pictures in ornate
gilt frames, flambeaux gilt wall sconces, a cabinet crammed with
objets d’art, a Smyrna carpet, a folding screen of chinoiserie,
a pier glass with foaming rocaille shell ornament... to wit, a glut
of things. The outline of a sleeping figure can be seen lying in
a large canopy bed; military clothes are lying anyhow about the
floor, and propped up against a chair a be-jewelled sword, with
a wig balanced upon the handle. A woman with her back to the audience
is seated at a mechanical dressing table (the glass can be lowered)
applying creams and unguents; the table is adorned with pots of
cosmetics, powder brushes, dishes for grinding and mixing makeup,
and cut-crystal scent bottles with silver stoppers. An elaborate
high wig is placed on a dummy at the side of the table. All of the
woman’s movements are deliberately those of a young girl – the tossing
of the head, the impatience of the shoulders. She is in “undress”
– a purple velvet peignoir edged with sable, her head is covered
with a night cap of white muslin, edged with lace, and with two
lappets hanging from the back.
The sound of the Peacock Clock can be heard offstage.
SEMPLE (from under the covers): Somebody shoot that fucking bird.
(pause) My head hurts.
THE DUCHESS [concentrating upon her toilette]: Too much brandy.
SEMPLE: Begging your pardon Countess
THE DUCHESS: Don’t call me that. Mr Semple.
SEMPLE: Major if you please.
THE DUCHESS: You are as much of a Major as I am...
SEMPLE: A Duchess? What about plain Miss Elizabeth Chudleigh?
THE DUCHESS: I was never plain.
SEMPLE: So then the vain not plain Honourable Miss Chudleigh, formerly
Maid of Honour – though not a maid at all it seems – to Her Royal
Highness the Princess of Wales, married secretly Augustus Hervey
... how about Mrs Hervey? Do you like that one better? He was only
the second son of the Earl of Bristol, was murder on the cards?
THE DUCHESS: I forbid you to speak about that scrambling shabby
business... I was twenty-four
SEMPLE: And then how inconvenient not to be able to marry the Duke
of Kingston just because of an old marriage nobody knew anything
THE DUCHESS: Everybody knew.
SEMPLE: Her Grace the Duchess of Kingston. Society hostess.
SEMPLE: God is merciful. Hervey’s brother dies, Mrs Hervey becomes
the Countess of Bristol... just in time for her to stop them from
branding her in the hand like a common criminal. Duchess by bigamy,
Countess by marriage, as so judged by the Lords in Parliament.
THE DUCHESS turns around to face him . She is fifty-eight, old
for the times. Beneath her wrap is revealed a simple three-quarter-length
white linen shift, no stays, ungartered stockings and slippers with
THE DUCHESS: I am also Countess of Wurtz,
SEMPLE: Does the Count of Wurtz know that he is not your only husband?
THE DUCHESS: There is no Count, the title was given to me by the
Elector of Saxony, brother of my very good friend the Dowager Electress.
THE DUCHESS: In Rome they fed the martyrs to the lions,
THE DUCHESS: I keep a house there. His Holiness the Pope
SEMPLE: Did he ask you to marry him?
THE DUCHESS: debtor’s prison
I married him and and so lost my first Duke
I led the fashion in all things, every whim and fancy of mine was
law at court
THE DUCHESS: May the Lord God bless his soul.
THE DUCHESS raises her left wrist to her face, and looks tenderly
at a miniature portrait set in diamonds, on a bracelet of four strands
of pearls (she wears a matching bracelet without miniature on the
SEMPLE: And his millions.
THE DUCHESS; They would have branded me in the hand
SEMPLE gets out of bed and puts on a banyan of multicoloured floral
THE DUCHESS: The peacock is aroused
SEMPLE [pissing into a Wedgwood pot]: The peacock is pissing.
SEMPLE: Your peers did not agree with you
THE DUCHESS: More theatre than theatre.
THE DUCHESS: The Duke’s nephew is a domestic
THE DUCHESS: It was never my intention to be a bigamist. I married
the Duke in good faith.
SEMPLE: Which faith might that be now... the faith of self-interest?
Here on board we have a French Roman Catholic chaplain and the not
very Reverend Fohn Forster.
THE DUCHESS: Abbe Sechand is here only to minister to the needs
of the crew
SEMPLE: Crew! French brigands the lot of them.
THE DUCHESS: Why you get on so well with them.
SEMPLE: If they don’t mutiny first.
SEMPLE: I should give you a couple more hours
SEMPLE: T’isn’t the mirror that’s beyond repair.
THE DUCHESS: I have been loved by kings...
SEMPLE: In the plural?
THE DUCHESS: George, Frederick
SEMPLE: Frederick? Now which one of you would have been Queen?
THE DUCHESS: ... I could have been Queen of Poland.
SEMPLE: That story I haven’t heard.
The DUCHESS slips off her peignoir, and unfastens her shift so
that it falls to her waist, revealing her breasts; she takes up
a silk gauze scarf and dances a minuet
THE DUCHESS: The Venetian Ambassador’s ball I was as naked as the
day I was born – Iphigenia the Sacrifice
SEMPLE: I bought a print.
THE DUCHESS: There were many of them
SEMPLE: And masturbated with it. Transparent gauze
THE DUCHESS: He asked to touch my breast; I told him “Sire, I shall
put it to a far softer place.”
SEMPLE: Your cunt.
THE DUCHESS: I placed my hand upon his head.
SEMPLE: Soft-headed he was.
THE DUCHESS: You married my god-daughter, family is family
SEMPLE: And you are an expert on families.
SEMPLE: England’s a long way away
THE DUCHESS: Not far enough
The HAIRDRESSER enters, bearing in front of him an elaborate high
wig bedecked with plumes and fruit. He stands upon a set of small
stairs, and assembles the Duchess’s wig.
THE DUCHESS: Miss Bate!
SEMPLE: Yes, the devoted Miss Bate, reads that monthly muck-raking
rag Causes Celebres et Interessantes, in which the trials and scandals
of her betters are lovingly detailed.
THE DUCHESS: I threw it overboard.
SEMPLE: I trust that Miss Bate was not so attached to her reading
matter that she went with it?
THE DUCHESS: It isn’t the reading that I mind, it’s the words.
MISS BATE comes in. She is dressed somewhat behind the fashion,
in a robe a l’anglaise, with an equipage around the waist, from
which hang an assortment of keys, scissors and a heart-shaped pincushion.
She holds a book in her hand.
MISS BATE: Good morning Your Grace
THE DUCHESS: My new court mantua Miss Bate, for I am to have an
audience this evening with the Empress. Before that I am to meet
with Mr Harris, our representative here.
SEMPLE: Her Grace
MISS BATE helps THE DUCHESS to dress. First the corset is laced
– red silk damask stiffened with whalebone – then the side hoops
The FOOTMAN brings in the gown. The mantua follows the French fashion,
as immortalised by Vigee-Lebrun in her two portraits of Marie-Antoinette
circa 1779, in blue, and in yellow; an extravagantly wide hooped
petticoat, flattening out at the back and front (out of fashion
except at court since the 1740s) of pale yellow taffeta silk, with
draperies, bows and two pearl-studded tassels that fall from the
middle of the waist at the front almost to the floor; above the
skirt a tight-fitting stomacher of pale-blue silk, trimmed with
ermine at the edges, and gold embroidery in the centre bodice, with
an oval neckline that sits low on the shoulders, and with narrow
elbow-length sleeves trimmed with lace flounces. Double pleats of
the same pale-blue silk run over the back of the shoulders to form
robings (also ermine-trimmed) that fall into basques over the skirt
and onto the floor in a train.
The DUCHESS unlocks and opens her jewel box; she scoops out a bounty
of diamonds, pearls, and sapphires, and heaps them on the table.
SEMPLE gets up and walks over to the table for a closer inspection.
Some of the stones are attached to pieces of paper
THE DUCHESS: My bequests. I can’t take them with me.
THE DUCHESS: My hair the set of brilliants and topaz’s presented
me by the Electoress of Saxony
The brilliant loops for the gown sleeves, brilliant knot for the
side fastening of the petticoat,
My large cluster brilliant ring
Single drop brilliant earrings
A sapphire ring set with white brilliants, sapphire earrings with
yellow brilliants, and a sapphire drop set with brilliants to hang
to the neck
SEMPLE: A coronation. (he makes a mocking bow) Your Grace.
THE DUCHESS: A parade of titles:
SEMPLE: You cannot unintroduce me.
THE DUCHESS: I am the Duchess of Kingston.
GARNOVSKY enters, accompanied by Alexandra Engelhardt. Alexandra
is dressed in the height of fashion, her gown a la polonaise.
ALEXANDRA: I see that you favour the French Your Grace.
THE DUCHESS: But it is by Mademoiselle Bertin.
ALEXANDRA: A la polonaise Poland is Russia your Grace.
GARNOVSKY: Her Majesty The Empress thanks you for the present of
GARNOVSKY: Prince Potemkin has asked me if you will reconsider
his offer to buy the automaton?
THE DUCHESS: I am touched by the persistence with which your master
Prince Potemkin continues to ask me to sell my clock but as you
know I have ever refused.
GARNOVSKY: Prince Potemkin has increased his offer to more than
THE DUCHESS: I spend too many hours counting the ones that I already
have, does His Highness wish me to spend
GARNOVSKY: Prince Potemkin wonders how it is that Your Grace gave
away to Sheremetyev a Raphael and a Lorrain, but you will not sell
THE DUCHESS: I did not know that the pictures were so good; I can
judge the quality of a brilliant but not of a paintbrush. I hope
that Sheremetyev will understand that I sent them to him only for
safekeeping until I arrived in Russia.
GARNOVSKY: The purchase of an estate would enable you to attain
the rank of ???????
THE DUCHESS: To wear the image of her Majesty the Empress would
be for me the highest honour.
THE DUCHESS: Miss Bate, don’t be such a goose. Colonel allow me
to introduce my companion Miss Bate
GARNOVSKY: English rose.
THE DUCHESS (as if looking at Miss Bate for the first time):
MISS BATE: I
THE DUCHESS: Miss Bate looks so much better in my clothes than
I ever did.
GARNOVSKY: Chinese Theatre, has just opened.
SEMPLE: The Empress is a lover of art?
GARNOVSKY: The Empress describes herself as a glutton of art.
HARRIS: Your uncle
HARRIS: Countess, Knight of the Bath
THE DUCHESS: I will present myself
THE DUCHESS: My sympathy is with the Colonists
CAGLIOSTRO: Still beautiful as ever
THE DUCHESS: I believe I still have somewhere in my trunk Strange,
but I seem to have aged eternal youth Elixir vitae
CAGLIOSTRO: You always have your treasures
A party is in progress. Sound of horn and wind music.
GARNOVSKY: Yes! Today we are unhappy... let us be merry!
Chinese Theatre, Tsarskoe Selo. Dmitry Bortnyansky has just returned
Air from the Motet ‘In Convertendo.’
Adagio from the Harpsichord Sonata in C Major
Air from the Motet “Ave Maria’
Air ‘Ecco Quel Fiero Istante’
There are murmurs of “Charlatan... I never believed it...
THE DUCHESS: I hear something...
THE DUCHESS: Major Semple seems to have entertained Prince Potemkin;
not something many men can claim to have achieved.
MISS BATE: They say that once he called for a
THE DUCHESS is dictating to her secretary
THE DUCHESS: Mr Mowat, dogs, Frontignac grapes – taken up with
the earth about them,
THE DUCHESS: Is that a new dress Miss Bate?
MISS BATE: ... an advance on my stipend
THE DUCHESS: Miss Bate, not you as well?
MISS BATE: Ma’am they say that before a man can walk from one end
of Nevsky to the other the price has risen.
THE DUCHESS: In which case Miss Bate one should surely take a carriage.
MISS BATE: Colonel Garnovsky
THE DUCHESS: A glass of champagne! To celebrate your winnings
The FOOTMAN enters, bearing a tray with a bottle of champagne and
THE DUCHESS: The bubbles Miss Bate, the froth, but wait they subside,
and if we were to wait until tomorrow the taste would be flat, bitter,
and nothing like the explosions and commotions that seem to have
entered your head more readily than any novel by . Oh yes, I know
a lot about bubbles Miss Bate... Colonel Garnovsky? No, I doubt
that he will entertain
MISS BATE: Your Grace
The French crew enter, armed with pistols, muskets and drawn swords.
The DUCHESS comes out on deck. She clings to the mast, her hair
streaming behind her.
SEMPLE: No... she’s young.
The DUCHESS is packing.
THE DUCHESS: I sold them this morning
THE DUCHESS: The South Sea Bubble. Seventeen twenty, the year of
my birth, my father was ruined; Oh yes England is long long way
away, but not in my head it isn’t. Did you think that I would
THE DUCHESS: investment in beauty, art it’s gilt, not gold
THE DUCHESS: Nobody is coming for dinner, I am dining alone, with
The lights go down on the yacht, and simultaneously rise on the
piano nobile of the British Residence.
HARRIS: I’ve never heard of him.
CORBERON: It was announced in the Court Journal
Rejection of Harris’s proposal for Anglo-Russian treaty, and the
HARRIS: I prefer whist.
HARRIS: Come now, haven’t you heard? Whist is now the game of the
moment. (Pause.) An English game.