First, scroll down for Introduction
ACT I, sc 1
Lights down followed by a sound effect indicating a mob approaching the Tuilleries on the 25th October 1795. As the noise reaches a crescendo, a terrific cannonade roars out and the howls of the mob turn to screams and groans. As the lights/curtain go up bodies are seen, some still, some twitching and groaning. Smoke is gradually clearing as two figures enter US right and left. They step through the bodies, crossing diagonally, until they eventually meet. One is Fouché, the ex-Commissar of Police, and he rolls over the odd body with his boot and peers closely at the features. The other is Talleyrand, dressed as usual in the height of fashion, using his cane to assist with his lame foot and holding a lace hankie fastidiously to his nose.
Tall: My dear Fouché, enjoying the October air? There was a time when autumn simply meant leaves in the street. Now we have bodies! Such is the progress of our glorious revolution.
Fouc: M. de Talleyrand, your servant Sir - as well I might have been but for the progress of our glorious revolution.
Tall: Indeed you might, I hadn’t thought of that. What might you have been? My valet? (He views Fouche’s plain garb with some disdain) Perhaps not, no disrespect but one does require one’s valet to be au fait with the very latest fashion and somehow, my dear Fouché, I don’t think fashion is high amongst your concerns. How about butler? Oh no, no, that wouldn’t do, you’d look like the spectre at the feast and give all my guests indigestion. You might make a good coachman; I rather think you’d be handy with a whip.....
Fouc: Very droll, Citizen. In the midst of death there is mirth, especially when M. de Talleyrand is present - ever the wit in the shit!
Tall: Now, now, Fouché, just my fun, take no notice. But do tell why it is that you are taking such an interest in these our former fellow citizens? I thought in your line of work you’d be more interested in the living than the dead.
Fouc: As you well know, I am not in work at the moment but a policeman, even an ex-policeman, likes to know which of his former customers are, so to speak, permanently retired. There’s never a shortage of scum around to start trouble but at least there’ll be a few less after this little effort. Mind you, this lot are just cannon fodder, worthless all of them. It’s the ones behind them I’d like to get my hands on, the ones that stir them up to it. (He stares meaningfully at Talleyrand who remains quite unruffled.)
Tall: Bravo, Fouché, one sleeps so much sounder knowing that vigilant citizens like you are keeping the revolution safe...
Fouc: I wish I could say the same about you, Talleyrand.
Tall: My dear fellow, what are suggesting? May I remind you that I broke holy vows and gave up the chance of a Cardinal’s hat to throw in my lot with the revolution? I think I may claim to have made my fair share of sacrifice, don’t you?
Fouc: You broke holy vows long before the revolution - particularly the one about chastity. Good God, man, you had more women than masses when you were a priest! I’m an atheist and I hate the church but if I’d been running the Inquisition I’d have had you on the rack years ago. You skipped very neatly from church to state and you’d skip back again just as quick if it suited your book....
Tall: My dear old, Fouché ...
Fouc: Citizen Fouché to you!
Tall: (Sighing) My dear old, citizen Fouché, your revolutionary fervour is admirable except when it interferes with your capacity to think. Come, Sir, beneath that rather unprepossessing exterior I know there lurks an extremely intelligent man but you’ve spent so much time with your nose stuck in police dossiers you haven’t given yourself time to think. The fact is that you and I, though we have approached this point in the revolution from diametrically opposite directions, share much political thought in common...
Fouc: We’ve got bugger all in common...
Tall: Please, Citizen, just exercise the skill common to all secret policeman - listen! I know you despise and distrust me and given that you’ve probably memorised my dossier from cover to cover I can hardly blame you. My church career, for want of a better word, was, I grant you, not without the occasional blemish. (Fouché snorts.) Mind you, my worldly sins were perfectly acceptable to most of society. People will always forgive luxurious living in a priest provided they all have their turn at the trough. But alas, it was the fornication that upset them. It annoyed the gentlemen who thought a priest shouldn’t be in the great game at all, you know, unfair competition and all that, and it upset the ladies, both those that one wished, gracefully, to cease fornicating with, and even more those with whom one wouldn’t fornicate even if they were the last woman on earth. Oh, that reminds me, how very remiss, I forgot to ask, how is Mde. Fouché? Well, I trust! (Hurries on before Fouché can reply.) Ah, but still, I did love those ladies who lifted my cassock so regularly during those dreary days as an Abbot and I bless them all. In those days I knelt to God and they knelt to me. Thus, I offended not only my own class but revolutionary prigs like you. Damned to the Left and damned to the Right and certainly damned above! But, my dear old Fouché, I may have started as a member of the establishment and ended up as a revolutionary but you started as a revolutionary and ended up a member of the establishment. (Fouché starts to interrupt but Talleyrand cuts him short.) Oh, yes indeed. Just remember, Fouché, there is no such thing as a ‘revolutionary policeman’, that is what is called an oxymoron...
Tall: A contradiction in terms. You are either one or the other, policeman or revolutionary, and let me tell you that policemen are always but always on the side of the establishment, the side of stability, the side of law and order. (Talleyrand becomes very serious.) And stability, Citizen, is precisely what I want, you need, and France yearns for! Stability, Fouché! Unless we have it your precious revolution will disintegrate and so will my precious France. So, let me repeat, despite our differences in background and, er, style, we share a view, a political view. And by the way, we also share a virtue.
Fouc: Christ, I don’t think I want to know, but go on, what is it?
Tall: Survival. We lived! We both tip-toed through the slaughter house and neither of us slipped on the blood. Rather remarkable, don’t you think? By the way, talking of blood, who was responsible for producing all these extra litres?
Fouc: General-of-Artillery, Citizen Bonaparte.
Tall: Really? One doesn’t expect this level of efficiency from our revolutionary army - (Holds up his hand to forestall Fouché’s interruption.) - yes, yes, I know, lots of courage, bags of elan but, honestly, they’re just as likely to form square facing inwards and open fire, but this .... this is rather different. I expect that even as we speak, Citizen Barras and his cronies in the Directory are congratulating themselves on their selfless courage in signing the order for this Bonaparte fellow. Shouldn’t be surprised if they don’t mint a special medallion - and award it to themselves!
Fouc: Well, if it’s made of gold, no doubt you’ll be able to provide it - at a price, of course.
Tall: Touche, Fouché! Now why don’t we walk a while together, these bodies are beginning to smell.
Fouc: How can they? They’ve only been dead an hour.
Tall: Really? Then personal hygiene is another of the many things to have suffered a decline during the revolution, let us depart.