The Sorrowful Tale of Sleeping Sidney is the second show of the Theatre Royal Brighton’s Out of Hours season, an initiative dedicated to supporting Brighton theatre makers by utilising different spaces in the building when the main stage is dark. While Catherine Ireton’s gorgeous For all the fires not yet lit turned the auditorium into a cosy gathering, Daisy Jordan’s splendidly spooky Victoriana puppet show makes excellent use of the Royal Circle bar – a small enough space that we can appreciate the intricate details of the production, but still enjoy the chandeliered splendour of the building itself.
Brighton-based visual artist and performer Jordan and her collaborator Ulysses Black have taken the true local tale of the Chocolate Cream Poisoner and turned it into a gloriously gothic – and surprisingly funny – puppet show.
In the late 19th century, a Brighton woman scorned by the doctor she was in love with embarked on a poisoning spree that eventually resulted in the death of a child (the ‘Sidney’ of the title). Jordan has used this real-life tragedy as the basis to skewer the absurdity and contradictions of Victorian life – from the fascination with the macabre to the, ahem, hands on treatment of women with hysteria (while generally the show isn’t unsuitable for children, who will likely appreciate the Dahl-like dark humour, parents might be left floundering to explain what ‘muscular massage especially suited for women’ is and why it might be so addictive!). It was an era when women were both idolised and infantilised, but also too often misused and discarded, and where a child could be an angelic cherub, or shoved up a chimney or down a mine. In fact, some of the most outrageous details – the liquorice hangman’s nooses sold by the confectioner and the ‘Kelly-in-a-coffin’ range of sweeties – are based on actual things.
Jordan makes her own puppets and props (she founded the company Barely Human Puppets) and exquisitely captures the creepiness of old dolls: they look as if she has plundered them from the attic of a haunted house. (Special credit should also be given to local jeweller Sophie Saunders, who created the wonderfully intricate fold-out apothecary box.)
Jordan is both a skilled puppeteer and an engaging narrator, with great comic timing. The show could perhaps be tighter – the interval felt unnecessary, though was mitigated by the fact free goody bags were distributed to the audience, their contents crafted with a rare care and then slyly referenced in the second half. This level of attention to detail is evident throughout – from the beautifully drawn programmes to the aforementioned ‘Kelly-in-a-coffin’ sweets you can purchase after the show. It’s obvious the production is a real labour of love, and it’s impossible not to fall for its dark, whimsical charms.
The Sorrowful Tale of Sleeping Sidney was performed at the Theatre Royal Brighton. Click here for more details.