The Death of Tintagel was a world premiere by multiple award-winning writer Peter Morris (Sunday Times Playwriting Prize 2000 & 2001).
Directed by Vik Sivalingam, RSC ensemble director, on the Board of Headlong Theatre, with credits at The Almeida and The Old Vic.
Tintagel is based on the Belgian classic La Mort de Tintagiles by Maeterlinck. It tells the story of Prince Tintagel being summoned home to die and his sister Ygraine’s attempts to save him.

A multi-national, multi-disciplinary collaborative project which encouraged public contributions and creative responses. saltpeter discovered artists from non-theatre traditions which led to fresh discoveries in the production process. We received support and learned from the generous arts collective, behind the bikeshed, and our hosts, Britain’s oldest running experimental theatre company, People Show.

The Trailer:

Key features of the project:

  • Design: the creation of the epic, fantastical and horrific world through multi-layering of composed music, soundscapes, and lighting
  • Performance: The deft handling of the complicated verse-structure & physical improvisation
  • A rigorous examination of gender and familial roles, online and via the Q&A supper session
  • The collaborative mix of students, emerging artists and professionals
  • Working with professional artists (e.g. Lucy Pawlak, visual artist & Alejandro Pelaez, musician and sound technician) from non-theatre backgrounds lent our work fresh perspectives
  • The engagement with the public, locally and internationally, which generated new work and discussion which was showcased online and in a gallery setting created on site
  • New work and collaborations generated & continued post-show

Its genesis a long-forgotten symbolist marionette piece by Maeterlinck, the man remembered perhaps only for Pelleas and Melisande
(and The Blue Bird. which was eventually to emerge as a gem of Hollywood arcana), 
this new treatment of The Death of Tintagel by
Peter Norris is a surprise and a delight, something rich and strange, compelling and cathartic.”  – 
Remote Goat, read more here >>>

Press cuttings here.

A note from the Author – Peter Morris

Count Maurice Maeterlinck’s reputation in the theatre has waned considerably in the past hundred years, from a time when directors like Stanislavsky and Meyerhold mounted sprawling productions of symbolist dramas like L’Oiseau Bleu. Few English or American actors that I asked could recognize his name at all, and those that did knew it mainly from the old Hollywood anecdote—in an effort to lure “the greatest writers in the world” to MGM, Sam Goldwyn commissioned Maeterlinck several years after he won the 1911 Nobel Prize for Literature, asking him to adapt his most popular work for the screen. Maeterlinck accordingly delivered a film scenario based on his bestselling La Vie des Abeilles. A few moments after sitting down to read it, Goldwyn screamed in horror: “Fifty thousand dollars and the leading man is a bee!” (This left Daryl F. Zanuck free in 1940 to make The Blue Bird into a vehicle for the aging Shirley Temple at 20th Century Fox, a film which will not disappoint devotees of the unintentionally macabre.)

So I imagine that most people have never heard of La Mort de Tintagiles, although it had been staged by Meyerhold, and Vaughan Williams wrote incidental music for it. I had not heard of it when it was brought to my attention by Joseph Rosswog, who asked me several years ago if I would like to translate the piece for a festival in downtown Manhattan, where various neglected authors would be getting a new hearing: there was not even a stageable English translation of it. After reading the play I was fascinated: I had never read anything like it. But I agreed on the stipulation that I could write not a faithful translation but a very loose adaptation, a new play that followed the contours of the original: a version (or respectful per-version) that tried to capture what was most interesting to me about the original drama, which is a sort of exercise in constrained terror, and a vision of human sacrifice.

The script that follows is the result. I’ve kept the names and, roughly, the action of the original, but not much else: Maeterlinck wrote wholly in prose, for a start, whereas I felt the piece required a sort of eerie nursery-rhyme verse. I had in mind the creepiness of Hillaire Belloc’s Cautionary Tales or Harry Graham’s less famous but much funnier Ruthless Rhymes — not to mention the cod-Edwardian creepiness of Edward Gorey. This seemed to me a persuasive idiom for a script that, despite its death-haunted Flemish Catholic angoisse and faint fin-de-siècle misogynies, Maeterlinck wrote to be performed by marionettes.

Maeterlinck’s piece is set in a deliberately pre-Arthurian age of myth—the name “Tintagiles” is his francophone approximation of Tintagel, the Cornish castle where Uther Pendragon begat the once and future king, and Isolde legendarily trysted with Tristan. He wrote the piece in 1894, which is only a matter of years after Tennyson finished the Idylls of the King, but there is nothing idyllic about Maeterlinck’s vision. In fact, hardcore fans of Camelot and chivalry will recall that the mother of Arthur (and also of the sorceress Morgan le Fay) was in fact Ygraine of Cornwall, whom Maeterlinck made his protagonist. As far as Arthurian literature is concerned, I think Maeterlinck’s play is probably the only example that I can think of which leaves aside chivalry in favor of claustrophobia and dread.

I’d like to dedicate this playlet not only to Joseph Rosswog, who asked for it—and boy, did he get it—but also to Count Maeterlinck. Like many of his generation, Maeterlinck was a practicing spiritualist: he believed in the ability of the dead to contact the living, by means of some intermediary. After all, I did not write so much as ghost-write this version of Maeterlinck’s original puppet-play. I trust his ghost will smile over this production, and I hope this little play haunts you as much as it did me when I encountered it.

Avalon, New Jersey. 2010

A short video: