Although I’m unfamiliar with “Horrible Histories,” the description of Victorian and Gay (at the Hope Theater) really caught my eye. I’m a fan of the Victorian era (especially the clothing), so an “immersive, no-holds-barred seasonal celebration, for adult eyes only” sounded just fabulous, even more so with the promise of “lewd caroling and bawdy bacchanalia.” Bring on the hoop skirts and fill up the punch bowl, I am ready for some fun!
We started downstairs, where our performers joined the pub patrons of The Hope for a bit of flirting and silliness. I was … well, not impressed by the costumes. It’s not fair, I’ve spent years studying the details of Victorian dresses, jewelry, and accessories, and it was all …. evocative but slap dash. Especially the hair. I figured, though, most productions can’t afford to spent 500 quid per person getting everything right, so decided to accept that I was getting an “evocation” and headed upstairs.
We were greeted in a living room set up with a piano and a Christmas tree and chairs arranged in a circle, the cast members visiting with us (and drinking rather a lot). We had two sisters (Steffi Walker and Bethany Greenwood), a mouthy Englishman (Gideon – Monty Jones), an expansive American pianist (Tom Jack Merivale) and a bad tempered, Welsh servant (Lottie Davies). The sense of it being Victorian was completely falling apart for me … nobody’s behavior was right, there was too much drinking, and the number of jokes about the “pianist” and other bits of sexual innuendo were funny (sort of) but really not believable during an era when pianos and tables would have their feet covered so no one would see their ankles.
Moving on to the entertainment, we had some Welsh/Scottish jokes (made at the expense of the maid), some Catholic bashing (by the maid), an abbreviated Christmas Carol (almost funny), and a completely hysterical skit with the maid playing Queen Victoria and Gideon her hapless consort – hapless insofar as he is just being given a “Prince Albert” ring. We ended with a Nativity pageant that had about half of the audience participating. And at some point, we were told a little story about how the “sisters,” Lady Ermintrude and Lady Griselda, were actually widowed sisters in law who were in love with each other. This explained why they were acting progressively more lascivious with each other, but in no way gave any historical focus for the entire thing.
Given the excellence (and genuine humor!) of this year’s production of Fanny and Stella, it seems to me that Victorian and Gay could really have done so much more with the source material available to them instead of just lumping it all of this miscellany together without doing good period research and trying to use that specificity to make it come to life. In the end, it felt like one of those horrible Christmas puddings that has far too much fat and has forgotten to get the proportions of the ingredients right as if enough rum will take care of everything. Oh well, at least I got to see my companion dressed as a donkey, and that was a little memory I’ll enjoy far longer than anything else in this show.
(This review is for the opening night performance that took place on Thursday, December 10, 2015. It continues through December 31st.)