Sunday 18 May 2014

Review: Dear Mr Spectator

Last year I went to Florida with some of my family and we had the misfortune of attending the Pirate’s Dinner Adventure, a food and pirate extravaganza with live floor show. It had been my idea for I am a sucker for pirate-y things but we truly were suckers, the food being cheap and nasty and the show being poorly acted through a PA system so distorted that not one word could be made out, even though every line was screamed.

So, it was with some trepidation that I took my sister to Dear Mr Spectator! a dinner/show revolving around the characters and letters found in Addison and Steele’s initial run of the Spectator magazine of 1711.

First impressions were a little uncertain, a hipster cafe in New Cross not seeming the ideal location for a clubbable early eighteenth-century man. Mr Spectator himself was in a slightly cobbled together justacorps and a black fright wig which my sister thought looked like Brian May. He was, however genial and welcoming and although more voluble than I expected, did well to mingle as people entered. We sat down a little apprehensively.

The start was a little shaky, Mr Spectator leaning a little too heavily on his script and his interactions with Ralph rather uncomfortable. The exhortations to ‘huzzah’ frequently were a bit awkward for this very British audience. 

Then came the first course. It started with a meagre sort of watery mushroom soup, we slurped politely while music from the period was played on a viola. Then came the first course proper. The informative booklet we received on arrival said that the first course was the primary savoury one and there was all sorts. A very tasty rabbit stew; some stewed beef, chicken fricasse, bean stew, stuffed mushrooms, a light wallet and possibly more. Much of it was nice and on my part was he'd down with red beer brewed in nearby Brockley. I thought what Henry Fielding, writer of ‘roast beef of old England’ would make of us eating the ragouts and ‘slip-slops’ of France but I enjoyed it. 

After the first course we had the introduction of Sir Roger de Coverly, he was rotundly played and the introduction of his character and the increased use of the ensemble; together with the audience having settled and enjoyed the first course, meant that everything flowed together well. I began to notice how well the writer had taken parts of the Spectator Magazine and threaded them together. The use of all the ludicrous clubs was a particularly enjoyable running gag, with people joining fat clubs, widows clubs, rake clubs and begging clubs.

The next course was the strangest, consisting of sweet and savoury parts. This included gruel and rice pudding; heavily nutmegged sweet potato cakes, roast pork, a huge beef and sausage pie, a veg pie, spinachy things and weirdest of all, peas in a garlic sauce that had been chilled into a solid pyramid. I was loving all the strange combinations I could create, my sister less so.

The next part of the performance was extremely comfortable, with more ad-libs and little moments being introduced as everyone was very comfortable with each other. It could be the wine but I reckon it was the ease of company, but the laughs grew louder and more numerous that by the time the last course arrived, people were talking with ease.

That last course consisted of small cakes, cheese and biscuits and a cream with cinnamon apple. After eating all this, my sister and I said goodbye to everyone on our table and rolled our way to the  tube station.

In summary, the evening was not a Pirate’s Dinner Adventure sized disaster but was a very enjoyable evening featuring some great food and entertaining performance.

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