The Questors is yet again abuzz, an often occurrence for a theatre that stages a middle-teens number of productions each year, let alone those provided by visiting companies. But on this occasion, the offering is a bit different, being more akin to the variety nights of older-fashioned times, if such nights featured only three pieces, and those tending more to short plays, stand-up and dance than to dog-acts and conjurers. It is time for the bi-annual Questival, an even-year tri-night cornucopia of (a few of) the entertainments of the travelling player or the rep artiste.
Plenty of good turns at this week’s workshop – opening the bill was Alan Chambers with much Winter cold and muffled voices, warming us up for Daphne Gloag singing about a pretty cactus flower, but in a minor key. Owen Gallagher then spun us a tale from his rocking chair about the bootless old ghosts in his house, and Martin Choules has just returned from a tour of the working-man clubs in the sprawling suburbs. Pat Francis then soared us away on a flight of fancy involving a nod to Coward from a raptor’s servant, while her partner Peter led the feather-dusted tributes to the passing of a fellow trouper. For the finale, John Hurley brought down both the house and the sky with yet more Winter with just a touch of the snows of yesteryear.
Back in Sir John’s day, after he had sold the Manor but while he was leasing it back for tax reasons, the only theatre on offer was whatever was currently occupying the room above the Red Lion. These would vary greatly in quality, from pocket orchestras showcasing the latest short-trousered geniette (a miniature genius) to a singular man who could mimic the birds of the farmyard, right upto the moment the farmer brought down the axe on their necks. The Pitshangerers could be a rowdy audience, with Georgy ‘Brian’ Byron chief among the hecklers, often in rhyming couplets. Bysshy Shelley would sit in the front row and a scowl and refuse to crack a smile all night, while Wordy Wordsworth snored loudly at the back.
Finally, the manager would ask all to be upstanding for the singing of the national anthem, to rouse the spirits of true Britons during these Napoleonic times. The crowd would give much gusto in the first verse, but then peter out as embarrassingly few of them knew the second, and some merry-andrew would always try to sing the verse about General Wade confounding the knavish tricks of the rebellious Scots, even though they weren’t even the enemy, and even though that verse had never been official anyway. Such amateur choraling severely underwhelmed Billy Blake, who scribbled some alternative lines on a beermat involving dark satanic chariots of green and pleasant land. Alas, he was no tunesmith, and his career in showbiz never took off.