The Young Visiters – Tabard Theatre

★★★★★

By Liz Dyer

 

The Young Visiters (yes, that’s the correct spelling) was written by Daisy Ashford in 1890, when she was just nine years old, then put in a drawer and forgotten about. Years later, it was discovered and published in 1919 – complete with spelling mistakes – with a foreword by J.M. Barrie. The book went on to be so successful that many people suspected Barrie had written it himself, a claim he always denied.

The hero of the story, Mr Salteena (a very elderly gentleman of 42) longs to elevate himself in society, so he can win the heart of the pretty but snobbish Ethel Monticue. Unfortunately, she’s rather distracted by the lovely long legs and big house of his old friend Bernard Clark. Desperate, Mr Salteena heads to London, where he becomes the protégé of Lord Clincham… and hilarious chaos ensues.

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Photo Credit Andreas Grieger

The appeal of Ashford’s novel lies in its astute observations of adult behaviour and attitudes, and Mary Franklin’s adaptation perfectly captures this unique charm. The characters are totally at the mercy of their young narrator (Sophie Crawford, who directs proceedings with a determined expression that keeps the rest of the cast firmly in their place). They’re forced to eat, say and wear whatever she imposes on them, and to interpret her extensive vocabulary: speaking looks, twinkling eyes and peevish remarks are all brought to life through a variety of interesting facial expressions.

The general atmosphere is reminiscent of when you put on a play for your parents (come on, we all did it) with the creativity you only get from children: instead of smoking a pipe, Bernard blows bubbles, and the London rain is recreated with a lot of flying glitter. Unlike any childhood show I ever produced, though, this is really, really good. Rough Haired Pointer’s artistic aim is ‘organised chaos’, and that’s exactly what this production is; it’s utter madness from start to finish, but at the same time totally polished. It’s also absolutely hilarious, and such good fun I’d happily go back to the start and do it all over again – if only because I suspect there are a lot of little details I missed first time around.

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Photo Credit Andreas Grieger

Much of the humour lies in the innocence of Ashford’s text, which, like most of our favourite childhood stories, is littered with unintended innuendos. Geordie Wright and Marianne Chase have particular fun with this as Bernard and Ethel (speaking looks all over the place – and never has the size of a man’s ‘house’ seemed so significant).

Meanwhile the rest of the cast focus their attention on Ashford’s other key theme – class. Jake Curran’s Mr Salteena wins our sympathy with his shy awkwardness, though he does get a bit upstaged later by the flamboyant antics of Lord Clincham (Andrew Brock) and Procurio (Jordan Mallory-Skinner), who are quite the comedy double act.

I’d recommend The Young Visiters to anyone – it’s a brilliant and totally bonkers story with hilarious characters, but most importantly it’s a reminder that often children see the world a lot more clearly than we grown-ups. Maybe we should listen to them more often.

The Young Visiters – Tabard Theatre

★★★★★ “utter madness from start to finish, but at the same time totally polished”

By Liz Dyer

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