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A Port in a Storm:

A Port in a Storm (in progress)

Jeremy Noble

For Den

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 Prince Grigory
Alexandrovich Potemkin
Alexandra Engelhardt, Maid of Honour to Empress Catherine II, and niece of His Excellency
Prince Grigory Alexandrovich Potemkin
Count Alessandro di Cagliostro
Countess 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.

Scene I

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. Be ready.

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

A parvenu

HARRIS: Quite.


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.

Scene 2

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 about.

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 raised heels.

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

Of Hamilton

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 other wrist).

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 silk brocade.

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.

DUCHESS: Radziwill,

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.


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 attached.

SEMPLE: Harris


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.

Scene 3

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 the birds,


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 several millions

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):


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.

Scene 4


HARRIS: Your uncle

Scene 5

HARRIS: Countess, Knight of the Bath

THE DUCHESS: I will present myself

THE DUCHESS: My sympathy is with the Colonists

Scene 6

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 from Italy,
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’

A maze

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 glasses.

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

SEMPLE (stunned):

THE DUCHESS: Nobody is coming for dinner, I am dining alone, with Miss Bate.

The lights go down on the yacht, and simultaneously rise on the piano nobile of the British Residence.

CORBERON: Lanskoy.

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.


© 2005 Jeremy Noble