Stars explained: * A production of no real merit with failings in all areas. ** A production showing evidence of not enough time or effort, or even talent, and which never breathes any real life into the piece – or a show lumbered with a terrible script. *** A good enjoyable show which might have some small flaws but has largely achieved what it set out to do.**** An excellent show which shows a great deal of work and stage craft with no noticeable or major flaws.***** A four star show which has found that extra bit of magic which lifts theatre to another plane.
Half stars fall between the ratings

Rich fail miserably to get the pleasure

An Evening of Victorian Melodramas

Moorpool Players

Moorpool Hall, Harborne


IT is a long time since I reviewed an evening of such unmitigated rubbish -  but before the sympathy swells to a deafening pitch, this was not just any old rubbish . . .

This was high class, hilarious and remarkably talented rubbish.

You have to be pretty good to be that woefully bad, if you see what I mean.

The Victorian melodrama survived on limited sensational plots involving assorted villains, usually the rich, exploiting the poor.

The poor were all good but honest, with a smattering of crippled, ill or intellectually challenged (and losing heavily) family members, ideally (reach for the Kleenex) children, while the rich - landowners, mill owners, squires and the like - were all evil, always dressed in black with moustaches, and only able to claim a passing acquaintance with the truth. It's quite contemporary really, a parable of our times.

The poor are downtrodden in grinding poverty either plagued by the demon drink or missing a fugitive breadwinning husband or son who has been being wronged or wrongly accused of some unspecified yet dastardly crime.

To add a bit of drama sometimes illness was thrown in with no money to pay for Beecham's Powders or Fennings Little Healers or whatever – but no matter. All that is needed is a world where the poor were in dire straits and the local figure of wealth and authority was in there like a rat up a drainpipe threatening eviction unless he could have his wicked way with the attractive wife, innocent daughter or indeed any vulnerable female in the household. Lecherous was their middle name, always ready to press their suit (these were written before the invention of the Corby trouser press remember).  


Moorpool players have managed to work every combination, and then some, into five gloriously bad plays from the celebrated pen of Mr Brian J Burton who amid some more traditional offerings turned out a collection of short dramatic interludes based on the worst of the melodramas or penny dreadfuls of the Victorian age.

Star of the show was Mrs Linda Phillips as Mary Collins in the touching and heart-breaking One Month To Pay. Wonderful as her performance was though, she did miss one important proverb out   . . . a girl telling endless proverbs is apt to get throttled . . . they do say.

Mary suffers from that rare condition proverbarrhea whereby, they do say, her every utterance is some gem of homespun advice treated with kindly acceptance by the beautifully spoken Mrs Joyce Williams as generous spirited  neighbour Mrs Bentley.

The Play is one of the few without Mr Daniel Birch, although brother Matthew pops up as long lost husband Joe, who has been shipwrecked but is now rescued and returns to save the day (cheers all round).

The villain this time is provided by The Rev Mr Mark Earey as the wicked  Squire Meadows, and as  man of the cloth he should know all about evil . . . and the poor after being John in Fanny's Prayer.

Poor labourer John has lost his job and will lose his home unless he gives his sweet young innocent daughter Fanny, played with sweet innocence by Miss Charlotte Chapman, to the wicked Squire Masters.

His wife Martha, played distraughtly by Miss Patricia Martin, is simply distraught, with every acting cliche in the book to prove it. 

The squire is Daniel Birch again, who also pops up as professional standard village idiot Luke Taylor in Save My Child and both the  bad and the good Tate twins in Double Dealing.


The latter was a clever bit of nonsense involving some quick changes behind a screen along with a lookalike to add a convincing realism to the fight scenes, realism being used in its loosest sense, as good, for the fifth time that evening, triumphed over evil bringing yet more cheers and salutations from the massed band of patrons.

Save My Child also had the novelty of the sick child (see plot 36, subsection 14 earlier) Esther and her destitute mother Constance both played by men, Mr Martin Loxton and Mr Richard Quarmby respectively, and respectably. Something to do with child protection or some such according to our guide and master of ceremonies for the evening, and the director of the extravaganza of the Thespian art, the rather droll John Healey, esq.

There was even a chance to join in with Sold to the Gypsies, as Harriet Andrews tried to sell one of her ten female offspring to the leader of the local, dastardly neighbourhood gypsies, Daniel (Victorian melodramas did not do PC) played by Mr Quarmby, in trousers this time.

This little gem Mr Birch, (M) the difficult job of remembering a whole series of grunts to pass as conversation as the surly Thomas.

As each daughter was put up for sale up came the words on the magic lantern in the corner for the patrons to join in accompanied beautifully on the pianoforte by Miss Laura King, who surely has a future ahead of her when someone invents the kinema.

Miss King and Mr Daniel Birch also entertained with some appropriate ditties made famous by the likes of  Marie Lloyd and  Harry Champion in the interval while scenery was shuffled backstage.

One of my favourite Hancock's Half Hours was the East Cheam Drama Festival and that wonderful spoof on the Victorian Melodrama Jack's Return Home.

This is an evening in the same vein,  rollicking good fun, cleverly excruciatingly bad scripts, and a talented cast exploiting every cliché in the Victorian actor's ham handbook in a cross between The Good Old Days and the bad old theatre.

As I said at the start you have to be good to be as bad as this lot and this lot were very good indeed. To 12-11-11.

Roger Clarke

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