A world premiere of Anthony Burgess’s never-produced screenplay of the iconic early 20th-century Memoir of My Nervous Illness by Daniel Schreber, seminal text for Freud et al.
Originally written for Burt Lancaster to star, Burgess’s 1975 screenplay is boldly refashioned for Radio 3 by award-winning writer Jeff Young and stars Christopher Eccleston, who grew up in the same area as Anthony Burgess and is a fan of his work. He says:
“I’m chuffed to bits to be playing Schreber in Anthony Burgess’s unproduced screenplay. The role was originally meant to be played by a personal acting hero of mine - Burt Lancaster - and deals with male mental health and challenges traditional gender roles and thinking.”
Daniel Schreber’s story is extraordinary and little known outside psychiatric circles. In 19th century Germany, Daniel Schreber was a successful, respected High Court judge. Out of nowhere, seemingly, he suffered a series of nervous breakdowns, requiring extensive hospitalisation. He recovered enough to come back home for short while, but was soon back in hospital, where he remained for the rest of his life. During his time back home, whilst briefly restored to full health, he gathered together notes he had made during his first hospitalisation and wrote them up, publishing the text in 1903 as Memoirs of My Nervous Illness. It was a brave and compassionate thing to do, given the stigma of mental illness. The book has become an iconic text in psychoanalysis – Freud analysed it extensively.
Anthony Burgess was fascinated by Memoirs of My Nervous Illness, seeing it as a key to understanding modern life, with its intimate portrayal of repression and rebellion within the family. His exciting screenplay dramatises key sections of the book, developing one of Burgess’s key themes about how messianic beliefs and personalities evolve. The end result is a moving portrait of the patient experience, focusing on Schreber’s belief that he had to become a woman, in order to be impregnated by the sun and repopulate the earth.
Dramatist Jeff Young says:
“Anthony Burgess’s screenplay based on the Schreber story is an objective, filmic telling of the story. We observe events in Schreiber’s life, cinematically dissolving from a real family or psychiatric clinic event into a ‘phantasmagoria’, a heightened vision, and then dissolving or cutting back to real events…. Schreber’s memoir is a visionary, subjective account of mental illness. We are forced into his world, into close proximity with him, often we feel as if we are trapped in his padded cell and he is revealing his visions and beliefs solely to us. But we don’t feel trapped, we feel absorbed because his story, his visions and the beatific way he reveals his experiences to us is magical, strange and moving.
Award-winning independent company Naked Productions is making this iconic work, with the co-operation of the International Anthony Burgess Foundation. We produced the successful 2016 Anthony Burgess season on BBC Radio 3 (including Oedipus the King, starring Christopher Eccleston, Adjoa Andoh and Don Warrington).
Schreber is another bold radio debut from a leading 20th century writer and thinker.
Anthony Burgess is one of the best-known English literary figures of the latter half of the twentieth century. His dystopian satire A Clockwork Orange is his best-known novel. In 1971 it was adapted into a film by Stanley Kubrick. Burgess produced numerous other novels, including the Enderby quartet, and Earthly Powers, regarded by most critics as his greatest novel. He wrote librettos and screenplays, including for the 1977 TV mini-series Jesus of Nazareth. He was literary critic for several publications, including The Observer and The Guardian, and wrote studies of classic writers, notably James Joyce. A versatile linguist, Burgess lectured in phonetics, translating Cyrano de Bergerac and the opera Carmen, among others. Burgess also composed over 250 musical works.
Jeff Young is an award-winning dramatist for radio stage and screen, whose work includes a stage version of The Who’s Quadrophenia.
Schreber.... Christopher Eccleston
Sabina.... Nadia Albina
Father.... David Annen
Mother.... Chetna Pandya
Dr Weber.... Don Gilet
Muller.... Guy Rhys
Hanslick.... Ashley Zhangazha
Writer: Anthony Burgess
Dramatist: Jeff Young
Co-producers: Polly Thomas and Eloise Whitmore
Executive Producer: Jeremy Mortimer
With thanks to Andrew Biswell and the International Anthony Burgess Foundation
A Naked Production for BBC Radio 3
World premiere of Anthony Burgess's Schreber starring Christopher Eccleston.
Series of drama performances, ranging from experimental works to the Classics