Victorian Festival of Christmas 2015

Oliver characters: Mrs Bedwin, Bill Sykes with his dog Bullseye and Nancy.
Oliver characters: Mrs Bedwin, Bill Sykes with his dog Bullseye and Nancy.

I took part in The Victorian Festival of Christmas at Portsmouth’s Historical Dockyard this year. If you have ever wandered why so many British actors get the best parts in Hollywood movies, then perhaps take a look at this year’s festival slide show on YouTube (by photographer Steve Spurgin)https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0mPDpbDtbO8

Most chimney sweeps were children.
Most chimney sweeps were children.
The prostitutes
The prostitutes
Isambard Kingdom Brunel, Mr Darcy, Florence Nightingale, Prince George, Lady Pennywhistle.
Isambard Kingdom Brunel, Mr Darcy, Florence Nightingale, Prince George, Lady Pennywhistle.
Queen Victoria with John Brown
Queen Victoria with John Brown

With very little rehearsal, over 400 volunteers dressed in Victorian costume to bring this attraction to life, for thousands of tourists from all over the globe.

In the UK, we live and breath theatre from an early age, starting with making costumes to take part in the school’s nativity play. History is now taught by people dressing up and re-enacting the period they are learning about, be it Romans or WWII. To learn Shakespeare for exams we do not just read the play, we act it. More people belong to amateur drama groups in Britain than sports societies.

Portsmouth is the birthplace of Charles Dickens. The Historical Dockyard is where centuries-old ships, such as Nelson’s Flagship The Victory, HMS Warrior and The Mary Rose etc are moored.

charles_dickens_plaque_portsmouth

 

The dry dock is also where parts of Les Miserables was filmed. So all these scenes were brought to life by costumed actors, singers, school groups, historical and Victorian interest societies such as steam-punks or the Victorian Strollers.People from 5 to 80 years-of-age played famous Victorian or Dickensian characters for three full days and with very little breaks. It was in the open air while the tale-end of Hurricane Desmond was blowing a gale and in addition there were a few down-pours.

Suffragettes
Suffragettes

First visitors are greeted by carollers, then those in Victorian Uniforms, dockyard workers, stilt-walking-police, postal clerks, servicemen, sailors. Then by beggars, prostitutes and suffragettes – undertakers, a ruthless judge in a courtroom setting, prisoners, gliding angels, pearly kings & queens singing cockney musical hall ditties, workhouse children being enticed to steal by Fagin and the Artful Dodger, chimney sweeps, a green-gowned Father Christmas. There were snow machines, carousels, a Downton-Abbey type dinner table set with turkey and trimmings, various stage sets. There were three a pubs – one mock, one real with bands singing sea shanties and even an inflatable one. There was a market selling Christmas crafts and fayre from mulled cider to hog roasts.

Victorian Dinner Party
Victorian Dinner Party

I was part of Groundlings Theatre that organised around 200 of us. I played an aristocratic snob preaching Victorian manners. “It is the height of rudeness to have one’s elbows on the table.”  At the end of each sketch, Charles the Butler pushes a custard pie in my face. I endured around 40 of those!

Police with penny farthing bicycles.
Police with penny farthing bicycles.
Children learn about Victorian history by dressing up
Children learn about Victorian history by dressing up

The finale each year is a parade lead by a full pipe band in kilts and bear-skins and headed by Queen Victoria. We were not allowed to carry phones and cameras, so I could only took a few snap-shots in the Green Room. Most of these photos are from Portsmouth News.

Father Christmas at the helm.
Father Christmas at the helm.

For more info about Portsmouth Historical Dockyard visit: www.historicdockyard.co.uk

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20 thoughts on “Victorian Festival of Christmas 2015

  1. 40 custard pies? You deserve a medal. And here’s a piece of trivia you’ll enjoy about well-behaved Victorians. Several years ago I read a delightful book by Helen Wilson, who was born in NZ in 1869. It was called My First Eighty Years. Anyway (if my memory’s doing OK) she mentions meeting, as a youngster, two young women who seemed very posh. They told her that ladies didn’t stand in the street looking in shop windows (that was vulgar). They just walked into the shop. She believed them to be ladies, but later decided they were ladies’ maids who’d upped their status a bit after emigrating. As you do.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I can believe that. So much depends on someone’s accent and dress, which is a shame because local dialects are dying out. My husband always dresses smart and wears a suit if we fly anywhere – we often get upgraded because of that.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. What a wonderful event to be involved in. Even with all those pies – agree you still deserve a medal too. I agree our theatre heritage is one to be proud of and it offers us many outlets too.

    Liked by 1 person

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