Queen of Spades
First Performed: Pitlochry Theatre
I came to this story through Tchaikovsky's opera. I was intrigued by the figure of the old countess, whose story struck me as particularly interesting and poignant, even though she is not given much importance in either the opera or the Pushkin story on which it is based.
I wanted to try to imagine her more fully and find out who she was and what happened to her.
At the same time, I began to get intrigued by the story of Tchaikovsky's life. He had a particularly intriguing relationship with a wealthy lady called Nadezhda von Meck. They had an intensely close relationship that existed only in the letters they wrote to each other. And even though she became Tchaikovsky's patron, and gave absolutely crucial financial support in the years when he was trying to establish himself as a composer, they agreed that they would never meet. They were afraid that meeting in the flesh would spoil or even destroy the intensely close relationship their letters permitted them to enjoy in spirit.
I also became fascinated by the story of Tchaikovsky's death. It was always assumed that he died through drinking contaminated water in a cholera outbreak. But more recent research strongly indicates that in fact his death was deliberate: that it was suicide. Tchaikovsky was a homosexual in a society that was profoundly hostile to homosexuality. In middle age, he had a brief love affair with a young man who was a member of the Imperial family; his contemporaries in the St. Petersburg elite are said to have formed an informal but immensely influential 'Court of Honour' that, in order to avoid public scandal, effectively sentenced Tchaikovsky to death. It seems almost certain that a combination of intense social pressure from his contemporaries and his own self-loathing and guilt drove Tchaikovsky to drink contaminated water deliberately both to kill himself and even conceal the real reason for his death.
He died comparatively young, while still at the very height of his powers. He lived in a very reactionary age, rather like her own, when the powers that be were resisting with all their might what would eventually prove to be irresistible pressures for change.
It is quite plausible that, had he been allowed to live, he would have witnessed the Russian Revolution of 1917. The more I researched into these events, the more I was struck by how in the midst of it all people still tried to keep on living their normal lives.
All of us are living through a period of the most intense change, and it is difficult to see how our current social and political structures will be able to contain them all. And in the midst of it all, we, too, keep on living as if nothing was really happening. For even in the midst of the most cataclysmic change imaginable, people still need to buy food, eat, sleep, put their children to bed, and bury their dead as best they can.
I have tried to tie all these different threads together in this play. And do so in a way that will fascinate and intrigue you, too. In a way that may make you want to laugh, cry, or perhaps even get very angry: just like me. That will perhaps make you want to think more about it all. And in a way that will above all, and most importantly, give pleasure.