Some people might have panicked on learning in the morning that their partner for a two-handed show the coming evening had succumbed to a nasty stomach bug during the night and was incapacitated. Not so writer, actor and costume historian Lucy Adlington who called up her friend and fellow costume historian Merry Towne and proceeded to adapt her performance – or ‘talk’ as she termed it – to the unforeseen circumstances. Together, they turned disaster into triumph.
Offering the now-familiar and heady blend of informal chat, lecture, dressing-up, music, anecdote, historical information, socio-economic reflection and comedy, the mishap was turned to advantage as the two ladies explored the history of the colour pink in clothing.
Lucy has a quick-witted, improvisatory and digressive presentation style which thrives on this kind of challenge. Her partner-in-crime Merry hides her own erudition well under a facade of very effective clowning. The fact that Merry is a different dress size from the intended model, the Other Lucy, became part of the act. As did the fact that she is, unfortunately for the topic, a red-head, a further disaster that was partially alleviated by the judicious use of wigs. A range of pink garments were displayed and worn, including a replica eighteenth-century gentleman’s embroidered waistcoat, a Laura Ashley dress, 1940s underwear, an iconic Jackie Kennedy suit, a woollen 1960s trouser suit, and a dramatic, pleated Zandra Rhodes cloak.
A highlight for this audience member was a brightly-patterned pink 1960s paper dress produced in the States by card manufacturer, Hallmark, complete with matching paper knickers, cups, plate and tablecloth – a full picnic set! Not to be worn in the rain.
The audience, mainly female and largely devotees of Lucy’s many previous visit to the Frazer Theatre, was pleasurably educated throughout. They learned that pink was originally neither a boy’s nor a girl’s colour. It was very much unisex until Beau Brummell put men into darker, more neutral colours and ladies’ fashions succumbed to an equal drabness, leaving pink as a colour enjoyed by few other than debutantes. They were intrigued to discover the relationship between politics, the chemical industry and dyestuffs and the re-emergence of pink in fashion after World War II. Amongst other things, they learned about the Pink Tax (men’s razors selling for 24p whilst pink razors were priced at £1.29), pink power, the Pink Sari Revolution in India and Pakistan and the adoption of pink by the Race for Life. They also learned about the boy who was ‘tough enough to wear pink’.
All this information and entertainment was followed by a well-accepted invitation to audience members to come up on stage after the show, to touch the garments and props and to ask questions of and chat with the performers. And, of course, to buy Lucy’s merchandise, which many did, to take away a memento of what was an informal, relaxed, entertaining and informative evening.