Miles Kington: Delivering 'The Death of Tchaikovsky' on the cheap

'My experience of cannabis and Bernard Matthews turkeys is pathetically limited, however I do have some experience of Tchaikovsky'


Is it extraordinary that David Cameron tried cannabis when he was 15?

I don't think so. It would be stranger still if he hadn't.

Is it extraordinary that Bernard Matthews has tried ingesting Hungarian turkey, and finds it very hard to give up?

I don't think so. Once you have got the cheap turkey habit, it's hard to kick it.

No, if it is something extraordinary you are after, then the best place to look right now is Radio 3. Which is where there has been a week-long outbreak of Tchaikovsky, powerful enough to drive out all other kinds of music, except for traces of Stravinsky.

Experts are baffled. They say that there is no reason for this sudden epidemic of Tchaikovsky. Usually, when this sort of thing happens, it is because there is some sort of centenary, bicentenary or other anniversary involved. But look at Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky's dates. He was born in 1840 and died in 1893. Not even the controller of Radio 3 could get a centenary out of that.

Maybe the controller has just been infected by the man's music. Which is fine by me, except that I wish I had known in time so that I could have got involved.

You see, although my experience of cannabis is pathetically limited, and although my experience of turkey is confined to running a mile from anything coming out of the kind of torture chambers run by Bernard Matthews, I do have some experience of Tchaikovsky.

I would go further.

I am probably the only writer on The Independent to have written a play about him.

This goes back to the year 1996, when my wife, an ace theatre director, was looking for an hour-long piece of theatre to take up to the Edinburgh Fringe. I had already written one or two things for her, including a play called Waiting for Stoppard. This time, however, she could only afford two performers and a bit of music. One of the performers would be Simon Gilman, because he was an excellent musician and songwriter. The other would be me, because I came cheap.

So between us Simon and I cooked up a brilliant hour-long musical play called The Death of Tchaikovsky - A Sherlock Holmes Mystery. This was based on my realisation that when Tchaikovsky died in mysterious circumstances in St Petersburg in 1893 (some say it was cholera, some suicide), it coincided exactly with the period when Sherlock Holmes had gone off incognito on his travels after "disappearing" in the Reichenbach Falls.

Conan Doyle mentions that one of the countries he visited was Russia. He might well have been there when Tchaikovsky died and might have been called in to help solve the mystery of the great man's death.But as we developed the plot, something darker emerged. Tchaikovsky, we knew, loved visiting Switzerland and roaming the hills. It was not impossible that he might have witnessed the fight between Moriarty and Holmes at the Reichenbach Falls. And therefore Tchaikovsky might have been the only witness of the fact that it was not Moriarty that perished in the Falls, but Holmes!

To throw off pursuers, Moriarty, also a master of disguise, adopts Holmes's persona and goes travelling. His main purpose is to track down the one witness, Tchaikovsky, and eliminate him. This he does successfully in 1893 ...

Pretty ridiculous, eh? Oh, it got a lot more ridiculous than that before the end, I can tell you. But we had a lot of fun, and sold out our tiny venue, and ever since then The Death of Tchaikovsky - A Sherlock Holmes Mystery has been awaiting revival.

The Tchaikovsky Experience week on Radio 3 would have been ideal.

As it is, I may have to hang on till the year 2015, which, of course, is the 175th anniversary of Tchaikovsky's birth.

See you then.

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