Not able to make the big event in two week’s time, I’ve invited myself to a planning meeting to get a flavour of the Variety Night at Bagshaw Museum.
As her alter ego Miss Inform, performance artist Jenny Wilson has been surprising visitors to the Bagshaw since the beginning of March, relating spoof snippets about the museum’s artefacts. She’s been supported by SceneMaker Philip Arrowsmith who has a special interest in alternative theatre.
We’re sitting around Creative Scene’s meeting table in their Dewsbury office, dunking Fox’s biscuits into our mugs.
“I’ve booked Pete for the children’s entertainment,” says Katy, one of Creative Scene’s project managers, “he’ll be doing his circus-out-of-a-suitcase routine.”
“He’s brilliant,” says Jenny. “And is he doing his plate spinning too?”
“Later, for the grown-up section of the evening,” says Katy.
“Perhaps he can pretend to spin an antique plate from the museum’s hidden collection,” suggests Jenny.
“And break it?” I say, only just keeping up.
“Exactly. That would be hilarious.”
Until now Philip has had a bit part, giving out information and explaining Miss Inform to mystified punters. I understand that for the Variety Night he too will get into character.
“He didn’t need much persuading,” says Jenny, “and, as we’re about the same size, there’s any number of costumes from my arsenal that will fit him.”
“So, what’s your character?” I ask Philip.
“I’ll be the Not-So-Celebrated Harehills Lane Prince,” he says with a straight face.
I must have looked very confused because Philip explains, “The Harehills Lane Prince is the name of a terrier dog that appears in one of the museum’s paintings. I’ll be its human incarnation.”
“Also known as ‘Mr Meanor’,” adds Jenny with a smile. “And I have a wonderful Prince Charming outfit that will be perfect.”
On my visit to the museum a few weeks back, Jenny was dressed as a seven-foot diva, a relic from the Batley Variety Club that closed in 1978. For the big night she’s planning to also emerge as her super hero, fairy godmother and flamboyant-romance-novelist personas.
“And you’ll do the What’s-on-Miss-Inform’s-trolley routine in each character?” asks Katy.
“Absolutely,” says Jenny, “and sing a song each time.”
They discuss transforming one of the museum’s rooms into a cabaret with disco lighting and fizzy wine. They talk about a treasure trail, with Phil’s character as the first clue; and Jenny tells Katy that even the Museum’s curator will be getting involved.
“She’ll be ‘Dolly Mischief’, showing off a selection of dolls from their collection,” she says. “We’ve given them all their own personalities. One of them is called Bernard: she’s a bit bossy and after Dolly’s job.”
This is perhaps the most bizarre, yet entertaining meeting I’ve attended for some time.
“What happened to the people’s exhibit?” I ask. Over these preceding weeks Miss Inform and Philip have encouraged museum visitors to bring in items from home that had some special meaning to them. They’d collate the items for a temporary exhibition.
“We haven’t had as many donations as we’d have liked,” says Philip, “but we’re going to create a cabinet full of items donated by our fictitious characters.”
“And,” adds Katy, “The Museum of Hidden Treasures that’s been created by artists and shoppers at Dewsbury Market will be displayed on the night.”
“It sounds fantastic” I say, “shame I’ll miss it.”
“I plan to finish the night with a rendition of Dusty Springfield’s You Don’t Have To Say You Love Me. You know the one?” says Jenny. “The last line is ‘Believe me, believe me, believe me,’ which I think will be quite an appropriate ending, don’t you?”
“Perfect,” I say. “I think I’ll use it as the title of the blog as well. See if anyone guesses.”
Photographs courtesy of Richard Tymon