If I knew the first thing about the ballet, I would tell you all about Crepingeour’s ground-breaking work King Jasper’s Castle, Its Electrical Wiring System, Its Janitor, And Its Chatelaine. It was literally a ground-breaking ballet, in that some of the steps choreographed involved tremendously heavy thumping, in big boots, upon caked mud. But alas and alack, I completely lack ballet chops. So instead I will turn my attention to King Jasper’s Castle, Its Electrical Wiring System, Its Janitor, And Its Chatelaine, the play by Pickles on which the ballet is based. My source is Basing Ballets On Pickles Plays : A Study Of Crepingeour And His Followers In The Crepingeourist School by Biff Blunkett, the noted balletomane and Crepingeourist. I had best press on before I get bogged down in further folderol.
The plot of King Jasper’s Castle, Etcetera is so convoluted that I am not going to attempt to summarise it here. What you need to know is that the setting is a castle, belonging to King Jasper, situated on a bleak promontory overlooking a bleaker sea. The castle’s electrical wiring system is as complicated as the plot of the play, if not more so. Its maintenance and seemingly endless tweaking and repair is the responsibility of the janitor, who is employed by the castle’s chatelaine. Neither the janitor nor the chatelaine has a given name, though whether this is an oversight on Pickles’ part, or an oh so clever literary device, is moot. Arguments have been thrashed out on both sides. There are other Pickles plays with nameless characters, some where characters swap their names around between acts, and several where, though every character has a name, those names are unpronounceable in any human tongue, or indeed in bestial grunts, howls, or birdsong. Not for nothing is Pickles labelled a “difficult” playwright, just as he was called a “difficult” child by those paid to watch over him in his infancy.
But King Jasper’s Castle, Etcetera is not, in itself, a difficult play, for either actors or audience. Indeed it is often the case that the cast, whether professional or amateur, will dispense with rehearsals entirely, and simply jump on to a stage impromptu and start performing it. The only people who are disconcerted by this are the scene-shifters, who become all a-dither. Still, from what I have read, that is only to be expected of scene-shifters. See for example Biff Blunkett’s magisterial study Dithering Scene-Shifters In Theatrical Performances Of Pickles Plays. That said, Pickles has to bear some responsibility for the dithering, for his plays have become notorious among scene-shifters for their rapid and bewildering shifts of scene. In King Jasper’s Castle, Etcetera, for example, Act One alone requires twenty-two different sets in its seven separate scenes, as can be tabulated by a competent tabulator with an eagle on the script, as follows:
Scene One : The pantry in King Jasper’s castle – a greyhound racing stadium – hotel lobby – the castle drawbridge.
Scene Two : Electrical wiring cupboard in the castle – plague pit – castle balcony.
Scene Three : Hell.
Scene Four : Bates Motel – interior of giant Jiffy bag – apple orchard – pear orchard – jetty.
Scene Five : The castle larder – the castle oubliette – the O.K. Corral – persimmon orchard – chatelaine’s boudoir.
Scene Six : Uncle Tom’s cabin – King Jasper’s cabin – janitor’s cubby.
Scene Seven : The Great Hall of King Jasper’s castle
Those of you who have not seen the play might infer from this competently tabulated tabulation that it must be hard to follow the action, what with so many changes of scene, even, as we can see, within the same scene, to the point where one calls into question quite what Pickles meant by the word “scene” in the first place. But that would be to underestimate the sheer genius of Pickles’ stagecraft. Also, if you have not actually seen the play in performance you would have no appreciation of its exceedingly slow pace. Think snails, and lame snails at that. Snails on crutches. Snails on crutches battling against a gale force wind. Uphill. At a steep gradient. Think even steeper.
Why, then, does a critic as acute as Biff Blunkett insist, more than once, that the play “fairly rattles along”? Is he obtuse rather than acute? Is he a fool? Has he been watching a completely different play all this time? That is a possibility. It is not only scene-shifters who get all a-dither in the face of Pickles’ dramaturgy, but the printers of playbills and publicity posters too. Blunkett himself has written a magnificent and coruscating study of this very issue in his A Magnificent And Coruscating Study Of The Issue Of Dithering Playbill And Publicity Poster Printers Of Pickles Plays. If you only read one of Biff Blunkett’s verbose and prolix spoutings, this is the one worthy of your attention. The chapter in which he sounds a warning regarding the tendency to confuse King Jasper’s Castle, Its Electrical Wiring System, Its Janitor, And Its Chatelaine with Pickles’ companion piece King Jasper’s Castle, Its Gas Mantles, Its Chatelaine, And Its Janitor is particularly magnificent, though not quite as coruscating as it might be, all things considered. Among the things considered should be the fact that Blunkett was bedridden with double pneumonia and a collapsed lung when he wrote it.
Rumours are afoot that a young hothead Crepingeourist is at work on a ballet based on King Jasper’s Castle, Its Gas Mantles, Its Chatelaine, And Its Janitor. If so, that will be something to see, at least for balletomanes. The rest of us can spend a profitable evening queuing up at a soup kitchen.