AH Vignette: To Be, Or Not To Be

Discussion in 'Alternate History Discussion: After 1900' started by DAv, Oct 20, 2015.

  1. DAv Middle Class... sorry

    Apr 17, 2006

    “Are you sure about putting Hamlet on instead of the musical number?”

    “Of course I am!” Bronski snapped, adjusting the folds of his costume as he looked in the mirror, trying to ignore the questioning looks he was getting from everyone in the backstage. Half an hour ago, he'd had a visit from several government officials asking him not to put on several acts of their show. Including the one that had made their act famous throughout the West End.

    “I had a talk with some people from the government. We can't do the number, it's... politically sensitive.” He admitted, having danced around the subject long enough. Letting the rest of the troupe know was needed, even if it meant having to endure their complaints.

    “Mocking a buffoon is sensitive now?” Bieler muttered under his breath, just not quiet enough for Bronski to miss.

    “Buffoon or not, the man runs Germany! We can't risk us mocking him getting into the papers and impacting on the ceasefire!” Bronski went on, his eye turning back to the mirror as he smiled at himself “We have our audience to think about after all. If conscription continues, we'd really see our numbers drop.”

    “Oh, goodness. What an inconvenience their deaths would be to our finances.” Bieler muttered, handing Broski Hamlet's crown as the leader of the company at least had the decency to look somewhat abashed.

    “Well... of course, that goes without saying.” He conceded, taking the crown with as much grace as he could “But the word's been laid down from on high. No mocking of any of enemy command until the peace is confirmed.”

    The reaction from around Bronski was about what he expected with as much enthusiasm for the idea as he himself had. Dark mutterings and groans echoed from the people in the backstage area, it hearkening back to when they were in Poland.

    “Bad enough we had to endure it in the old days!” Sondheim bellowed, far too close to Bronski for comfort and the troupe leader winced “But here in London as well! It's a disgrace!”

    “Sondheim, go see to the clowns. We'll need them to shore up the first act.” Bronski sighed, wiggling a finger in his ear as he tried to get some hearing back in it, the stage director doing so with a tut of disapproval.

    Looking around, Bronski saw the same thoughts etched on the faces of the people around him. They had come to London to escape the war, Poland having been turned into a battleground between the great powers, both led by an autocratic madman. It was time to rally the troops it seemed.

    “Alright everyone, I know censoring ourselves is something I swore not to do, we had enough problems when German troops were massing on the borders. But this war can come to an end, the bombings can come to an end, we just have to be careful. As long as we don't do anything insensitive to Germany, we'll see the peace agreed to. Now, does that sound better to everyone?”

    The silence he was greeted told Bronski that he wasn't quite as inspiring as Henry V was as written by Shakespeare “OK, how about this. If you all stop looking at me like that, I buy everyone's drinks after the show, that better?”

    The much more enthusiastic response this got made Bronski sigh and turn back to the mirror. Hamlet was a different type of performance than the musical number, but Bronski had been doing the part of the Prince for over two decades now, he could do the part inside out. It'd been the standard fall back performance for the troupe for some time now, when technical difficulties, staff shortages or any other issues meant they had to improvise. Now, they would do it again.

    In the ten minutes to curtain, Bronski had to deal with the multitude of issues that came from switching around the acts. Bieler had to be turned down in regards to putting on Shylock's monologue, Bloom had to be assured that the costs of the night would be fine and Bialystock had to be kept an eye on. Despite knowing a lot about the theatre, the boy had a crooked streak in him. After organising Bart Little and his Orchestra, it was almost curtain up time.

    “Bronski! Bronski!” A voice called out as the troupe leader turned his head to see Dobish rush through the others, holding a sheet of paper in his hands. Bronski quickly made a motion for him to be quiet, the lights were dimming and the show was about to start.

    “Not now Dobish!”

    “But Bronski, it's about the war!”

    “Has the ceasefire been broken? Is it another air raid? Are we all having to go to the shelter again?”


    “Then it can wait until the interval!”

    “But...” Dobish started, before the stagelight went up and Bieler stepped out to face the audience “Good evening ladies and gentlemen.” He started “In a change to our normal performance, tonight's show will open with Leon Bronski's 'Highlights From Hamlet'.” There was a pause for the audience to take it in, some mutterings that Bronski couldn't quite make out. Obviously excitement for his world famous performance.

    “Don't worry. The clowns will be on later. They're supposed to be funny at least.” Bieler went on, getting a huge laugh from the audience that caused Bronski's eyes to narrow. Oh, he'd see to him later on. But for now, the show must go on. Taking a deep breath, Bronski prepared himself to step on stage, ready for the monologue which he had perfected so much. He did this while doing his best to ignore Dobish was trying to get his attention.

    “Bronski, please!” He begged, trying to make himself known.

    Ignoring Dobish, Bronski stepped out onto the stage, ready to give his monologue when Dobish shouted after him “GERMANY'S SURRENDERED! WE'RE AT PEACE!”

    The silence in the theatre that followed had little to do with anyone paying attention to Bronski, and everything to do with Dobish's words echoing throughout the large room. Ever one to improvise, Bronski quickly made his way to centre stage “Yes! You heard it ladies and gentlemen! The war is over! And, to celebrate, we're going to have a sing along with everyone in the theatre! Orchestra, start up! You know the words! We want everybody to sing!”

    Motioning his hands towards the wings, Bronski felt some relief when everyone came out in front of the audience, the orchestra hurriedly scanning through their pages to find the right page. It was time for the song, the song that had made them famous throughout the Empire. Or, as the British led alliance was now known, the Commonwealth. Despite the invitations, Bronski hadn't been willing to take the troupe on a tour to South Africa and India when the waters were infested with U-Boats. With the entire troupe out, it was Bronski who led the way “Tell me, what does the Kaiser want?”

    “Peace!” Came the answer from the troupe and a few of the more alert members of the audience.

    “What was that?” Bronski asked, cupping his hand to his ear, getting everyone to go along now.

    “PEACE!” The audience roared along with the troupe, getting into things now.

    “Of course! Peace! Peace! A...” Bronski paused, making sure everyone was going to follow before leading the entire theatre into the song.

    “A little piece of Poland,
    A little piece of France,
    Along with my friend Austria,
    Some of Russia perchance!
    Something nice from Norway
    And all that that entails,
    And then a bit of England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales!”

    * * *​

    In the after show party, things had taken an even more jubilant turn as people were also celebrating the end of the war. Even in the basement of the theatre that had been the company's makeshift home these last few years, they could hear the partying out on the streets as the news quickly spread. The troupe would break up to join them shortly, but for now, they were enjoying the wine that Bieler had brought with them when they had escaped Poland, saved for such a day.

    “To the end of the Great War! 1921-1924!” Bronski roared, the rest joining in the toast.

    “A toast to King Albert!” Sondheim called out, his voice echoing throughout the basement and getting everyone to raise their glasses.

    “To King Albert!” Everyone shouted in response, downing their drinks with that as well.

    “To President Poincaré!” Another voice called out, getting another echo from the people around them.

    What Bronski knew, as well as everyone else, that one major leader of the allies wasn't being named. Not surprising really, no Polish person would ever drink a toast to the Tsar unless it was to celebrate his death.

    As the drinks were finished and everyone started to make their way out onto the streets, Bronski was stopped by Bieler, the Jewish man looking the least enthused out of the news they'd received “What shall we do about the Krazy Kaiser number?” He asked, to business, as ever “If the news is true, then Germany isn't in a position to demand anything after their surrender. France and Russia are going to tear them apart, even the Scandinavia nations are going to want their pound of flesh.”

    Bronski had to admit, the man had a point. Without the Kaiser, the butt of jokes was going to have to change “Maybe the American President?” He suggested “After all, we had that scare over Canada last year. A few songs mocking him for thinking he could fight the Entente should go down well.”

    “He lost the election last month, remember?” Bieler reminded him “We can't get many more jokes from that.”

    “What about the Chinese Emperor?”

    “Which one?” Bieler asked sarcastically, bringing to the point that you couldn't really mock someone for having ambitions for taking over the world when he was currently fighting two others simply trying to control a single country.

    “Hm, how about the Japanese Emperor then?”

    “We had him down with our 'Does He Know There's A War On?' sketch a few months ago. It didn't go over all that well, as you should recall.”

    The British and their Japanophile tastes, it was enough to bring any man to despair. Massaging his temple with his fingers, Bronski eventually shrugged “We'll sort it out tomorrow. For now, let's just enjoy the night.”

    “We could always go for the Tsar.” Bieler suggested, his tone an odd mixture of hope and bitterness.

    As a Pole, Bronski could understand what Bieler must have been feeling, although since he wasn't a Jew, certainly not to the heights they reached. As a businessman and owner of the troupe, he knew that mocking the greatest ally of Britain during the war before the treaty had even been signed was not a good idea “I think not.” He said after some thought “As I said, we can discuss the matter later on.”

    “He is going to wreck Poland!” Bieler snapped “Doesn't that mean anything to you?!”

    “We shouldn't press the issue.” Bronski replied, the words tasting incredibly bad in his mouth “He is the Tsar after all.”

    “Ah.” Bieler said, not hiding the loathing in his voice “It's good to be the Tsar.”
  2. traveller76 Member

    Jul 29, 2006
    Fort Worth, TX

    Maybe a production from the classical era, from the Roman Empire perhaps?
  3. SenatorChickpea Well-Known Member

    Oct 22, 2009
    Absolutely wonderful! The worldbuilding was done well, and I loved the references- but what this site absolutely needs more of is alternate history as seen by alternate people, not just a parade of politicians.
    And how many vignettes actually make you smile? Really, just a fine piece of work all round.
  4. DAv Middle Class... sorry

    Apr 17, 2006
    Haven't seen that movie from Brooks, so couldn't quite make a reference to it. Was more let down that I couldn't think of something

    Glad you liked it and this was sort of the intention. Thande mentioned on another thread that most of these Vignettes were dystopias so I thought I'd try my hand at something a bit different. Not a utopia of course, more along the lines of just another regular world with its own triumphs and tragedies. Plus, Mel Brooks references, can't go wrong with those.
  5. Redolegna Hamiltonian Federalist for a more perfect EU

    Jun 17, 2014
    The Lubistch movie was excellent and this vignette is a nice homage to it. Shame that the Turas are probably a bit young to be part of the company.

    ETA: and shame on me for not knowing Mel Brooks directed a remake of it. On my 'to watch' list, now.
  6. DAv Middle Class... sorry

    Apr 17, 2006
    I've only seen the remake, but it is a good film. Lot more willing to mock the Nazis and has some really good moments. Shame it's one of Brooks' more overlooked pieces.