Notes: Hadrian VII

Let us now praise crackpot visionaries.

The original Hadrian VII is a 1904 fantasy autobiography of FW Rolfe, or Baron Corvo, a Symbolist writer, painter, homoerotic and underwater photographer—and lifelong seeker of the priesthood—who died in poverty and neglect. Peter Luke used the material to write his first play in 1960, which met with tremendous success in London. The rest of Peter Luke’s work is largely forgotten.

If Rolfe and Luke have ended up in a special part of Heaven, then RD Laing, the reluctant leader of the Anti-Psychiatry movement, is right there with them. In 1960, in The Divided Self (it was his first book, highly regarded; Laing’s professional standing declined with each one that followed), he wrote:

“… the cracked mind of the schizophrenic may let in light which does not enter the intact minds of many sane people…”

But even the most ordinary of us is little cracked, don’t you think? Two years ago, after a night of Elephant Man, I mentioned the play to Doug Ryan. It’s a real mind-bender, I said, like one of those Peter O’Toole movies from the 60’s. The hero thinks he’s Pope, but he’s in a straightjacket, issuing papal decrees from a padded cell. But he’s not just crazy—he has a high moral understanding. Doug said, “Hmm, let’s look into it.”

When I got the miraculous call to direct the play, I found my old copy and read it through, the yellow pages almost turning to dust in my hands. It was all exactly as I remembered it—except the part about the padded cell and the straightjacket. I couldn’t find it anywhere.

So as we started exploring the play, we decided that just because something isn’t there, that doesn’t mean it isn’t there—it’s just hidden somewhere in the cracks. Tonight, we ask you to look upon all our little fissures with kindness.