On Wednesday 19th July 2017, Past Pleasures Heritage Theatre in conjunction with the University of Warwick performed a 3-act melodrama, Roseliska, a play written and performed by the prisoners in November 1810. The manuscript of the play text has survived and is in the V & A. Project postdoc Dr Diane Tisdall has arranged a score to accompany the play, using music from Paris manuscript scores and printed music published by the prisoners' musical director, Marc-Antoine Corret on his return to France at the end of the war. Meticulous research into the moments where melodramas had music inserted and into Corret’s own compositions has allowed Diane to produce a score that reproduces the practice at the time and which includes music the prisoners would have been familiar with. The melodies for the two songs have been drawn from a contemporary source of airs, the Clé du Caveau.
Parisian theatre of the Napoleonic Era was dominated by melodrama which aimed for maximum emotional effect – there was a sense that as a result of the French Revolution people needed something strong to move them after all they’d experienced in real life. It was a theatrical form of grand spectacle with elaborate scenery and stage effects, extended dance and fight scenes.
The prisoners at Portchester were performing some of the hit plays by the leading exponent of melodrama, Guilbert de Pixerécourt but they were also writing their own plays. Roseliska was written by two of the acting troupe and they also starred in the performance as Stanislas and Metusko. They took their inspiration from the play text of a Paris melodrama Metusko which had been sent to them from France. But after the opening scenes, the plays diverge and Roseliska gives us unique insight into the hopes and fears of those held at Portchester. Roseliska is a play about escaping imprisonment, where the gaoler Caski is a projection of the ideal, humane prison guard and where the heroine has remained faithful to her husband despite their long separation.
Before you watch the performance below, you may be interested in this short background video about the research behind the performance.
The recording here is that of the dress rehearsal, in the keep at Portchester castle, the space for which the play was written by Lafontaine and Mouillefarine in 1810.