MELODRAMA is the theme of the 1812 Theatre Company’s first production for 2019 at Helmsley Arts Centre, writes Martin Vander Weyer.

‘Larger-than-life 19th Century characters in sensationally improbable plots, with a moral at the end’ would be a simple definition — and the three-part show’s full title, ‘An Evening of Murder, Mayhem and Melodrama’, promises to encapsulate the genre in all its aspects.

Of course melodrama doesn’t just belong to the early Victorian era when it emerged as such a popular form of entertainment: it’s a key ingredient of television soaps and tabloid journalism today. But it began with story-telling about real crimes in ‘broadsheets’ or ‘broadsides’ — penny newspapers, illustrated with woodcuts and ditties, that retold the lurid details of murders, trials and executions.

And celebrated Kirkbymoorside raconteur Edward Harrison will kick off the entertainment by talking about his remarkable collection of framed broadsheets, which will be exhibited at the Arts Centre for the show’s three evenings, Thursday, 21 to Saturday, February, 23 at 7.30pm.

Edward will retell several famous murder stories and explain how the public’s fascination with them became reflected in common parlance: did you know, for example, that ‘money for old rope’ refers to the hangman’s perk of selling the noose, cut into short lengths, as souvenirs for the crowd after an execution?

He will also talk about the second part of the show, which is a rehearsed reading by 1812 players of ‘Maria Marten or Murder in the Red Barn’. This is the true story of the fate that befell innocent Maria at the hands of her lover William Corder in the Suffolk village of Polstead in 1828. Since then, it has been told in many forms on stage and in print; the company will perform an award-winning 1969 version written in authentic style by Constance Cox — with some familiar songs, including ‘The Gypsies’ Warning’.

Finally, 1812-ers will perform two hilarious sketches which offer a modern pastiche of melodrama: ‘The Drunkard’s Dilemma or Her Honour for Tenpence’ and ‘The Wages of Sin or Perfidious Piecework’, both written by the actor Andrew Sachs in about 1970, before he became famous as the hapless waiter Manuel in ‘Fawlty Towers’.

These 15-minute gems capture all the genre’s most hackneyed plotlines in miniature. Hilarity with a moral message.

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