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

Gloriously silly fun

An Evening of Victorian Melodrama, Murder, Mystery & Mayhem

Moorpool Players


MOORPOOL Players are the company that put the ham in ‘amateur theatricals when they delve into their evenings of Victorian melodrama.

Melodrama is a largely forgotten art, you will be relieved to know, interminable plots with dubious scripts full of endless, unrelenting misery piled upon misery and kept alive these days only in EastEnders and Moorpool Hall.

Introduced by the Moorpool Players chairman John Healey, esquire, a sort of melancholy master of ceremonies – think of a lugubrious Leonard Sachs – we are treated to three examples of the theatre of desolation from the pen of Mr Brian J Burton.

The original plays, with their wicked squires, mill owners, landlords and so on, attempting to have their wicked way with attractive but penniless young wives/daughters/granddaughters (any young totty will do) made destitute by circumstance, and usually involving a drunkard of a husband, brother, father etc who has either been wrongly accused or already convicted, jailed, transported to Australia etc. – miscarriage of justice were always a favourite – and whose only chance of salvation comes in the shape of help from the aforementioned squire/mill owner/landlord in return for a small favour of the horizontal persuasion.

In general, alas, alack, woe is me, the language is forced, the plots not so much signposted as presented with a satnav location and to modern eyes and ears they appear absurd.

So with such a good start already, Burton writes in that peculiar Victorian style, but stretching the already stretched plotlines that little bit further, adding even more ludicrous dialogue and throwing in a few double entendres to boot. The result is a collection of particularly silly and hopelessly dire playlets opening with a catalogue of catastrophe and despair and all ending with the rogues rumbled, a ladies’ honour saved and all living happily ever after - apart from the squire etc.


Audience participation is obligatory, hiss boo and all that, along with heckling and shouts of advice and witty comments.

On stage the acting is . . . well let us say Olde Oake sell it in a tin; in truth bad would have been an improvement, which, in a roundabout way, is a compliment. The stilted, stylised dialogue, littered with words found only in the most remote corners of Roget’s Thesaurus, must have been a nightmare to learn while the required melodrama style - loudly whispered asides behind the hand, woe is me forearm across the brow, heart rending gestures to accompany even more heart rending speeches – is not easy to pull off convincingly but the cast mange it with aplomb.

It has to look bad, which is a long way from actually being bad, and the cast of 11 were very good at looking bad with some fine performances displaying the forgotten arts of yesteryear.

We opened with The Drunkard’s Wife or The Tables Turned. I won’t give the plot away, it does that itself within the first few minutes where we see Millie Bell, played by Miss Emma Suffield (everyone has a title in this byway of Victoriana) and her mother played by Mrs Mary Ruane, starving and rueing their poverty with Willie Bell – no prizes for guessing the double entendre possibilities there - played by Mr Derek Lee, Millie’s wastrel husband, down the local alehouse spending the pittance Millie makes sewing shrouds – even the work is steeped in misery.

Enter Sir Eustace Makepeace, played by The Rev Mr Mark Earey, who makes a splendid Victorian villain complete with a collection of dastardly disguises and a lust for Millie, and a stage whisper that could wake the dead. He almost succeeded in his vile machinations, until Willie, played by Mr Derek Lea, appeared booted and suited and a changed man, a fine husband and son once more.

The excitement and drama caused many a lady in the audience to suffer an attack of the vapours which needed a glass of wine, piece of cake, ice cream and perusal of second hand books to aid recovery before the second offering of The Night Before Christmas or Saved From the Cold, Cold Snow.

Here little(ish) Prudence, played by Miss Emma Suffield, was out in the snow, sitting on the steps of the local alehouse, begging for farthings to keep body and soul - and grandparent’s – alive.


Her grandparents, Gertrude, played by Mrs Linda Robinson, confined to a wheelchair, and Joseph, Mr Daniel Birch, a stooped and bent broken man, were being deceived into selling their tiny(ish), starving(ish), waif(ish) of a grandchild to Lady P, played by Mrs Joyce Williams, a female rogue - Lady P not Mrs Williams - who had falsely accused the father of Prudence of fraud and had him transported to Botany Bay where he had been hanged for murder. . . or had he?

The arrival of Father Christmas, played by Mr Lea, who seems to be making a career of playing wrongly accused family members returning in triumph in the final scene, changes everything. He is in reality Prudence’s father who has been proved innocent and he exposes Lady P as the evil woman she is, confirmed when Mr Mathew Birch arrives as an Officer of the Law to drag Lady P away.

The final drama, with violence and threats aplenty, is Mayhem at the Mill, where Vera Goodheart, played by Mrs Claire Wingfield, is enticed to a meeting by her uncle Saul, Mr Andrew Miles, in an old, dark, deserted saw mill.

Saul brings with him Obidiah, played Mr Matthew Birch, a man who has not feasted well at nature’s table of intellect – two short planks springs to mind. The pair, looking like extras from a budget remake of Moby Dick in sou’westers, have a huge dog offstage which sounds like . . . well, a man with bronchitis to be honest.

As usual our heroine has been lured into a trap as her uncle tries to first trick her out of her inheritance from her dead father and then attempts the less subtle persuasion of a saw table and a threat of a split personality, and split everything else, to get his way.

Vera is true to herself though, having pledged the money to help orphans (everyone say ahhh – which most people did), and got her reward when Edward Trump, Mr Daniel Birch again, who had escorted her to the deserted sawmill, arrived in the nick of time with the villagers, who looked remarkably like the other characters of the evening, to rescue Vera and capture the wrongdoers, allowing the by now near frantic audience to rest easy on their way home.

This is the second evening of Victorian Melodrama and to enhance the 19th century atmosphere Moorpool install footlights with their distinctive low angle lighting with Mr Daniel Birch and Mrs Laura Bunster singing a selection of music hall songs in a singalong between plays.

Direction is by John Healey, who also provides the droll introductions to each item and the result is a glorious evening of remarkable silly fun with truly dreadful plays and scripts, over the top acting and laughs a plenty. Wonderful entertainment. To 22-11-14

Roger Clarke


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