Here’s what I know: In 1988 British writer Peter Ackroyd published Chatterton, a multi-layered work using, as it’s starting point, the life and death of 18th-century poet Thomas Chatterton. If we know him at all it’s because of two things – He killed himself at 17 and 100 years later the Romantics took him up as a symbol. Poems were written, praised were sung and someone named Henry Wallis painted a famous portrait of him lying, just dead, in a garret. Wallis used a poet named George Meredith as his model for Chatterton and, just to prove that men are pigs no matter the century, he ran off with Meredith’s wife whom he then abandoned when she got pregnant.
In Chatterton, Ackroyd explores the tale of the suicidal youth, Wallis’ painting of the portrait and an invented third story. Here we meet contemporary poet Charles Wychwood, his wife Vivien, and a bunch of art world denizens, most especially Harriet Scrope, a novelist hiring Wychwood to ghost write her memoirs.
Here’s something else I know; Quantum Theatre’s artistic director Karla Boos, in collaboration with Martin Giles, adapted Chatterton into an entertainment experience Boos calls “3-D Theater.”
By Ted Hoover, Pittsburgh Current