When what is primarily a live show encounters an ongoing pandemic, sometimes the only way forward is to make alternative arrangements in order to keep the flame burning brightly. Such is the case with The Mystery Of The Raddlesham Mumps, the brainchild of renowned poet Murray Lachlan Young, the national tour for which has been on an extensive hiatus over the last couple of years. It is sad to see that in the tour dates section of the dedicated website the word “postponed” is attached to all the proposed dates for 2020. While this suggests that a revival is still on the cards your best bet of catching this delightful short show is the intended stop gap audio recording which fortunately has much to recommend it.
The Raddlesham Mumps is an ancient gothic pile inherited by 7 year old Crispin de Quincy de Faversham Clumps following the dual funeral of his unfortunately deceased parents. Along with the old ruin young Crispin also inherits the centenarian butler Kenilworth and a raft of family portraits. It seems that all his eccentrically named and eccentrically behaved ancestors met a series of gruesome ends. The ancient retainer can’t wait to tell the boy how the exotically named Clumps clan went to meet their maker; and could Crispin be the next in line to suddenly depart this life? A monumental battle involving witches and fairies ensues taking the story from gothic horror into fantasy fiction. It is all wonderfully delivered by the poet in comically funereal and portentous tones. And as a writer Lachlan Young indulges in some fabulously inventive wordplay – there aren’t many occasions when I can recall “hookah” being rhymed with “verruca”. The whole is set to a gloriously evocative musical score by composer Arun Ghosh.
There are a lot of influences at work here. The general gothic atmosphere is pure Edgar Allen Poe and the wordplay is redolent of Lewis Carroll. The narrative delivers more than a passing nod to Lemony Snicket’s similarly beleaguered inheritors in A Series Of Unfortunate Events. The word portraits of the lives and various deaths of the Clumps family instantly calls to mind Alec Guinness’s famous turn as the similarly ill fated D’Ascoyne’s in Kind Hearts And Coronets; the other evident filmic influence is the work of Tim Burton. Add a smidgin of J.K. Rowling and a soupçon of Philip Pullman and you have the general flavour of the piece. Not that this referencing diminishes the overall effect of this entertaining forty minutes; in fact, for this adult listener, it definitely enhances it. And as the show is mostly aimed at a quite young audience it probably won’t make that much difference anyway.
If your young listeners get enthused, the narrative also exists as a book and the website contains a series of structured activities (lesson plans) which will help to develop the imagination further. There is also a downloadable online game designed for a tablet and/or VR headset by Metro Boulot Dodo. This is badged as a “prequel” though really it’s more of an advert for the main event and not so much a game as an introduction to the Clumps family through associated objects discovered in a series of dark attic rooms. It only takes a few minutes to work through but is entertaining enough and at least helps to bring back some of the missing visual element to the show. Apparently the live performance involves a second performer who, mutely, embodies all the characters described in Lachlan Young’s buoyant verse and gives the show another whole dimension. While it is a pity that this aspect is missing, it is understandably so and does mean that room is left for the imagination to thrive.
This piece has been on my “to see”, or rather “to hear” list for ages but kept slipping through the net. I’m glad to have got to it at last and would suggest that you don’t wait as long as I did because it’s a perfect late afternoon/early evening treat in these times of shortened daylight. Hopefully the Raddlesham Mumps tour can resume before too much longer; I’ll certainly be looking out for it.