It’s fair to say we’re fans of Michael Sabbaton. Seeing Lovecraft on the silver screen has always had its ups and downs, but witnessing the encroaching madness of his protagonists on stage is an altogether more all-encompassing experience, and this is exactly what Michael has achieved with his solo dramatic works so far – The Temple, The Statement of Randolph Carter, The Call of Cthulhu and, most recently, Polaris. For his next project, however, we can expect very different fare.
When I interviewed Michael last year he revealed that he had been working on the idea of The Turk for some time; now, he is focusing his energies on preparing a brand new theatre show, based on this idea and phenomenon which simply wouldn’t rest easy. The Turk is intended to premier in the autumn of 2018, before a general tour in the following New Year. It will be based on a rather curious tale…at which point, I’ll hand over to Mr. Sabbaton himself. Engage cut and paste mode:
‘In 1770 an incredible ‘thinking machine’ was presented to Empress Maria Theresa of Austria that was to influence and bamboozle the world for over 80 years.
‘A life-sized, mechanical automaton in the fashionable garb of a ‘mysterious’ Turk gazed down onto two opposing armies of chessmen. A key was inserted, the mechanism wound and in a whirring of clockwork The Turk came to life, raising its head and making its move. The Turk appeared an impressive machine but behind the cogs was it all that it seemed?
‘Originally built as ‘a mere bagatelle’ by the court engineer, Wolfgang Von Kempelen, The Turk became such a spectacle that it was soon sent on tour to showcase its performance. All across the chess boards of Europe, The Turk gained a reputation as a masterful player astounding the crowds and only adding to its ever growing mystery.
‘Some years later, after Kempelen had died and The Turk near forgotten, another engineer and maker of automata eventually took possession. Johann Nepomuk Maelzel was more of the natural showman than Kempelen and embarked on worldwide tours eventually settling in Philadelphia. Maelzel was lavish, vain and ethically unscrupulous living fast and promoting The Turk at every opportunity. Maelzel’s shameless and often underhanded opportunism regularly left him in trouble or on the run from those he would exploit. At the end of his life he found himself alone, penniless and diseased with only his past regrets and a solitary case of fine wine to share with his only, automaton friend.
‘Time passed, and eventually forgotten about once again in a corner of a dusty museum, The Turk finally met its own end. Consumed in a fire spread from a nearby theatre, The Turk stared out of the burning pyre and from behind a curtain of flame gave its final bow.
‘With historical opponents from Napoleon to Beethoven, Barnum to Babbage, Benjamin Franklin to Edgar Allan Poe, The Turk’s enigmatic legacy of technology and chess paved the way for the future of computing, automation, artificial intelligence and even magic. In my show, and through the yellow-fevered eyes of a drunken and dying Maelzel, these themes will be presented as a philosophy of being and a morality of life.’
Existence, autonomy, sanity, humanity – all themes which have recurred over and over in literature since this ‘incredible thinking machine’ was first made. You only need look as far as Frankenstein, a word we’ve since co-opted to mean ‘any science which makes us uncomfortable’, to see what anxieties the new sciences and philosophies could and can engender. It’s intended that The Turk will be a real piece of spectacle, with light and sound working together to present audiences with something genuinely innovative and engaging. As it does so, it’ll delve into many of the themes which Michael Sabbaton has already vividly brought to life on stage.
We’re very, very selective about promoting Kickstarters here on the site: it’s rare you’ll ever see us mention them at all, so know when we do, it’s because we feel that the proposed project is something really special. Someone who puts such extraordinary levels of effort into his craft as Michael Sabbaton definitely fits the bill; there aren’t many people out there creating completely original stories like this one, much less within the immersive world of horror theatre. If you feel that you’d like to help The Turk come to life, then please check out Michael’s fundraising page for more details and help spread the word.