Dearest Friends and Distant Family Members,
We most graciously thank you for attending the reading of the will for the late Earl of Grey. We here at Uptown Abbey know it was of great hardship for many of you to traverse the troubling roads out of London and brave the storm to arrive at this destination.
As well, we condone your bravery and laud you for being daring enough to leave the safety of your own home on a cold, dark night—especially with the recent dreadful atrocities of the frightful murderer, Jack the Ripper.
For now, please put all concerns aside, and pay close attention to what is contained in the Earl’s will. Perhaps he has left some small fortune to you!
Your hosts this evening:
Lady Chastity – Widowed, but not left alone as her two daughters have finally returned home after so many years to comfort her. The Lady is grateful to receive such support of friends and knows they are not money-hungry leeches, who have only come seeking money.
Lady Katherine – The eldest daughter, who claims to have loved her father beyond what words can express.
Lady Charity – The younger daughter, always so full of warm and affection. She had now dedicated her life to helping others in need from the despairing lands of Africa, India, and even Ireland.
The Butler – Clive has served the Grey family for … well, it’s been so long that only the Earl probably knows when, and he’s no longer with us. But Clive has always stood his post and served his tea faithfully. At least we think. Honestly, no one here pays all that much attention to him. He’s a butler, after all.
Playwright: James Leonard Koponen
(This play is fully protected under all domestic and international copyright laws)
Background Information (for the dreadfully curious):
A Very Victorian Murder (VVM) was written, produced, and first performed in 2015. While inquiries had been made in the past about a Victorian themed murder mystery, the successful rise of the BBC television series “Downton Abbey” only increased client desire. When our location in Santa Rosa, The Tudor Rose Tea Room, strongly requested a late nineteenth-century theme, we decided to take action. (Admittedly, “Downton Abbey” is early 20th century, although some of the styles are not terribly far apart and conflations must be made.)
The company director and owner asked James Koponen, an active GibsonHouse performer and author of two other GibsonHouse shows, including “Murder at the KO Corral,” to create the show, and he happily acquiesced, though grimacing somewhat at the rather short timeline of three months. Normally, shows can take one to two years to go from conception to mostly coherent words and dialogue on paper.
Another impediment would be that the writer was scheduled to be traveling in Europe for two of the weeks. He dutifully figured he could use his time in London for inspiration, but due to a hectic schedule and perhaps one too many Guinness (Guinni?) not much writing was done. Some thoughts did occur on a train from London to the coast of Wales; however, it turned out to be mostly thoughts such as, “Wow. There are a lot of trailer parks in the London countryside” and “Boy, I could really use another Guinness.”
Sleep also was a rather pesky obstacle.
In time (and what seemed to go by all too fast), the first draft was committed to paper (well, to a computer) and after a little feedback and some edits, the first read-thru was held in May by the original cast. At that point, more edits were made (it just never ends!) and revised scripts were sent out to begin memorization by the actors. At that point, the show was “blocked” and costumes began to arrive. After one final dress rehearsal, the show premiered on Friday, June 13, 2015 in Santa Rosa, to a large group of very-well costumed audience members.
As usual, there was a huge sigh of relief once the final scene ended successfully and the entire road from the idea in one’s head to the final prizes awarded had been traveled.
VVM does include some elements from travels in the past. The author had taken the “Jack the Ripper Night Walking Tour” back in 2002 and always figured he (Jack) would be a strong character to work into a murder mystery as according to many reputed scholars, the actual killer does remain a mystery lost in time.
As well, the late nineteenth century theme allows audience members to indulge in some of fancier apparel, including large colorful and detailed ball gowns for the ladies and long coats and top hats for the gentlemen. Adding to that is the fact that during each show, a couple of the audience members are given the chance to become cameo characters in the piece. Careful observers may notice a few elements from “Downton Abbey,” “King Lear,” and perhaps even “The Pirates of Penzance.”
The script lightly touches on the hardships during the period, mostly on married women, who up until 1882 would forfeit estates and a great deal of ownership rights to their husbands upon marriage. For many who had inherited land, this would have been something to perhaps dissuade engaging in nuptials.
But love is powerful blessing.
And often a deadly curse.
So keep an eye out for Jack. He may charm a lady or two, but he surely has cruel intentions.