FOR 25 years The Rude Mechanicals have been creating magical productions and touring them around the country, performing in the commedia dell’arte style and delighting packed audiences, many of whose members believe that summer isn’t summer without a trip to the Rudes.
The 2023 show, another Pete Talbot original called Miss Popplewell’s Garden, is a classic. Following last summer’s dystopian, futuristic fantasy Gods and Dogs, this one catapults the audience back into 1940, when the phoney war is over and the real fighting is about to begin. Set in the idyllic Sussex village of Little Inkling, it blends Mapp and Lucia, Miss Marple, Daisy Pulls It Off and Malory Towers in a story of pluck, kindness, romance and abundant food.
Jocasta Fanshaw and sisters Daphne and Dorothy Pinfold are pupils at The Willows School for Girls, run by the strict but fun-loving Miss Tricklebank. News has come that the school must decamp to Buckinghamshire, as Sussex is too near the coast for safely when the attacks come. But Daffers is in love with Gerald, son of the peculiarly militaristic Col Pickles, and she’s determined to be kissed before her 17th birthday. With only days to spare, the news of the impending move is anything but welcome.
To add to their problems, Jockers, Daffers and Dotty have been scrumping strawberries from the garden of the reclusive and judgemental Miss Popplewell. Village bobby Burt soon discovers that there is a villain more dangerous than the three naughty girls, and before long the village is ablaze with rumours of burglars and even murderers on the loose. Action, and armed action at that, must be taken!
The Rudes of 2023 – Holly Cassidy, Gregor Duncan, Charlie Ives, Evie James, Rhian Lynch and Rowan Talbot – take on 15 roles, changing costume at break-neck speed and creating memorably hilarious characters as well as playing a variety of on-stage instruments (the Baltonsborough show, scheduled for the playing field, was moved into the village hall so the audience could avoid Friday’s rain.)
And in the end a strong message emerged as the truth behind Miss Popplewell’s burglarisations revealed itself. It’s a charming play, full of fun and heart – very British and perfect for an open air tour. The enterprising company this year lost its Arts Council funding, and much of its local authority funding. It’s hard to understand what it is that funders want, in these days of box-ticking wokeness.
But long live the Rudes, and I’m looking forward already to their 2024 offering, on in a village near you.
Last chance to see the show in our area
20 July Tarrant Monkton, East Farm.
21 July Bradford Abbas Mill Farm.
22 July Child Okeford Recreation Ground.