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The making of - The Haunted Inn & Other Weird Tales from The Saragossa Manuscript by Count Jan Potocki - with apologies for the long title!

A year ago I had no idea I'd be attempting to tell this seriously challenging piece.  I first saw the film of The Saragossa Manuscript when I was a student in the sixties and knew immediately that I was watching something special - even unique.  It was surreal, hallucinatory, convoluted, scary and infinitely intriguing - like much of the sixties. I later learned it was the favourite film of Jerry Garcia of The Grateful Dead.  It was made in 1965 by Wojciech Has and recounts the adventures of a young Belgian guards officer in Southern Spain in 1739.  He quickly plunges into a nightmare world, where nothing is as it seems. Halfway through the film, in a castle belonging to a Jewish cabalist, a gypsy chief starts telling the company the story of his youth.  In the middle of his story someone starts telling the gypsy a story and in that story someone starts telling another story and in that story and so on and so on but it all winds back to the Belgian officer and there is an ending of sorts, albeit surreal and puzzling and suggesting to the viewer that the whole complex intrigue could be starting all over again.  It was just like life, I thought.

About thirty years later I bought the book on which the film was based - a 631-page novel by Count Jan Potocki, a Pole writing in French between 1797 and 1815, when he shot himself with a silver bullet in the belief that he was a werewolf.  The novel - Le Manuscrit Trouve a Saragosse - was inspired by The Arabian Nights and leads us through the sixty-six days that the hero spends in the Sierra Morena, a range of mountains said to be haunted.  He meets beautiful Moorish princesses that have the unnerving ability to turn into hanged men, mysterious hermits, demoniacs, the Spanish Inquisition, bandits, a powerful Sheik who threatens to decapitate him, a Jewish cabalist and his beautiful sister, a Spanish mathematician and the gypsy chief, Avadoro, who starts a chain of stories within stories that lasts for most of the rest of the book.  At the heart of the novel lies a great Muslim conspiracy and many mysteries and secrets and tests.  It's like Dan Brown but well-written and so long and so complex that I never even dreamed of trying to tell it.

Then I was approached by Steve Yates, a virtuoso guitarist whom we had known some years ago, who said he would like to work with me, playing the guitar while I told stories.  I looked around for suitable subjects and we had several jamming sessions, experimenting with various folk-tales.  Then all at once I knew what the obvious choice was - The Saragossa Manuscript!  It was Spanish, very adult, extremely exciting and intriguingly enigmatic. 

But how much of it to do?  The whole story would have taken a week or so to perform!  Then I thought of the film.  Has had managed to get the gist of Potocki's masterpiece in three hours.  If I followed his path through the Sierra Morena but cut out even more, then surely I could make it out of the mountains in two.  In fact my redaction of Potocki's convoluted plot takes some elements from both book and film.  For instance I reluctantly had to cut the cabalist's sister AND the mathematician and I couldn't follow the film's surrealist ending.  A piece of live storytelling cannot leave the audience feeling TOO confused.  It has to have some sort of explanation - like the denouement of a whodunnit.  I have, however, endeavoured to leave the audience thinking, "Is that REALLY the end? or is there more to come?"  Haunted Inn 2?  So we put it together over several months and have now performed it eight times and every audience has been delighted, intrigued, mystified, shocked, scared, horrified and, ultimately, has enjoyed it tremendously, even if they haven't entirely understood it.  So a sequel is definitely in the Tarot cards.  Alphonse van Worden will certainly ride again!

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