Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Used Up by Dion Boucicault

A great deal of Christmas cheer was to be had last night at a performance of Dion Boucicault's 'Used Up', at Edward Barker's house in Notting Hill, in aid of the Notting Hill Churches Homeless Concern. Boucicault's London Assurance is a staple of the repertoire; Used Up probably hasn't been performed in a while. Director Matthew Sturgis stumbled upon it in the Lord Chamberlain's Archives. It concerns a gentleman called Sir Charles Coldstream (ably played by Sturgis), who is tired of life. He's been all around Europe, loved hundreds of women, but 'there's nothing in it.' His friends bet him to marry the first woman who comes along; she turns out to be a marginally dodgy bigamist called Lady Clutterbuck. Also in the mix are a bankrupted blacksmith, two carousing aristos (Sir Adonis Leech and the Hon Tom Saville), a farmer called Wurzel and an innocent maid. When Coldstream and Ironbrace the blacksmith fight (erroneously) over Clutterbuck, it causes them both to fake their own deaths in fear of having murdered the other. Yes, it's a marvellously complicated farce, involving wills, ghosts (real or not), hidden chambers and wit. Ultimately it is an assurance of life - Coldstream comes to realise that life is about, basically, having something to do - but it's nothing, he finishes, 'without the approbation of friends'. The cast included William Sieghart, Rupert Smith, Andrew Barrow and Emma Hope; the audience never stopped roaring with laughter. It was indeed marvellous to see even the smallest children thoroughly enjoying themselves (including one little boy who helpfully pointed out where Ironbrace was hiding). In the audience were novelist Edward St Aubyn and satirist Craig Brown, amongst others; Nicky Haslam turned up to the party afterwards looking like a chic cowboy.

Here is some information about Boucicault (pronounced Boo-si-co) from the program:

'Dion Boucicault was, like many great English playwrights, an Irishman ... The author of over two hundred plays, Boucicault said 'I can spin out these rough-and-tumble dramas as a hen lays eggs. It's a degrading occupation, but more money has been made out of guano than out of poetry.'

So here's to guano, and the making of it; and also a Merry Christmas, as this shall be the penultimate post of this extraordinary year. Next up will be my Books of the Year - which may or may not take the form of a sonnet....

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