“I am sure that I have always thought of Christmas time, when it has come round, as a good time”
With its first ever in-house festive production, Wilton’s Music Hall have spent most of the month celebrating Wilton’s Vintage Christmas, a show put together and directed by Nick Hutchinson. To capture the most Christmassy spirit possible at one of my most favourite, truly atmospheric London venues, our trip took place to the last show of the run, as close to the day as we could make it and, as it turned out, on as snowy a day as you’ll ever see in London town!
Taking the form of a Victorian variety show, hosted by John Wilton himself (played by the Archers’ Graham Seed), with poetry and drama recitals alongside carols and music hall songs taking us throughout an authentically old-fashioned Christmas of the past, present and yet-to-come, from the perspective of the Victorians of course, performed by a company of seven in beautiful-looking velvets, tweeds and period-heavy detail. The evening was a nice blend, so bawdy numbers like the saucy reveals in ‘When I Take My Promenade’, deliciously performed by Lottie Latham and Vince Leigh’s sozzled sing-along through Champagne Charlie were counterpointed by a beautifully moving account by Owen Pugh of the Christmas Day Truce on the battlefields of WWI, attributed to Private Frederick Heath, a striking reminder of a bygone time that is sadly gone now.
There was a more reflective note to the contemporary section with a nod to the social history of the time and in particular this specific area of East London, the utter poverty of which was written about and exposed to society at large for the first time by Henry Mayhew, of whom current Director of Wilton’s Frances Mayhew is a direct descendant. So monologues like Water Cress Girl and Crossing Sweeper sat next to some of the bleaker passages from Dickens’ work, rooting the show in the reality of the diversity of society which still persists today: Christmas isn’t always the jolliest time of year for everyone, especially in tight financial times.
But there was also the light-hearted too with excerpts of prose from the likes of Noël Coward, Dylan Thomas and TS Eliot and a comic poem I hadn’t heard of before which was lovely, The Boy Who Laughed At Santa Claus by Ogden Nash. And no matter how many times you hear it, the redemptive power of the Christmas spirit that finally sways Ebenezer Scrooge is a wonderful thing to behold and combined with the gorgeous reveal of a ginormous Christmas tree at the back of the stage, the final sing-along to carols with cups of mulled wine made for a pleasing ending to a mixed evening of mixed entertainment.
Running time: 90 minutes (without interval)
Programme cost: £2
Booking until 18th December