A play in two acts. Running time approximately 100 minutes.
Genre: Historical drama
4 main female parts plus two other (one non-speaking).
2 main male parts plus 2 non speaking
- Elisabeth – Empress of Austria, 60
- Fanny Mayer – Wife of the owner of the Beau Rivage, 40
- Countess Irma Sztáray – companion to the Empress, 25
- Luigi Lucheni – Anarchist, 25
- Mrs Seaman (Nellie Bly) – American journalist, 34
- Dr Eugene Kromar – personal secretary to the Empress, 40
Waiters, waitresses, ball guests
The play takes place in Geneva in 1898. Switzerland at that time was notorious as a haven of political dissidents of all persuasions. Then as now the world of the 1890’s was haunted by the spectre of international terrorism. Attacks across international borders had the conspiracy theorists working overtime on the idea that a powerful international anarchist organisation was at work. Italy was regarded as the hothouse of international terrorism and Italians had been implicated in a number of assassination attempts.
One of the themes of the play is that debate, replayed time and again in anarchist literature, between incremental change and discontinuity brought about by direct action.
This was a time of great change. The treaty of Frankfurt, that incorporated Bavaria and the other southern kingdoms into a newly unified Germany led by Prussia, was still a cause of friction with Austria where Prussian power politics were deeply resented. In the same period, The USA was growing into a world power. Both these themes run through the play.
Technology was also changing rapidly. The development of an affordable consumer camera by Kodak in 1888 had begun to revolutionise photography. Similarly photography in magazines was in its infancy but gaining traction. In 1898, the telegraph was still the communication medium of choice for international messaging although Geneva had had a public telephone system since 1883.
There are clear parallels between Elisabeth, the main character and Princess Diana – both were iconic beauties, both suffered with eating disorders and both met with a tragic end. For the purposes of this play, I have assumed that both were hounded by the media and I have borrowed Diana’s strategy of active engagement as a plot line.
The date is September the 9th, 1898 in the foyer of the Hotel Beau Rivage in Geneva. The previous evening Elisabeth, Empress of Austria and Queen of Hungary, arrived at the hotel following a visit to friends. She has a small party comprising her lady in waiting Irma Sztáray, secretary Eugene Kromar and her chamberlain General Bercivici (who we never see).
Fanny Mayer, the wife of the hotel owner, introduces the play. The Empress is staying incognito but the press have found out and are laying siege to the hotel. Countess Sztáray is not amused.
Elisabeth enters ushering in a man who had fainted in her path – this is Lucheni, the anarchist who, on Elisabeth’s instructions is fed and watered by the hotel. Elisabeth, who has been trying to contact her dead son using spiritualism tells Sztáray that the anarchist is her son returned to her.
Elisabeth is nonplussed by the reporters but has a plan to fight back – she will give an interview to a magazine to draw the sting of journalistic excesses. Her secretary, Kromar, representative of the Hofburg, is aghast at the prospect. A career diplomat, he has lined up a new posting, if only he can keep the Empress under control for a little while longer.
He consults with Vienna and finds that they are open to the idea providing the interview can be conducted by someone they trust and suggest Mark Twain who is in Vienna. Kromar shares his strategy to delay the interview with Sztáray, however, Elisabeth is in a hurry and selects another journalist who happens to be staying at the hotel – Nellie Bly.
Kromar intercepts Nellie Bly and tries to put her off the interview explaining that Elisabeth could do herself more harm than good with the ultra-conservative Hofburg but the interview goes ahead anyway. For Elisabeth the interview is a catharsis letting her get a lot off her chest. However, for Nellie Bly it results in a number of interesting but unsubstantiated accusations.
Elisabeth is even more determined that Lucheni is her son returned to her and questions him about his death. Lucheni is confused and, on finding that his intended target – the Duke of Orleans – left Geneva three days ago, flees. Elisabeth, her mood lightened by the interview and by talking to Lucheni leaves the hotel to return to Lausanne by steamer. On the way she is stabbed to death by Lucheni.
The play is available at £5.00 per copy downloaded or £10.00 printed and mailed. Performance licences are available from £50 per performance for amateur groups.
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