The National Trust Fan Club

Comedian Helen Wood: Takes a gently amusing look at the National Trust 


Helen Wood - The National Trust Fan Club: Lighthouse, Poole. (Thursday, 22nd October 2020)

A few years ago playwright Alan Bennett caused palpitations among the genteel folk of Middle England by having a go at the National Trust.

They were shocked when the usually kindly Yorkshireman revealed that he was inspired to write the play People by the unease he felt when visiting National Trust properties. The discomfort it seems was mainly brought on by the over-attentive guides at historic houses.

It’s a theme that clearly chimes with comedian Helen Wood too  as we wren’t too far into this one-woman show before she was warning that if you a spot a guide at an NT property, whatever you do, don’t make eye contact.

But with that the promise of any seriously barbed observations ended and we spent the evening enjoying a genial chuckle or two about her bid to become an NT super-fan by visiting 100 properties in a year.

Using a combination of personal stories, historical anecdotes and endless selfies, she told of travels around the country. Photos of her sometime National Trust companions - her husband Peter and dog Henry - looked on.

There were visits to houses, castles, stately homes, windy beaches and distant cliff-tops. At Tyntesfield, the vast Gothic pile in Somerset, there were so many elderly guides on duty that she is now alarmingly au-fait with the minutia of hearing aid design.

While in Birmingham Helen discovered that the main visitor attraction was a carefully preserved estate of back to back Victorian houses with their own cess pit.

There was much from Dorset too of course - Burton Bradstock, Max Gate, Clouds Hill, Corfe Castle, Golden Cap, Brownsea Island and the Studland nudist beach, but oddly no Kingston Lacy.

An obviously joyous obsession was cream teas and there was good natured banter with the audience about precisely how you pronounce the word scone ( as in cone or as in gone?). No one could agree. Opinions differed wildly too about whether it should it be the jam or cream on first.

It was a gentle evening which would have done little to alarm the clientele of a National Trust gift shop but then the NT is going through a tough time at the moment. The pandemic has seen it shed 1,300 members of staff and lose 500,000 members. So perhaps that explains the soft-pedal approach. A pleasant enough little show but even though masks and social distancing did nothing to help, it had very little oomph.

Jeremy Miles

 

© Jeremy Miles 2020