Review – Knickerbocker Glories, Union Theatre

Saturday 26 June 2010

In which the Whingers engage with political theatre! Well, Andrew does. Phil finds today’s politics rather confusing and hard to keep up with. Indeed, last week he had to sit down and take a moment to compose himself when Andrew inadvertently let slip that the Corn Laws had been repealed.

Andrew, on the other hand, has a very keen interest in the issues of the day and is always up for a spirited debate on the decriminalisation of unnatural practices and whether or not women should have the vote, his view on the latter being “On balance, yes, probably.”

Obviously such radical views sit at odds with Phil’s  more reactionary stance – it was the Chartists’ namby pamby demand for secret ballots at parliamentary elections which prompted him to rip up his membership card and cease to have anything more to do with them. So while both are happy to chain themselves to the railings of Buckingham Palace to campaign for the outlawing of theatre-in-the-round, visits to political theatre are best done solo.

And so it was that Andrew found himself at the Union Theatre rather late in the run for Knickerbocker Glories, three short (it’s all over in 100 minutes including the interval) plays from around 1910 championing the cause of women’s suffrage. The show was conceived, cast and produced by Naomi Paxton who also appears in two of the plays but she didn’t come across at all like Barbra Streisand when she came to the Fourth Annual West End Whingers’ Party. The big question is whether Ms Paxton was also responsible for the bizarre seating configuration in which half the audience is seated facing the other half of the audience in profile. Most peculiar.

Anyway, there’s not much point going into detail as it finishes today, but suffice to say that it was fun. The funniest is probably Lady Geraldine’s Speech by Beatrice Harradenin which the hapless titular lady (played very amusingly by Guess Who, below left) calls upon her old school chum (Beatrice Rose, below right) with for assistance in writing an anti-suffrage speech only to find herself caught up  in a  hotbed of political radicalism.

The evening’s opener, Miss Appleyard’s Awakening by Evelyn Glover is well positioned as it is the least interesting but the closing one is a riotous hoot: Cicely Hamilton & Christopher St John’s How The Vote Was Won imagines the suffragists succeeding in their campaign when every working woman gives up her position and reports either to her closest male relative to receive board and lodgings or to the workhouse.

Knickerbocker Glories offers a rare glimpse into the theatrical expressions of a fascinating period of political history. All this and fantastic Edwardian costumes too. There are surprises at every turn. The director of Lady Geraldine’s Speech is Samantha Bond, the 4pp programme is very informative and – bizarrely – expresses thanks Lesley Joseph and the West End Whingers. We’ve no idea what we did but you are welcome. The only fly in the evening’s ointment was the discovery that the Whingers are NOT (as we had been led to expect) immortalised in a display in the Union Theatre foyer to recognise their patronage of the A Flat key on the Union’s new piano. Not that we mind, obviously.

Anyway, what’s most striking about these plays is their lightness of touch. Comedies all, they make the political pill very easy to swallow. Some modern playwrights we can think of might do well to watch and learn. Andrew was almost persuaded to believe unequivocally that women should be given the vote.

Rating

Rating score 4-5 full-bodied

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