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Marlene Made Me:



Jeremy Noble

To the Beloved Mr L.S.

To Klyuev

Now my love is not what it used to be.
Oh, I know, you are grieving, you are grieving
That the broom of the moon
Didn’t splash around the puddles of verses.

Feeling sad and rejoicing at the star
That falls down onto your eyebrows
You have given the cabin a heart through song,
But you didn’t build a home inside your heart.

And the man for whom you waited in the night
Again passed by the hospitable cover.
Oh my friend, for whom did you gild your keys
With the signing word?

You will not sing about the sun
And you won’t see heaven through a window.
This is how a windmill, waving it’s wing,
Still cannot fly away from the earth.

Sergei Esenin. 1918.

Translated by Vitaly Chernetsky

The Characters (in order of appearance):



Iliyinsky Park, Kitai Gorod, Moscow. The monument is upstage centre, massive, cast iron and bronze; do we know or care what it commemorates? – dead soldiers, as always; ironic now, with all the cadets that ‘parade’ here; I think it resembles more a totem pole, a ceremonial setting for less august purposes – the steps are where the PREY now come to rest, and around them, day and night, circle the PREDATORS.

Upstage, left and right, are two low-lying corner walls, and behind this the suggestion of civic vegetation. Back of stage, flanking the monument, is a wall surmounted by steel railings, and on both sides of this the steps down to the metro; the action must emphasise the daily disgorging of new adventurers – their always hopeful arrival, and later the crestfallen lonely retreat, or the proud escorting of PREY back into the bowels. There is the hum and intermittent blare of traffic swooping down Lubyanski Proezd.

It is early evening in high summer, the season for rutting and hunting. Turgenev’s hunters would have understood the waiting game here of long, patient, watchful silences – the stalking before moving in for the kill. In the wild, gathering at the only water hole, the lion drinks with the gazelle; later he eats his neighbour; in Moscow’s hunting ground PREY and PREDATOR similarly sense and see every eye upon them.


At curtain rise Marlene Dietrich is heard singing ‘Cherche la rose;’ there is a very particular sound to this recording (Paris, May 12, 1962; music by Henri Salvador, lyrics by R.Rouzaud) which takes us back both to the rainbow world of the ‘modern’ nineteen sixties and to that earlier mythological black-and-white world of Dietrich herself. Burt Bacharach’s orchestration is a masterpiece of developing colour: Marlene’s lament begins with only the piano and double bass as backing; Bacharach brings in an ondes-martenot (the most ‘period’ instrument), strings, saxophone –amplifying the volume, scaling it back for the middle section (introducing the solo violin – ‘ …ou la nuit rêve du jour …’), and then unleashing a piano roll into a crescendo that carries us along on a wave of strings and brass with trumpeted top notes; the diminuendo brings us back to Marlene with just the piano, double bass and solo violin, a rising undertow and dying away of strings until we are left with only the final fading whistle of the ondes-martenot that seems to echo into an endless desert that is Marlene’s final words – “la rose … la rose ….” All this in three minutes and fifty-six seconds.

This musical leitmotif haunts the play; here it accompanies an idealised choreographed moment when the PREY, the PREDATORS and the McDONALD’S GIRL come onto the stage like Nureyev and Fonteyn; later, perhaps it will remind us – characters and audience alike – of that undefinable something that we are all of us looking for. During the prologue there is nothing of the hardness and ugliness that we will see when the music stops; the PREY and the PREDATORS do not dance but they enact in elegance the rituals of courtship – pairing, separation, jealousy, as the McDONALDS GIRL is passed around them (think Aurora with her cavaliers). The silence finds them in stasis; moments later Tatu can be heard screaming, ‘Malchik Gay! Malchik Gay!’ and the tableau comes back to life without the rose tints.


The PREY are now lounging around the monument – hustlers, drunks, ‘real’ girls, students; who is for hire and who is not is all a part of being here. The ‘sellers’ move like peacocks, strutting, alert to the need to attract – even the ‘straight’ ones have a poetry about them. At any moment the Militsia can arrive to check documents – why the army and navy cadets congregate restlessly around the edges, on the walls, backing into the undergrowth, ready to run.

Back and forth across the stage, encircling the monument, the PREDATORS herd – queens, ‘suits,’ husbands … so many husbands; they act like they’re so anonymous you’d think they really have come to take the air.

A self-absorbed youth, less obvious but no less one of the hunted, carries a ghetto-blaster on his shoulder, playing over and over at full volume Tatu’s ‘Malchik Gay!, Malchik Gay!’ he wanders aimlessly, on and off the stage – DJ to the cattle show.

The McDONALD’S GIRL roughly pulls her boyfriend close to her, tongues him, then pushes him away; he goes off with his boyfriend, she follows, gesturing crudely.

McDONALD’S GIRL: Fuck you! Cunt! Go fuck yourself!

A woman, not very old, in a dirty tracksuit and slippers, is scavenging for beer bottles and empties; she carries two full carrier bags. She finds an empty can, stamps and crunches it underfoot, and adds it to her stash. She screams at a man who has swooped upon an empty on the other side of the monument:

BOTTLE PICKER [running towards her adversary]: Cocksucker! Vadik you cunt! I’ve been watchin’ that fuckin’ bottle for twenty minutes …. [VADIK runs off with his booty. The BOTTLE PICKER gives chase for a few metres but fearing for her other bottles she gives up the game, and lopes back to the monument. One of the PREY speaks.]

THE PREY: Vulture.

BOTTLE PICKER [cursing furiously]: Arse fucker! Bum bandit! Whore! Child molester!

THE PREY [calmly]: Fuck off cunt.

The BOTTLE PICKER exits, still muttering curses.

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© 2005 Jeremy Noble