Herstoric comprises two hour-long musicals. With regards to the first, I had to look up why 1816 was considered The Year Without A Summer, as all I learnt about it from the show was that the poor were ready to die and the rich were ready to fly (whatever that meant: the first airline wasn’t founded until 1909). In 1815, Mount Tambora erupted, having been dormant for several centuries. The details are readily available elsewhere, but the volcano had such a big impact it caused temperatures around the world to drop significantly. Because of the lower temperatures and heavy rains, the harvest of 1816 in Britain and Ireland failed.
“Mad, bad and dangerous to know” is the familiar description of Lord Byron (1788-1824) (Fed Zanni), attributed to Lady Caroline Lamb (1785-1828) (Lara Sas), one of several women Byron had relationships with, another being Claire Clairmont (1798-1879) (Kate Hume). The period costumes in this show were very good: I was less impressed by the more contemporary outfits in A Mother’s War, set during the Wars of the Roses (1455-1487). I wasn’t necessarily expecting actual chain mail on stage, but given the lengths gone to with the costumes in the first half, it just seemed a little odd that this wasn’t continued in the second.
There was so much singing in the opening scenes that I began to wonder if the show was entirely sung through (it isn’t). Both shows follow in the footsteps of Six and, dare I say it, Hamilton, in its use of what aren’t so much raps as pseudo-raps to advance the storyline. Some characters ‘rap’ better than others. A Mother’s War even emulates Hamilton to the point of announcing names and dates to set up a scene, for instance: “9th April 1482. Palace of Westminster.” What this production suggests is that it was the likes of Margaret of Anjou (1430-1482) (Amy Lynch), Lady Margaret Beaufort (1441-1509) (Aemilia Owen) and Elizabeth Woodville (1437-1492) (Emma Breton) who were key influencers in the Wars of the Roses.
A plan was hatched by Beaufort and Woodville to try to settle the Wars of the Roses (at least, according to this production) by doing whatever needed to be done so that Beaufort’s son, Henry Tudor, who would become King Henry VII (1457-1509) (Jordan Veloso) would marry Elizabeth of York (1466-1503), Woodville’s daughter. But the show also suggests that the earlier marriage of Woodville to King Edward IV (1442-1483) (Ben Irish) played a role in exacerbating hostility amongst the nobility, out of which the Wars of the Roses came about in the first place.
Not being a historian, I cannot vouch for the accuracy of every lyric and spoken line either way, but the salient point is that most accounts of the Wars of the Roses focus on the achievements of the likes of King Richard III (1452-1485) (Terry Burns) and various other princes, earls and dukes, with little or even no reference to the roles played by prince consorts, queens, ex-queens and so on. The case, overall, is argued brilliantly, without a contrived effort to put forward an ‘all men are useless’ assertion.
In The Year Without A Summer, there’s a subplot involving Mary Shelley (1797-1851) (Amy Lynch) and husband Percy (1792-1822) (Ben Irish), which celebrates Mary’s hard-fought achievement in getting her Gothic novel Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus (to give it its full title) published. The show then argues that not much, if anything, has changed in terms of recognising the achievements of women since 1816. I am not so sure this follows, especially in the contexts of women’s suffrage and the women’s liberation movement of previous generations, though it is also evident that much work still needs to be done.
The choreography was pitched at the right level in the first half – in the second, some of the fight scenes were borderline laughable in their (ahem) execution. There was a good variety of musical numbers throughout the two shows, with different tempos to suit the mood of the scene. An enlightening and educational evening, and an entertaining one too.
Review by Chris Omaweng
‘Herstoric’ is an evening of brand new musical theatre, giving several important women the place they deserve in the history books. Focusing on two historical topics – the Romantics of the 1800s (‘The Year Without A Summer’) and the medieval Wars of the Roses (‘A Mother’s War’) – ‘Herstoric’ aims to portray the lives of those whose stories are not always told; the women, wives and lovers often abandoned in the name of art, hedonism, war and power.
Complete with distinctive, contemporary scores, this promises to be an enjoyable evening for musical theatre fans and historians alike.
Act One: 60 mins
Act Two: 60 mins
Age Restrictions: 12