Now We Are Pope
London & Edinburgh 2014
26 October 1913. Alone in his room in a palazzo in Venice on the last day of his life, writer Frederick Rolfe ("Baron Corvo") reflects on the past, his thoughts spiritual and carnal, his memories caustic and unforgiving. A devout Catholic, although hostile to those of that faith, he never forgets that he, like the hero of his most famous novel, Hadrian VII, should have been made Pope.
is the most honest, and for that reason, the most sympathetic, of Rolfe's self-portraits.
Frederick Rolfe (pronounced "Roaf") was born in Cheapside, London, in July 1860.
At the age of twenty-five, he converted to Roman Catholicism and dedicated himself to the priesthood. The Church, however, did not open its arms to Rolfe's eccentric nature, twice expelling him from the seminary, including a memorable occasion in Rome in May 1890, when he was thrown bodily out of
the Scots College in Rome, together with the mattress on which he was lying.
Rolfe was a difficult man, who refused to accept charity yet spent his life cadging money and hospitality from others; a man who spent his life looking for the Divine Friend but was never happier than when he was making enemies; a man who never gave up his ambition to be a priest and remained celibate for twenty years as his eyes continued to be drawn to handsome young men; a man who in early life changed his name to suit his circumstances, even styling himself a noble - Baron Corvo - in his late twenties.
Rolfe's last five years were spent in Venice, where he swung between relative comfort and abject poverty, at times reduced to starvation and
sleeping outdoors. Yet despite the privations, about which he complained bitterly, it was perhaps the
happiest period in his life. He
had his own pupparin (a kind of gondola), which he
navigated around the city and to neighbouring islands, and was a member of
the Bucintoro rowing club. He continued writing, both books and correspondence and maintained lively disputes with most of the expatriate community he came across. Above all, he developed friendships - and more - with the
teenage youths who made their living as casual labourers on the docks or as gondoliers.
Rolfe considered himself primarily a painter until a dispute with a priest left him without artists' materials.
Although novels and letters and newspaper articles
and works of history and more poured from his pen, he considered
writing a "loathsome occupation". Today, much of what he wrote is out of print,
apart from one undisputed masterpiece; in the novel Hadrian VII, an Englishman, George Arthur Rose, who has
been denied the priesthood for twenty years, is suddenly given the cloth and made Pope. As with several of his other
books, Hadrian VII is wish-fulfilment, with many of the characters acerbic portraits of real people that Rolfe had met and fallen
out with. Unlike those books, however, Hadrian VII
is deeper and its portrayal of Rose
"insightful performance" "wonderfully believable character"
"provides an example of that rare, exhilarating sort of Fringe theatre which has assumed added value as historical research or literary criticism"
Edinburgh Festival Fringe
18 - 23 August 2014
Etcetera Theatre, 8 - 13 July 2014
The London Theatre, 18 - 23 March 2014
Christopher Annus as Frederick Rolfe
Now We Are Pope combines elements of the writer's own life with incidents from Hadrian VII and other of his works. As a result, much of the play consists of quotations from his letters and novels. The script of the play, together with copious notes giving the background to many of the events in Rolfe's life, was published by
Arbery Books in 2015.
Listen to an audio version of the play performed by John Vernon:
Sight and Sound|
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