Pig tossing and Ham&High small ads feature in Highgate Histories

Kate Walsh performs Highgate Histories

Kate Walsh performs Highgate Histories - Credit: David Winskill

Part of this year’s much reduced Highgate Festival, this is a fascinating confection of stories and legends about the great, the good and the downright dodgy who have been associated with the village.

This two-hander (with piano player) took us on a meander from the ridiculous to the sublime: from a spectral chicken and pig-tossing in Pond Square to the fantasies of Coleridge’s Kubla Khan.

A good way to grasp the format is to imagine an episode of Radio 4’s With Great Pleasure crossed with Mark Steel’s in Town. Add some epic research and you get Highgate Histories.

Both performers are excellent. Daniel Dressner has a fabulous voice and clearly relished the opportunity to see how far his range could stretch as he breathed life into Dickens as well as small ads from the Ham&High!

Daniel Dressner performs Highgate Histories

Daniel Dressner performs Highgate Histories - Credit: David Winskill

Kate Walsh is a familiar (off-screen) voice to viewers of BBCs 1, 2 and 4. She has a warm, strong Lancashire accent (perhaps a little overused here) and a wonderful self-deprecatory humour. Her sense of fun was infectious.


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The sheer volume of tales, quotes and anecdotes left some of us a little giddy and the name dropping was on an industrial scale: Mary Kingsley, Burdett-Coutts, Dickens, Houseman, Byron, Betjeman, Graham Chapman – the roll call was seemingly endless.

Lauderdale House is among the venues taking part in the 2020 Highgate Festival. Picture: Nigel Sutto

Lauderdale House is among the venues taking part in the 2020 Highgate Festival. Picture: Nigel Sutton - Credit: Nigel Sutton

The largely middle-aged audience lapped it up – giggling at the accounts of Hampstead (“... the louche neighbour next door) and straining to join in with the excellent rendition of Betjeman’s poem Ms J Hunter Dunn.

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James Pickford's piano interludes worked wonders in allowing us to digest what we’d just heard and draw breath before the next sketch. The real star of the evening was Lauderdale House itself. Katherine Ives and colleagues had worked incredibly hard to comply with fast changing Covid regulations but managed to create a calm and welcoming atmosphere.

The French windows were thrown wide open and the performers had to compete with the wonderful birdsong of Waterlow Park, once described by Thomas Carlyle as “An Eden in miniature”. Spot on!

3/5 stars.

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