20 Red Hatters had been booked for many months for My Fair Lady at Kilworth House Theatre. I washed my face and hands before I came, I did, and gave my new Red Hat (a vintage Philip Somerville straw boater) its first outing. Fellow Hatters had similarly entered into the spirit with flowing frocks and fabulous titfers on show.
The forecast promised sunshine; Queen Tess of the p’Urplefrills had even reminded us to bring sun-cream – but sadly we didn’t need it, because the sun stayed mainly above the clouds. But at least the rain stayed mainly on the plain in Spain, and a hurricane hardly happened, though a couple of Red Hats were blown off by the light breeze.
On arrival we marched across the lawns to our picnic table, hardened, by now, to the dropped jaws of other theatre-goers enjoying their nibbles. Every Duke and Earl and Peer was there, everyone who should be there was there. What a smashing, positively dashing spectacle we were making of ourselves – as usual!
Queen Tess had decided to provide a picnic lunch for us all, since she has lots of spare time on her hands and prepping lunch for 20 is easily fitted in between teaching full time, running a household, going geo-caching and holding Little Miss Do-Alot’s hand through her A Levels.
Aided by LMDA, HRH Belladonna Queen of Vice and Lady Jane Purple of Wing (hope I’ve not missed out any other troops), our Queen provided each and every one of us with a gorgeous picnic of beautiful sandwiches, savoury pies, salmon vol au vents, mini-nut-loafs, fairy cakes, fruit salad and tiny meringues, all home-made and beautifully presented in individual boxes. Drinks were also supplied in perfectly elegant Perspex wine glasses (no naff paper cups for Rutland Red Hatters, oh no).
The wine and conversation flowed, the food disappeared and we variously tried to hang on to our hats and our blankets. Each time the sun broke through the clouds, the temperature rose 10 degrees, though its appearances were fleeting. But did we mind? Not a bit: we could have stayed there all afternoon. However, if we had, we would have missed the show, so Belladonna and yours truly led the Red Hatters in a quick chorus (an octave and a half lower than Eliza would sing it an hour later!) before we packed up the picnic debris and crossed the bridge to Kilworth’s open-air theatre.
A whole new audience awaited us, all hoping the loud women in the big hats were not going to sit in front of them. They need not have worried: Red Hat etiquette dictates headgear is removed before curtain-up at all theatrical events. We settled ourselves like chickens cackling in a barn, and looked forward to the show.
And what a show! The professional cast featured the hugely talented Helena Blackman as Eliza (Helena came to fame when she was almost Maria in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s TV-talent-search programme); the utterly gorgeous Mark Inscoe as a very distinguished Professor Higgins; Cornelius Clarke perfect as Alfred P Doolittle and umpteen other seasoned actors and fantastic young dancers. We even spotted Rutland’s own Robert Wilkes, former Uppingham school boy now treading the boards professionally.
It was fast-paced and packed with laughs. The fabulous costumes – especially during the Ascot scenes – gave us inspiration for future over-the-top Red Hat concoctions. The superb Lerner and Loewe songs are second nature to me now, like breathing out and breathing in, so it was almost a shame it wasn’t a Singalong-a-My-Fair-Lady performance.
In the end, Alfred P Doolittle did get to the church on time, and By George, she got it! Eliza that is, who captured the heart of the irascible Professor Higgins, who in turn had captured the hearts of most of the Red Hatters. I’ll never know what made it so exciting, why all at once my heart took flight. I only know when he began to dance with me I could have danced, danced, danced all night.
Oops! Regrettably, that last statement was a cider-fuelled fantasy (I’m a good girl, I am) which faded out as the cast took their well-deserved applause from a full house. We headed for home, humming all the songs and trying to list the entire cast of the film version (Stanley Holloway took a bit of dredging up.)
To Queen Tess, on behalf of the whole gang, I’d like to say a huge thank you, as always. How kind of you to let me come!
Lady Jane de Willoughby Wordsmith