To mark his retirement from twelve years as a Custodian of Battle Abbey, Geoff Hutchinson, history writer and actor, put on a one man show in the Abbot’s Hall on the evening of August 17th 2002.
Geoff is well known locally for his interpretations of historical figures and, for this fund raiser for St Michaels’s Hospice and the McMillan Nurses, he chose a recent addition to his repertoire; Rudyard Kipling
Attired in Edwardian dress, Geoff took us through Kipling’s life, a very private man, from his childhood in India to his death in 1939, by then a despairing and disillusioned man.
In the space of an hour we were treated to a broad spectrum of Kipling’s work; his verse, songs and extracts from his books, many of which colour our impressions of Kipling’s times. Pacing about the stage, gesticulating with pipe in hand or seated pensively at his desk, he kept his audience quietly rapt, with occasional murmurs of pleased recognition for favourite poems or songs.
The performance venue afforded an additional treat; on view was the recently restored and re-hung painting of the Battle of Hastings, commissioned as vanity piece by the owner of Battle Abbey in 1820. The painting had been discovered, mouldering under the floorboards of Hastings Museum , where it had lain for 70 years. Although not great art its subject matter and massive size, 17ft by 27ft, made the Abbot’s Hall the right setting for it. The setting sun, shining through the tall windows, certainly made the best of the work. It was also an appropriate backdrop for the second part of Geoff’s show, an irreverent look at history from 1066 onwards.
Far from being diminished by the one-ton painting that hung behind him, Geoff included it in his performance, asking the audience, ‘Does that look straight to you?’
He then proceeded to prove that there is stand up comedy in history, with a quick fire routine that put Ben Elton to shame. There was hardly breath to laugh or time to be shocked as Geoff galloped through history with a programme of rude folk songs, limericks, quotes from classical works, ironic epitaphs, comic ditties and verse.
Never will there be a more suitable place for his recitation of the famous musical hall monologue about the Battle of Hastings, “On ‘is ‘orse with ‘is ‘awk in ‘is ‘and”, than under that picture, which suffered a few more of Geoff’s good-natured jibes before he brought the show to an end.
Geof says his retirement as a Battle Abbey Custodian is not the end of his working life and he will continue presenting his one man shows both locally and around the counties.
Review by Victoria Seymour of www.hastings.uk.net
"The picture of the restored painting is reproduced with kind permission of English Heritage".
Geoff Hutchinson at the Abbot's Hall