‘Definitely Not Respectable’ at The Malt Cross
EN’s Linda joined the Woolly Tellers for old time story telling at the Malt Cross. Here’s what she thought.
Step back in time to a land before television, earlier than radio and definitely a world without wi-fi, websites and social media.
Find it hard to imagine? ‘Definitely not Respectable’ promised a unique evening of entertainment at The Malt Cross – Nottingham’s Victorian music hall – with The Woolly Tellers and the Malt Cross’s own Dr Rebekah Wood: with no 21st century amusements in sight!
It was a night that certainly lived up to its promise, and one, which succeeded in transporting us to a long gone era. Interspersed with the stories of yesteryear were the songs of a bygone age as the audience joined in with music hall classics such as ‘It’s a long way to Tipperary’, ‘I like to be beside the seaside’ and ‘Any old iron’.
Tales about the history of the Malt Cross and Nottingham at the time of its opening were in abundance as the three performers, complete with an array of original costumes, convincingly conveyed the stories from the good old days.
But, whilst the songs that were sung at the music hall were jolly and bright, to help the townsfolk forget their hardships, were they really the good old days? Some of the stories we could just about imagine; others were too horrific to be believable. But, sadly, we soon realised, they were true to the time.
The Woolly Tellers are very good story-tellers and whilst they had written the tales they told, who could say they weren’t based on actual events and the lives of folk that were endemic in Victorian England.
From the Maltcross Madame who told of the opening of the beautiful music hall, to a character escaping the workhouses of London to work 14 hours a day, six days a week in Nottingham’s mills; and from a policeman who worked the beat at night with the taste of the smoggy, sulphurous streets at the back of his throat, to the ladies of the night who frequented the music hall to pick the men’s pockets, we heard it all.
Nottingham’s Charlotte Street was infamous for its abattoir and the people who lived there did so with their lungs full of the stench; and can you believe it wasn’t the rats in Nottingham that people lived in fear of but the wild dogs?
But not all of the townsfolk lived in such poverty: a whole different side of Nottingham was just yards away from such deprivation. For the affluent society, who lived in big houses such as those on Park Row, enjoyed a Nottingham far removed from the squalor of the time. The well heeled would frequent the town’s (it was not made a city until 1897) Theatre Royal, which stands in prime position at the head of Market Street, whilst just 50 yards away – in the Market Square – where the smell of offal and blood was all encompassing, people had to walk in the middle of the road, not in the gutters, to save walking through the effluence.
Not all of the tales told were gloomy and dark: we heard about the day trips to Skegness by train from Midland station for just five bob; the performers at the music hall who received prolific fan mail and, not to forget, the delightful selection of music hall songs which all of the audience joined in with, which all made it a thoroughly enjoyable evening’s entertainment and one that I personally won’t forget for many years to come.
The next chance to hear from the Woolly Tellers is at the ‘Christmas at the Hall’ event at Wollaton Hall on 16 December, which promises stories and anecdotes of the festive season. If you’re looking for a Christmas night out with a difference, this is certainly one event not to miss.