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The Hungarian Count, Part Three

By July 21, 2022Acting, Stage

In September of 1975 Claudine Vattier wrote to say how pleased she was that we liked Wrangel Island; she thought it ‘intéressante’ and found the characters to be ‘chouettes’ – cool. She recognised the difficulty of placing it! In passing, she asked me if there were any plays in English that I’d directed that I could post to her. She wrote mysteriously of some Grand Project in preparation but, meanwhile, wanted to offer her group plays with small casts, inexpensive to present. And if there happened to be a fantastic part for herself… well… Wherever you go, same story.

Time flew, and it was June 1976 before I replied, mentioning that the King’s Head might be the place to put on Wrangel but that, before we did any more work, we needed to have a conversation about terms; we attached an outline contract.

Dated June 9th, Claudine replied to say she’d just written to Wenckheim, the Wrangel author, in Buenos Aires, outlining our proposal. Meanwhile her Great Project had taken on an operatic flavour, was getting a very positive response, but was still short of 30 million Francs or so, for rehearsals and to pay dancers. And ‘to please forward cheap English plays on line’, if poss.

June 21st 1976, Claudine replied that she’d received a letter from Wenckheim to say that he was entirely happy with a possible London opening. Neither Claudine nor Wenckheim were used to British performing rights terms and requested clarification.

Then this happened:

So there really was a Nicholas Wenckheim (click to enlarge letter).

Some points: He calls his play Tierra de Wrangel – so presumably written in Spanish first, for Argentina.

He seems to be an active ‘writer/translator’.

He is ambitious to the point of agreeing to everything if there is a chance of being performed/recognised in London.

The first English version he posted is in good English but literary (executed by a friend). However, the introductory paragraph – from him – is notable (click to enlarge):

Much later, Wenckheim sent an English version by himself – apparently based on the French translation! He had picked up the terser, racier modern style which made it more actable.

In our next letter we asked about the accuracy of the detailed allegations made in the play. We noted that he’d based his drama on the Shifrin Report published by the US government. We confirmed that we found the play ‘very moving and dramatically strong’.

Wenckheim’s reply is fascinating (click to enlarge):

So, he’s gone to Solzhenitsyn for his prison camp horror (fair enough, nobody disputes the truth of that). But on the other, mind-chilling allegation, Wenckheim can only manage, ‘Well, the Russians can’t disprove it, can they?’

This is the key claim that has to be validated: in his play he alleges that on Wrangel Island the Russian state was conducting radiation experiments of all kinds on live human beings.

End Part Three