Thomas Ingoldsby, born in 1788 near Canterbury in East Kent, was a bit of a scribbler. He wrote in spare moments while waiting for friends. His own curt (and bawdy) tales – and those he collected – were published in his book: The Ingoldsby Legends. These curious tales still seem relevant and entertaining to a contemporary audience in Brighton.
Ingoldsby’s collection of sagas and legends drew inspiration from folklore and legal jargon, chronicles of monks, local superstitions and myths, with brief snatches of words from other languages including German and Welsh.
His collection of folk tales and local lore can be bawdy or funny. They could point to contemporary political or religious figures. But the tales were often a mishmash of rhyming couplets with a steady rhythm and not taken seriously.
This play was written and adapted by Joseph Nixon and Brian Mitchell. Brian also performed as a narrator alongside Murray Simon. There was plenty of adult laughter and it was mostly suitable for children over seven years old – but they might not have got all the jokes!
Presuming Ed’s intimate theatre space, above the cafe on London Road, was a suitably chummy and close-up venue and had a den-like appearance. Meanwhile, our hosts, Brian and Murray, were happy to share a joke, drop a prop, or lose the plot. It came close to stand-up or ad lib comedy with the audience definitely onside!
The set was simple with a mauve curtain backdrop. At the front of stage was a lectern, black gowns and some old suitcases. It was a full and intimate space for a packed audience of around 40 people. We were ready to go!
On stage we saw racks of stories rolled into Ingoldsby scrolls in an open cupboard. Our two hosts enquired: “What tale would you like to hear?” We were spoilt for choice!
But watch out! The customs officer is coming! The next tale begins. Our hosts conjure a mock gallop of horses on stage. Who wants to pay tax on alcohol?
The customs and excise man is black and blue, filthy in the mud. But Smuggler Bill keeps his trade going: it is so sad for liquor to be thrown away!
“So let’s hear a historic story,” our narrators cry, “about the River Rhine.” It’s a raging flow. But think of those massive gold dishes at the bottom of the river bed. Yes, the Rhine is just an old word for money!
But why not go to Wales? Our hosts pick another scroll from their suitcase. There’s a knock at the door in the Rhonda Valley. A thick cloud blocks out the moon. There is a devil in a black coat. Pob hwyl! A coffin goes upstairs. A new slice of an Ingoldsby tale begins.
A wild, accessible, crazy performance!