Late August 2018. Mel and Al, driving up to Shambala festival to work. “The deadline for Vault Festival applications is tomorrow. Shall we try something?”
At the time the jag was driving beautifully. As we coasted through the English countryside we composed a crazy pitch. We stopped at a Sainsbury’s to buy festival supplies and hijacked the WiFi to send it. It was an unusual pitch. A vehicle outside the front, an intimate show, storytelling and tarot, as much about the watcher as the watched. To both of our surprise, the pitch was accepted.
Both of us work with tarot. We had already learnt, through collaboration with the remarkable artist Alice Instone, that people in this city crave an intimate moment. We wanted to make something that reflected that, but that was as much about the listener as it was about the speaker – to combine a theatrical experience with something more personal.
For the last three weeks the result of that, The Fantabulous Pantechnicon, has been outside the front of the Vault. The Marquis (who looks very much like me) is lost in time, lost in space, thoroughly excited about everything but jagging through dimensions and eras uncontrollably, gambling and consuming compulsively as he goes. He has an oracle in his van, (Who looks like Mel, properly using Alice’s remarkable Tarot in a very different soundscape and atmosphere but the same van, with a live snake.) He might have picked her up from Delphi. She is Pythonic for certain. She has her reasons for being there. The Marquis has no idea how lucky he is. He’s just selling snakeoil and ticking over. She is there as another timefree being because she’s realised he’s damaging the timestream with his haphazard consumption and self importance. She’s an immortal, he’s an accidental time traveler. He doesn’t understand that his adherence to old models and redundant power structures and ways of being is dragging the world to destruction by fire – despite having been extremely close to Shelley, the delightful romantic, who he helped burn at Fiareggio with Trelawney while Byron sat in his carriage. He can’t remember much of his old life. He gambled it. He has gambled memories and concepts. He’s lost his name. He’s lost the memory of how he lost it too. It likely had something to do with his romantic liason with beautiful Juan who turned out to be Death. That’s part of the whole problem, even if he doesn’t attach significance to it. Death and the Marquis were lovers, for a moment, in New Orleans. Death gifted him the uncontrollable immunity from time that spins him through eras randomly.
None of this is particularly relevant to your show as an audience member. It’s part of the absurd but beautiful background work that we do in theatre to give our characters weight. As far as you know I’m just a guy in a hat plus what I decide to tell you. You meet an excitable and confused but extremely well spoken man who knows he is important but doesn’t know why, and has recently consumed huge amounts of psychedelics. How mad the experience then becomes is to do with you and the dynamic in the van. The Marquis tells stories, gives gifts, destroys regrets, improvises rituals, shares poems and gives advice dependent on what is needed. It’s a very complete half an hour now. But we owe Vault Festival for that. You can’t rehearse audience responsive work without a paying audience. I needed to experiment with different story and ritual before I got the shape locked. The biggest thing I had was that I wanted the character to be less important than the ritual, but for both to be present. I never thought it would be possible to achieve genuine ritual with a character frame but I wanted to try. The Marquis frame works for me in terms of being truthful. He’s taken from me anyway, a version of me. I have a genuine Spanish Aristocracy. By channeling it, I got the chance to make this very strange, beautiful and layered show. We needed the first week to make it. But now it’s done and honed we can move it forward to festivals and so forth (although not with the same van probably – we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.)