Christopher Walker reviews The Flea playing at the Yard Theatre

Scandals really don’t come much bigger than the Cleveland Street one.

The Queen’s grandson being caught up in the investigation of a gay brothel, is rich source material for the Yard Theatre’s walk on the wild side.

Promising “a retelling…from the streets of Bermondsey to the halls of Buckingham Palace.”

Long before WhatsApp and texting, Londoners communicated with each other by telegram.

(L-R)Sonny Poon Tip plays Lord Euston, Seamus Mclean Ross as the Prince of Wales

If you were going to fail to make lunch you dashed one off in the morning, confident the message would arrive in time.

In order to facilitate this wonder of Victorian technology there had to be an army of ‘Telegraph Boys’ across London.

They were lucky to make a shilling or two a week.

So when one of them, Charles Swinscow, was found in possession of 14 shillings, the police began an inquiry which led them to 19 Cleveland St.

Séamus McLean Ross as Charles Swinscow and Connor Finch as a Telegraph Boy, Henry Newlove

Whether Prince Albert Victor ever visited the brothel is dubious.  He conveniently died of the flu soon after.

But aristocrats close to the court certainly did, including Lord Arthur Somerset and Lord Euston.

This play is about the cover up that suppressed this scandal.

South London playwright James Fritz is definitely one to watch.

Norah Lopez Holden as Mrs Swinscow

There is much here that is excellent, if surreal – Queen Victoria chatting with God…both in sunglasses.

Director Jay Miller must also be applauded for bringing out some superb performances from his players.

Norah Lopez Holden is quite outstanding as Queen Victoria and Swinscow’s mother.

Seamus McLean Ross plays him with pathos. And creates a wonderfully threatening lipsticked Prince of Wales.

Scott Karim is Inspector Abberline, the man bungled the Jack the Ripper case and this one.

Seamus Mclean Ross as Charles Swinscow

Sonny Poon Tip plays Lord Euston. For some reason with blue lips.

As Lord Somerset, Connor Finch successfully brings out the tragedy for contemporary gays, though only in passing is the scandal’s central role in gay history considered.

It inflamed the Liberal Party’s obsession with suppressing gays, which had led to the catch-all offence of gross indecency, and soon after brought about the downfall of Oscar Wilde.

An important episode in our cultural history.



Pictures: Marc Brenner

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