Bringing to life the gaiety and rough and tumble of Barnet Fair -- said to be have been one of the the noisiest and naughtiest in Victorian London -- is the challenge facing High Barnet's amateur dramatic group, The Blue Door Theatre Company.
Rehearsals are well underway for their autumn production, “The Boy I Love”, a drama devised around a story of “lost dreams, passions and deceit” and the famous personalities who visited the fair or who lived locally.
Theatre director Siobhan Dunne, who produced “The Fog of War”, a much- acclaimed play commemorating the 1471 Battle of Barnet, says that writing and producing a show that explored the history of Barnet Fair was a wonderful opportunity to remind everyone of the town’s history.
“Barnet Fair was at the peak of its success in the Victorian era.
“Devising and inventing story lines and scenarios around those times and weaving it together with our research about some of the characters who lived in the town or visited the fair has gripped us all.”
Songs to be performed include Barnet Fair, music and lyrics written specially for the show.
“The Boy I Love” is to be performed over three nights at The Bull Theatre, High Barnet – Thursday 23 November to Saturday 25 November – and tickets are already available at £12 each. (www.thebulltheatre.com)
Blue Door Theatre Company was established after the success of “The Fog of War”, written by Siobhan’s son James Godwin.
The group describes itself as “an eclectic fusion of professional actors, musical practitioners, and talented others, enabling us to go to places other amdram dare not tread!”
By weaving song and theatre together the group is determined to present an entertaining and moving production, which Siobhan hopes will be a tribute to Joan Littlewood whose collaborative approach to theatre making had been so inspiring.
Siobhan (above, right with choreographer Linda Foster), wrote the lyrics for the opening song, Barnet Fair, with her son James. The music is by Jo Collins, co-founder of the Chickenshed theatre group.
For choreographer Linda the challenge is to recreate the Victorian era.
“The movement, mannerisms and gestures must fit the period, so it means following the lyrics of the song but not necessarily miming the words. We are setting the atmosphere for a busy fair.”
The final verse captures the scene:
“The world assembles to the north of the smoke at Barnet Fair.
To see horse racing and boxing folk at the noisiest fair.
To steal a kiss or a gentleman’s purse at the naughtiest fair.
The locals all say it’s a gift or a curse at Barnet fair.
At Barnet fair., at Barnet fair, at Barnet fair.”
For set and props designer Cos Gerolemou – seen here with the costermonger’s cart he built out of cardboard – the challenge was to come up ideas for staging that fitted the period, such as a Victorian picket fence around the band.
“We are an amateur group, so I have to keep costs down. All the sets are made out of cardboard that would otherwise go to waste or by recycled.”
Siobhan said the group had been assisted by Barnet Museum which had raided its archive of Barnet Fair photographs, some of which are being used as a backdrop on the stage.
“Unfortunately, we have lost Barnet Fair in our current times, but it was incredibly popular in the Victorian era.
“With the dialogue I have tried to reflect speech in that period.”
For her research Siobhan studied London Labour and the London Poor, written by Henry Mayhew, which was published in 1860 and included verbatim interviews with the people of London.
“As an amateur dramatic group, we all feel we have become immersed in Barnet’s rich history and to help bring that to life we perform a selection of English and Irish folk songs and music hall.”
The show’s narrator James Godwin will reflect on the fair’s history and famous people who lived in Barnet or visited the fair, including the English bare knuckle prize fighter Tom Sayers (to be played by Anthony Nagle) and William Booth (to be played by Bob Burstow), founder of the Salvation Army, who lived in Hadley Wood and who opened the Salvation Army hall in New Barnet.
Fictional characters, Edward Hyde (Peter Neville-Jackson), Charlotte Hyde (Claire Fisher) and Lizzie Hyde (Fern Nagle) are loosely based on Julia and Henry Hyde who lived in Monken Hadley and who left £10,000 to establish “a literary institute and reading rooms” known as the Hyde Institute in Church Passage.