Napoleon Vs. The Turk

When the Master Warrior Met the Master Machine

Napoleon Vs. The Turk

Napoleon Vs. The Turk (ebook)

Napoleon Vs. The Turk is an exciting minute-by-minute drama loosely based on the real Turk and its match against Napoleon. It was first performed at the 2006 Toronto Fringe Festival, directed by Luke Davies.

1809. Napoleon Bonaparte has invaded Austria and is working out a treaty at Schönbruun Palace. Also visiting Schönbruun is The Turk, a mechanical man seemingly able to play chess and defeat many seasoned players.

Napoleon, a chess enthusiast, challenges the Turk to a game. But as Johann Nepomuk Maelzel, the last steward of the famous Turk, drunkenly recalls, all is not what it seems.

Before the match, Maelzel feuds with his love, Lotte, who wants to stop the match and for Maelzel to give up the Turk. Meanwhile, the brilliant chess player Allgaier matches wits with defeated Austrian general Sterzl, in a conflict that could spell disaster for Napoleon and Maelzel.

Reviews

"The Turk was a theatrical sensation in the 18th century, and its story has since inspired many novels, plays and films. Now Tom Robertson has brought its magic back to the stage in a thrilling new incarnation."
    --Tom Standage, author of The Turk

From the Toronto Fringe Festival, July 2006:
"Taking its cue from a historical event, Napoleon Vs. The Turk is about a machine that faked its way through chess matches with human aid: think Deep Blue but with gears and pulleys. The actors are exceptional, especially Kristian Bruun as the showman Maelzel."
    --NOW Magazine

"Napoleon Vs. the Turk is an entertaining historical speculation based on the true story of the eighteenth century automated chess-playing machine known as The Turk, its miserable owner Maelzel and Napoleon's encounter with them. The script is nice and taut..."
     --The National Post, Toronto, Canada

"...the script is nice and taught, the performances are sharp: James Duncan's cold Napoleon and Kristian Bruun's desperate Maelzel are the standouts, although special mention should be made of Arlin Dixon's remarkable stillness as the robotic, and yet somehow melancholy, Turk."
    --The National Post, Toronto, Canada

".... History is a tricky thing to stage well, but this show strikes the perfect balance: neither ponderous nor cartoonishly satirical, it's good, intelligent fun."
    --The National Post, Toronto, Canada

From the Author

Dedication
"To history-loving, chess-playing nerds everywhere.
And short people."
     --Tom Robertson

Preface


I first heard about the Turk in a short article by Tom Standage in the December 1999 issue of The Economist. The article also described its famous match with Napoleon. As a chess and technology enthusiast, I was immediately enthralled with the idea. The world had just seen IBM's "Deep Blue" computer defeat chess grandmaster Gary Kasparov in a much publicized match. The match was occasion for numerous people to speculate on the advances of artificial intelligence and ask the question as to whether a machine could actually think. It was great irony, then, that these questions had been asked in the same context, over a hundred years prior, only based on a machine that was in fact an elaborate hoax!

I knew as soon as I read the article that I had to write a play about it. The themes and conflict practically wrote themselves. After I finished my degree at university two years later, I set out to write the play. When I went to research the Turk, I found that Standage, the author of the article that inspired me, had just written a book about the Turk. This play owes a great deal to the research done for that book. It was there I learned about Maelzel, the tragic figure who owned and showcased the Turk during the match with Napoleon, and Allgaier, the French chess grandmaster who was suspected of being the operator inside.

I should say that although the play is based on a true historical fact, and there really was a Maelzel and a Turk, it also takes great liberties with the truth in order to present a compelling narrative. The character of Lotte, Maelzel's love interest, is a fabrication; as is Sterzl, the disgruntled and defeated Austrian general.

The play was first performed at the 2006 Toronto Fringe Festival, directed by Luke Davies. It received positive reviews and a great turnout. I'm thrilled to see a print edition of the play and would be even more thrilled if this spurred others to want to perform it. A reminder that the play can be performed without paying any royalties, as long as it's performed by a registered not-for-profit organization or by students, and permission is asked for prior to the performance.

     --Tom Robertson, Toronto, Canada, March 2012

From the Inside Flap

Napoleon Vs. The Turk was originally performed in Toronto as part of the Toronto Fringe Festival in July, 2006.

Original Cast and Crew

Arlin Dixon.................................................The Turk
Esther Barlow..................................................Lotte           
Kris Bruun....................................................Maelzel                                                 
Jamie Duncan............................................Napoleon 
Scott Gorman.................................................Sterzl              
Qasim Kahn..................................................Allgiaer       
David Shokking.....................................Beauharnais  
Josh Young...............................Porter, Mover, Clown
Director................................................Luke Davies   
Kat Chin............................................Stage Manager                 
Johanna Edwards.......................................Costumes  

Plays by Tom Robertson

Horses
Napoleon Vs. The Turk
Ninja Heaven (co-written with Colin Edwards)
Sit On It


Awards

J.C.W. Saxton Prize for Playwriting from Queen's University (for Horses)
First prize, Toronto Fringe Festival   24-hour Playwriting Contest 2004 (for Let's Start Over)