Dark Tales of Gloucestershire Review of Cheltenham Playhouse Performance - Annabel Brittain from Gloucestershire Live
Stars of the Stroud based Spaniel in the Works Theatre Company brought to life a wealth of wonderful yarns, all rooted in local life and landmarks, in this lively and surprisingly light hearted show.
From the fate of a Gloucester robber, Dick Dunston to The Rotten Tale of Richard Parsons who met a grisly end in 18th Century Chalford following a rash wish, the stones reflected the gorier side of bygone days.
But thanks to the witty banter, wise-cracks, colourful costumes and musical talents of the three-strong cast this was a vibrant and frothy show suitable for all the family. The Serpent of Coombe Hill was a particular delight.
The tale of the sea monster feasting on sheep and local lovelies after drifting up stream many have been dark in matter but the creature’s illuminating eyes and bright pink tail made it anything but, particularly when democracy rules and the audience was given the option to modernise the myth and change the ending to a more wildlife-friendly one; although Friday’s crowd opted for a rougher justice.
Castanets and rap added a quirky touch to another highlight, The Bisley Boy, which explained the success of Elizabeth I – she was switched at birth for a boy as “she couldn’t be a woman and do that kind of ruling”.
Modern music hits and comic cross-dressing likewise lightened the mystery of The Ghost Pub of Dursley which a lonely traveller could never leave, a la Hotel California.
Parallels with Indiana Jones similarly added humour to Silas Wotton and the Caverns of Doom in which, thanks to greed, the hero is buried with the hoard he finds rather than benefiting from it.
The energetic cast excelled in a multitude of quick-change roles in this pared-down, rustic vibe production, from witches, criminals, milk-maids and a hero – even if the local definition “Gloucestershire born and Gloucestershire bred, strong in the arm but thick in the head” is not wholly flattering – to puppeteers and even gibbets.
The only minor issue my friend and I had with this feel good show was that it was occasionally difficult to catch all the words from near the back of the auditorium.
While these tales have their roots in dark days gone by, they make a terrific light hearted night out in the hands of the sparky company.
And with “be careful what you wish for” and issues of greed still applying now, these gems, perhaps also shed light on our lives today.