British history, murder and criminals – you’d think I’d be napping in Row A, Seat 22 but I was honestly riveted. Dr Lucy Worsley, writer and all round History buff, takes the audience from 1800 to present day and back again, offering a truly detailed retelling of criminality (and boy, is our history long and bloody). But Dr Worsley breaks up the historical background by simultaneously discussing our fixation with everything gruesome and horrifying. With great anecdotes, an inviting speaker and enough facts to keep my jaw perpetually open, this show really has it all. But, like the saying ‘nothing’s perfect’, the same can be said for ‘Spoken Word’; whilst it packs a historical punch, I can’t ignore the show’s one and only issue, which not even the delicious matinee ice cream could fix it.
Worsley invites the audience down the British criminal timeline – including the well-known murderers from Jack the Ripper to the virtually unknown but equally terrifying Edith Thompson. We are also given societal developments at the time – from the creation of the police force, to the crucial role of the forensic scientist. Using some clever, humorous anecdotes, Dr Worsley pokes fun at the hysteria caused by crime, the puppets and ceramic figures of the murderer William Corder were particularly funny– he looked disturbingly similar to David Dickinson (with a moustache and minus the tan). Themes that were prevalent were the idea of female crime, crime fiction and its deterioration after the wars and also why the public interest in crime has grown. These themes are skilfully set into context Dr Worsley draws upon well known authors from Dickens to R.L Stevenson and how their work reflected and impacted crime.
Quick fact: Murderer Edith Thompson inspired Dickens’ character Mademoiselle Hortense in Bleak House.
The actual production of the show was simple – in fact it felt like my lecture five hours earlier. Dr Lucy Worsley stood behind a podium, flicking through slides but unlike my lecturers, I managed to keep me engaged the entire time. This was mainly to do with Lucy herself, I found her incredibly articulate and eloquent. She managed to make a difficult subject matter accessible for the diverse audience; from her self confessed desire to ‘have tea with Hannibal Lector’ to her candidly unglamorous stories from the making of her BBC4 documentary- she was most definitely fun to watch and listen to. Not even the image of the dried skin of murderer William Corder could put me off.
The moments that most interested me were in the second half the show, where Dr Worsley held a Q&A, whilst I thought it would be a question or two, the audience were truly engaged and interacted fully, whilst Dr Worsley often went off on a tangent, the audience revelled in her awkward encounters with comedians – it gave the show a welcoming casualness.
The premise of the show was hard to ignore: the carefully spread out copies of ‘A Very British Murder’ plus the book cover as the first and last slide on the show’s powerpoint all point out the show’s intention to sell, sell, sell. But by the time I left, I didn’t care. I’m not a huge history fan (in fact GCSE History is still a traumatising experience) but I enjoyed the numerous historical facts, my only issue being the set up of the show: fitting in British crime from the nineteenth century to present day is hard to condense into a 50 minute powerpoint presentation.
I enjoyed the numerous historical facts
While the information was interesting, I couldn’t help feeling like we were just getting a quick summary. Time on the content, I feel was definitely wasted on the Q&A, as interesting as it was. But others may disagree, like the guy that sat next to me who described Dr Lucy Worsley as ‘a total babe’.
Whatever the case, whether you’re a history buff, a fan of Dr Worsley or like myself, a complete novice; ‘An Evening with Lucy Worsley’ will be a crime extravaganza destined to leave you wanting to change your degree to History, or less radically, watch the entire series of ‘A Very British Murder’ on BBC iplayer.