Taboo is a dark tale of love and death, treachery and revenge with supernatural undertones, set in pre-Victorian London, starring Tom Hardy as James Keziah Delaney. Long believed dead, Delaney is a mysterious adventurer who returns to London from 12 years in Africa to inherit what is left of his father's shipping empire. His enemies, including his own family and the corrupt power-brokers of the East India Company, are all intent on disposing of the dangerous Delaney by any means necessary, and keeping his inheritance for themselves. Composer Max Richter was first attracted by the mood of the drama, which pulls no punches with its authentic evocation of a seedy London 200 years ago, filled with criminals, courtesans and corrupt officials.
Richter explains, "The score for Taboo comes directly out of the trajectory of the central character: an avenging dark angel, as unstoppable as fate itself. The show plays as a kind of very dark fairy tale, populated and driven by Tom Hardy's character. These two aspects – the hallucinatory environment, and the irresistible force of Mr Delaney – are embodied by the two main themes. The first theme is a haunted waltz based, like hundreds of works since the seventeenth century, on a falling chromatic line called a ‘lament bass'. Widely used in opera to evoke tragedy, for Taboo I have made a deceptively sweet-sounding version of it, so that we are lulled into a false sense of security.
"The second theme is that of our protagonist, Mr Delaney," he adds. "His inexorable progress is evoked by the perpetual-motion ostinato figures in the orchestra, which pivot around a bass line that moves between the interval of a tritone – called ‘Diabolus in musica' by eighteenth-century theoreticians, because of its destabilising effect on harmony. Mr Delaney is certainly some sort of Diabolus himself."