by Laura Kressly
Seven-year-old Crispin, newly orphaned and the last remaining member of the Clumps family, has inherited a creepy, country pile called Raddlesham Mumps. Managed by an ancient butler who could have stepped out of a Dickens novel or The Addam’s Family, of course there’s more to this house than meets the eye. The bright and articulate child questions what seem to be supernatural forces and a familial curse, but the answers he gets in this narrative poem are far from savoury.
Evoking Roald Dahl and the brothers Grimm, the story is told in rhyming couplets and doesn’t shy away from death and violence. Narrated by a pair of white, male clowns, one is mostly mute whilst the other tells the tale as a monologue. The pair rely on physical gags and comedy tropes – one is tall and the other short, with the former taking on the position of a higher-status ‘master’ whilst the other is his handy ‘servant’.
They are certainly fun to watch, but the tale they tell is one dominated by men. As the butler chronicles the deaths of Crispin’s ancestors, only one woman is mentioned – either a multi-generational family was sustained by only one women a couple of centuries ago, or writer Murray Lachlan Young decided the women of the family were too unremarkable to mention. It’s troubling that even fictional women are written out of their own family history.
There are also some moments, in a show pitched to ages 7+, that raise questions on the suitability of the content for children. Descriptions of a a suicide and some of the deaths are particularly graphic in their descriptions. Further, there are no easily-spotted trigger warnings offered in the programme, venue or online. The often fun and funny performances and great design aren’t able to cover up for the erasure of womxn and the lack of content warnings.
The Mystery of the Raddlesham Mumps runs through 16 October in London, then tours the UK.
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