Hysterical Historical Hi-jinks NODA Review

Society: Double Act

Venue: Corfe Castle Village Hall

Production: Hysterical Historical Hi-Jinks

Directors: David Kemp and Chris Kemp

Date seen: Thursday 25th November 2022



This was an evening of jollity and merriment, written and directed with creativity and performed by the cast with gusto and enthusiasm. I had seen a wonderful promotional film for the production at my local cinema, The Rex in Wareham, during the trailers for various forthcoming Hollywood blockbusters. Full marks to Dougal Dixon for creating this animation (Dougal also took on several acting roles in the production itself). With so many different scenes, it can be a challenge in productions like these to keep the pace up but Double Act didn’t let it drop and the performance whizzed along at full throttle – so congratulations to stage manager Jean Dixon and to cast, crew and director for achieving that. The music was a key element of the production and special mention must go to Eve Baker on piano, who did a superb job, along with Mary Newcombe’s bugle playing and the lovely, gentle recorder playing of David Kemp, who also adapted the music.

The first part of the evening was ‘Who Rules Britannia?’, a whistle-stop tour, devised by David Kemp, of the country’s Kings and Queens. After a clear, measured, well-delivered introduction by Jean Dixon, the lightening-speed run-through of the monarchs began. Having boards showing the audience which monarch we had got to was a very good idea and a helpful one. There were some very amusing songs, including a great one about Mary I and a very enjoyable one about William IV, the Sailor King, and local history references (was the ‘Mary Queen of Shoppes’ a reference to a Corfe Castle village retail makeover of a few years back, I wonder?). The whole piece had a pantomime feel and the audience, clearly with lots of members from the local community, were very much up for it; they booed and cheered with vigour at William Rufus for killing a deer, and when it came to Lancastrian and Yorkist kings in the Wars of the Roses, and Roundheads and Cavaliers. When deliberately ‘bad’ jokes cropped up the audience groaned on cue, as when it was stated that William and Mary were worth only half a crown each (actually, that was rather a good joke).

The second part was ‘1066 – And All That’, a travesty of English history by Reginald Arkell and Alfred Reynolds and here directed with assurance and flair by Chris Kemp. David Kemp was a superb ‘Common Man’ who falls asleep and, in a dream, encounters various historical figures. His expressions of alternating bemusement, surprise, bewilderment and amusement were delightful. The Compere, played by Eileen Franklin, guided the story, and the audience, very effectively through all the changing scenes. The play started with a troupe of rambunctious Romans marching onto the stage, singing ‘We’re going home to Rome’ and moved on to the Christianisation story with a very funny trio song of St. Patrick, St. Pancras and St. Ives. Alfred ‘The Grate’ was covered as a panto and with a humorously flagrant disregard for historical accuracy (well, that was sort of the spirit of the whole play) such as giving the mystical sword ‘Exgalahad’ to Alfred. In this sketch, as in all of the scenes, everyone gave it their all and were very good – and the audience loved it – and I think the Fairy deserves a special mention for her performance.

The fun and hi-jinks continued with King Canute, followed by a saucy and superbly played farce about a Crusader’s wife getting up to hi-jinks of her own with a wandering troubadour, and having to hide him behind the arras when her husband returned home unexpectedly from the Crusades. The Hundred Years’ War song was wonderful, very well written and very well performed, and the opening number of the second act, ‘Beards’, about the Elizabethans, was also great. It had lovely comic acting as well as singing, such as when the Earl of Essex used a mobile phone (a suitably ancient one, of course) to phone Queen Elizabeth to try to secure a pardon.

The Police Court scene, with Lindsay Dixon’s magnificent gangsta rapper judge performance, was one of the highlights of the evening and this was followed by another highly entertaining trio song, this time about Napoleon, Nelson and Wellington and how they all wore the same style of hat. Another farce with a theme of adultery, played with energy and commitment and this time about colonial India, took us through the Victorian Age. The audience was treated to a clever and funny hotch-potch of jumbled historical facts such as ‘the thin red bodyline’ – cricket and the Empire featuring prominently. A stirring song from the whole cast, with the audience joining in, concluded the entertainment and the audience, who had clearly had a wonderful time, left with many of them still singing ‘he’s in the cart’.

It was a full, family-friendly evening with a huge variety of sketch styles and a stunning array of costumes; an amazing amount of work must have gone into making them. Congratulations to everyone involved in the production – a great achievement.

Martin Stephen