The stage of Wilton’s Music Hall is littered with broken masonry and the unloved ornaments of a stately pile. Our narrator, and his delightful assistant, are both down-at-heel in ragged trousers. Yet The Mystery of the Raddlesham Mumps is a deceptively neat and polished little package.
Running at just 50 minutes it tells, in verse, the story of the Clumps family whose scions inhabited the Raddlesham Mumps for generations, and who invariably met with sticky ends. Murray Lachlan Young, as the narrator, tells the tale with relish, aided by the endearing and dependable sidekick who roots out props and costumes from the ruins of the Mumps. Those ruins are made more atmospheric by Arun Ghosh’s subtle soundscape.
You have to pay attention. The verse comes thick and fast in parts, and it’s good stuff, so you don’t want to miss it. There are stories within stories, like the cuckolded blacksmith whose anvil plays a starring role, and digressions via fragrant Italy, with its curvaceous matrons. There are rhymes that you know are coming and others that come amusingly out of the blue, after a knowing pause. I confess I’m not quite sure how the fairies got from the hole in the hill to the final reckoning, or where the witches came from at all. But that is certainly a failure of my hearing, rather than any failure of Young’s relentless, inventive and engaging storytelling. My lovely ten year old guest missed even more of the story’s nuances, but reacted with dependable faux horror to every gory death – Lemony Snicket strengthens young stomachs.
Lachlan Young and Joe Allen make a strikingly contrasting couple, and both deliver fine physical performances. Allen, who has the slightly secondary role, is fun to watch whether he’s pottering about in the background or raising an expressive eyebrow in the direction of his colleague. Though there is clearly a pecking order in the relationship, Allen’s character has a quiet resilience and resourcefulness, with a hint of subversion. He transforms surprisingly well into his various other roles usually with as little as a dusty lampshade by way of costume.
For all its black humour and gothic atmosphere, the story wraps up with a wholesome and heartening moral. This neat tie-up is emblematic of a show whose charming disarray conceals great precision and polish.
Written & performed by: Murray Lachlan Young
Music by: Arun Ghosh
Directed by: Nina Hajiyianni
Produced by: Matthew Linley
Booking link: raddleshammumps.co.uk
Booking until: On tour throughout UK, see website for locations