A pantomime for the darker side of life
Warning: expect ruthless pickpockets, disreputable lawyers, plagiarizing critics, drunkards and highwaypersons to invade St Leonards this Christmas Season… Erica Smith steps into the House of the Dark and Stormy Night and explores Edward Bulwer-Lytton’s 1830 classic novel, Paul Clifford.
We may never have heard of it before, but at the time, the first edition of Paul Clifford was the largest print run of any novel in the UK. Jam-packed with adventure and vivid characters, it was a knock-out: all copies sold on the first day of release! In three volumes, it was the first of the four ‘crime’ novels that Edward Bulwer-Lytton wrote to highlight a society and justice system that propelled the vulnerable into crime.
So, why isn’t the name of the novel and author familiar to contemporary readers? The reason is rooted in the predominant literary style of his time. The novel is tightly packed with words, extraordinary amounts of them woven into convoluted, over-descriptive sentences. ‘Purple prose’ contributed to Bulwer-Lytton’s fall from literary grace during his lifetime, in contrast to Edgar Allan Poe, whose style was ahead of his time and afforded him recognition after his death. Nowadays, the ‘dark and stormy night’ of the first line is the only phrase known from the novel – and these words are the inspiration of a prize for truly dreadful writing.
… which means it must be time for a revival!
Peer through the purple prose and the story feels so familiar. Take one kid with his head in a book about a criminal (pirates in children’s books?) who grows up into a party animal (Friday night excess), falls in with the wrong crowd (parents can’t choose their offspring’s mates) and ends up in prison because of what someone else did. All this despite a ‘liberal education’…
It’s a bleak trajectory rescued by a vibrant exploration of the joys of a double identity. For prison breakout is on the cards leading to an opportunity to achieve aristocratic status in the criminal world and aristocratic schmoozing in the upright world that, if you look carefully, is a lot like the criminal world only perhaps less honest.
ExploreTheArch, East Sussex’s experimental theatre collective, has been diving into the chapters armed with the sharpest of slashing implements to cut through the purple prose and re-fashion Paul Clifford for contemporary tastes. If you have been to one of the previous ‘House’ events – celebrations of our National Saints, Shakespeare and Russian Literature – you will know that mischief, madcap adventure and madder puppeteering will await audiences as they explore the ‘House’.
The ExploreTheArch multi-disciplinary team of visual artist, composer, actor and puppeteer are thriving in this exploration of identity and society’s complex attitude towards mischief. “Our signature fluttering pages and words whizzing across walls are featured but, in addition, we are developing a whole new way of working together in one room with the perceived riches of society – it’s a really exciting and challenging time for us,” says composer, Vlad Miller.
“There are secrets in a stolen packet of letters, a book to hide away and in addition, we’re looking at what we might give viewers during the play this Christmas – how we might tempt an exchange of goods in the course of the evening,” adds theatre maker, Gail Borrow.
Predominantly set in an East London pub, ExploreThe Arch is asking ticket holders to bring their favourite festive bottle of drink to enjoy during the 80 minute performance, which they definitely won’t be persuaded to give away. Glasses provided.
Part of the collective’s Hidden Book Season, this December’s production is proving popular and due to the intimate, unique venue of Archer Lodge in Charles Road, St Leonards-on-Sea, advanced booking is essential. A limited number of free children’s tickets are available for each performance online when purchasing standard tickets (£10+ booking fee).
ExploreTheArch have developed a reputation for high quality, intimate dramatic experiences. The House of the Dark and Stormy Night promises to be a Christmas experience to be remembered – a pantomime where the action surrounds you rather than being “Behind YOU!”.
The House of the Dark and Stormy Night with ExploreTheArch
There are performances on:
Mon 19–Wed 21 Dec and Fri 23 Dec at 7.30pm.
On Christmas Eve there is a special performance at 4pm
The show continues on Mon 26 through to Fri 30 Dec at 7.30pm.
Advance booking via the website is highly recommended (£10+ booking fee), but some tickets will be available from Bobos Flowers, London Road, St Leonard’s at £12 per ticket.
Venue: Archer Lodge, Charles Road, St Leonards-on-Sea TN38 0QX
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