Review: Stoat Hall, by Pat Whymark and Julian Harries, Eastern Angles, Sir John Mills Theatre, Ipswich, until January 07, then at January 10-21 at Seckford Theatre, Woodbridge
- Credit: Archant
The great American film director John Ford had a saying: “If the legend is better than the truth then print the legend.”
If we take that sentiment to heart then every school child needs to be taught about the barmy goings on at Stoat Hall on the Norfolk/Suffolk border, along with the royal visit of King Henry VIII, the assassination attempt, the Grand Order of Stoats, Sir Roger de Polfrey (the reluctant pretender to the throne) Geoffrey Chaucer’s now elderly grand-daughter Agnes and the bravery of a dog called Goblets (played with great gender-changing dexterity by a true Eastern Angles legend Mrs Giblets).
The fact none of this happened is beside the point. It feels as if it should have. It has a bizarre ring of truth about it. Inspired by Hilary Mantel’s epic tale Wolf Hall, Christmas show stalwarts Pat Whymark and Julian Harries have come up with a brilliant piece of historical confection, played to perfection by an ensemble cast of five actors who, between them, tackle about 30 characters.
The show is performed as an inspired combination of historical drama and Shakespearean tragedy. Narrated by Perch the Fool, played by Matt Jopling with the true pathos of a clown, the show starts with a prologue not unlike the one which precedes Romeo and Juliet – except this time the two houses belong to Suffolk and Norfolk.
Then Sir Roger de Polfrey, the Duke of Suffolk, nervously interrupts proceedings worrying about how his ancestral home Stoat Hall has fallen into such disrepair. What then follows sets the tone for the rest of the show (and this will come as no surprise to fans of Pat and Julian’s seasonal offerings) as the title of every home improvement show on television is seamlessly and joyously woven into three minutes of dialogue.
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Joyous is a great word to describe this wonderful Christmas show. Dick Mainwaring brings a wonderful sense of anxious authority to the role of Sir Roger de Polfrey. He’s the last Plantagenet and is a clear threat to the King but he has to make sure that the King knows that he doesn’t want the throne. “I’d make a very bad King,” he says early on but unhappily Regicide is being planned within his walls and he doesn’t even know it.
Violet Patton-Ryder has great fun playing an assortment of odd characters but makes her mark playing Agnes, Sir Roger’s ancient mother-in-law, and Sarah the Cook, who has a way with magic mushrooms and a feast of red herrings, while Geri Allen slips neatly between mother (Aveline) and daughter Rosamund. The cast is finished off (almost but not quite) by Patrick Neyman as Sir Roger’s alchemist and physician John Dum de Dee.
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Julian Harries and Pat Whymark have been providing superior Christmas entertainment since the early 1990s and based on the evidence of this year’s show, Stoat Hall, their talent for creating theatrical magic out of absurdity hasn’t deserted them. A wonderful show for those who enjoy something a little bit different at Christmas.