'Here At The Fair' is Mick Ryan's sixth 'folk opera'. It is set at a country fair, in 1850. Travelling showmen and women arrive to set out their stalls.
We meet: 'Vincent Crummles' (Mick Ryan), a character from Dickens' 'Nicholas Nickleby'. He is an actor manager, who has now fallen on hard times; Crummles' daughter, 'Ninnetta (Alice Jones), who is known to her public as 'The Infant Phenomenon'; 'Steven Starling' (Cohen Braithwaite-Kilcoyne), a reluctant clown, based on the character 'Sissy Jupe', from Dickens' 'Hard Times'; 'Professor Sleary' (Pete Morton), another character from 'Hard Times'. Once the owner of a horse circus, he now runs a flea circus; 'Madam Lavengro' (Heather Bradford), a fortune teller; 'Doctor Maldini' (Geoff Lakeman), a snake oil salesman; 'John Smith' (George Sansome), a ballad seller; and an itinerant fiddler (Lewis Wood.)
These entertainers and outsiders tell their stories in a social and political context.
On the 16th August 1819, 80,000 people gathered peacefully at to hear the radical speaker, Henry Hunt, address a political reform meeting at Saint Peter's Fields, Manchester. Yeomanry tried to seize 'revolutionary' banners carried by the crowd. Cavalry were sent in to the ensuing tussle. At least eleven people were killed, and four hundred or more injured. The event became known as 'The Peterloo Massacre'.
In the first half of the nineteenth century, Chartism was an English movement for political reform. It advocated, by marches and petitions, 'The People's Charter', demanding, amongst other things, universal male suffrage and secret ballots. 'Great Petitions' were presented, and rejected, in 1840 and 1842. Finally, in 1848, another petition was organised, together with a march on London, and a 'monster' demonstration at Kennington. Hundreds of police were mustered. This, together with heavy rain, induced the leaders of the meeting to send the crowd away rather than risk another Peterloo.
It is against the context of these events, together with the poverty brought about by the agricultural slump of 'the hungry forties', and the brutal 'relief' offered by the workhouse, that our characters make their livings, offering entertainment and escape.
In the opening of 'Hard Times', Thomas Gradgrind, the blinkered proponent of a simplistic version of utilitarianism, demands, "Facts. Facts alone are wanted in life!"
Sleary, the circus owner responds with, "People mutht be amuthed. They can't be alwayth a working. They an't made for it. You muth have uth…Do the wythe thing…and make the beth of uth, not the wurth!"
THE SONGS (All words and music by Mick Ryan, unless otherwise indicated.)