Emperor Joseph (aka Count Falkenstein)

16 Sep

The starting point for Keepers was a lot narrower than the one we are taking into rehearsal soon for L’Autruche. Essentially, we knew what the story was and we were going to set about telling it. Through research, and in wrangling with the potential core, premise or drive of this starting point, I’m trying to find some possible tantalising shapes, questions, or opportunities that can give us something of a frame, no matter how blurry, within which we can start to play with material. And so to Marie’s brother, discovered whilst at The Hurst (The Arvon Foundation’s centre for new writing in the W Midlands), Emperor Joseph of Austria.

Joseph it seems was a bit of a fruit loop and I love him already. As a ‘mere’ Crown Prince, in order to step out of the shadow his mother’s rule, Joseph assiduously set about becoming a ‘people’s prince’. Whilst Marie was busy dressing up as a sherpherdess, Joseph too was busy mixing it with the common man, performing incredible feats of philanthropy in disguise, whilst always being careful to let his cloak slip afterwards (the lure of anonymity didn’t appear to stretch as far as missing out on garnering credit!)

Back in France, tongues were wagging as it became known that after several years of marriage, Marie and the King had not actually had sex yet; a fairly significant barrier to fulfilling her duty through bearing an heir if ever their was one. A concerned mother dispatched Joseph to sort things out, and the intrepid master of disguise embarked from Austria to Paris, travelling as Count Falkenstein, staying in lowly guest houses and journeying by standard carriage (being sure of course that the right people knew to expect him). So you have this journey of one guy badly pretending to be someone else but to win the hearts of the poor, to visit another stubbornly deluded young woman unwittingly doing everything to harden their hearts against her. His visit resulted in an extraordinary rebuke that would ultimately lead to the Queen finally doing the necessary, and conceiving. Now there’s definitely something in there…

I’ll let you know how we get on with all that. But to finish with, a final word from the Emperor himself, reportedly uttered after whichever of his latest acts of anonymous kindness: “You shall never know my name… I am Empereor Jospeh!”. Priceless.

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