STOAT HALL Seckford, Woodbridge and touring


It’s described by its creator Pat Whymark as “a sort of Tudor/Muppets mash-up with a respectful nod to Blackadder and DIY SOS”. To which I would add edges of panto, a soupçon of Python and a curtsey to Horrible Histories (though it’s far funnier). Whymark and Julian Harries have done many a Christmas lark for Eastern Angles, but this is my favourite since their (less-comic) Dick Turpin’s Last Ride at Bury St Edmunds.

It lards on the jokes with such generous recklessness that even if one genre leaves you cold, another will be along in mere seconds to disarm you. There are puns and puppet moments, telly jokes and anachronisms, sly politics, sent-up history, joke props, audience-baiting and plain surrealism. A sudden bluebird, bumblebee or (local reference) the demonic dog Black Shuck appear at random, and ravens on sticks gnaw the thatch.

So determinedly, gaily , its cast of five lurch energetically through a spoofolicious tale of sir ROGER de Polfrey, secret and reluctant Plantagenet heir of Richard III, struggling with castle rebuilding works (jokes about incompetent Masons go down very well in this vicinity). He is burdened with two daughters, a discontented wife and a grandmother descended from Chaucer who can only speak in Middle English (Violet Patton-Ryder, pleasingly posh). He is unaware of a secret society with ceremonial stoat headgear lurking in his undercroft, because to add to his troubles  Henry VIII announces a royal visit, through a camp Gerald The Herald who gets lustfully captured by his 6ft , uncouthly bearded basso-profundo chuckling daughter  Hedwig. Meanwhile both the jester-narrator and the sinister house apothecary, a recreational pathologist with many a gruesome prop, are in love with the other daughter, the fair Rosamund..

You get the idea. But the strength of Whymark’s production is that it is never allowed to plod. The only breathing spaces are some rather beautiful songs in the Renaissance manner, also the creator’s composition. And some brief comic musical interludes like the mad cook’ kazoo solo or the Apothecary’s “Should you die of anything – from haemhorroids to gout – I”ll lay you on table , and pull your innards out”. I tell you, the kids will love this. As I did.

Altogether, a pleasure. And the cast’s comic versatility in changing roles is pure Reduced-Shakespeare, straight-faced and backed by a stage manager (Penny Griffin) who one must presume has six or seven arms. Patrick Neyman, whether as apothecary, monarch, fierce Hedwig or the ghost of Richard III, is a particular treat, and Geri Allen’s transformation from mother to daughter is so baffling that I am sure I once saw the two onstage at the same time. I was driving, but have a weird hankering to see it again on its tour, with a couple of drinks inside me.

rating four  4 Meece Rating to 21 Jan then to  Peterborough


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