Greenwich Night Pageant (4) Act III

When George in pudding-time came o’er
And moderate men looked big, Sir
My politics I changed once more
And so became a Whig, Sir…

“Psst! What’s pudding time?” I stage-whisper to the man behind me.


I bet he’s cross ’cause he doesn’t know. I’ll check it in the library when I get home.* In the meanwhile the promised puddings don’t seem to have materialised in Act III of 1933′s glorious Greenwich Night Pageant. Instead we get two bunches of richly-dressed nobles in a face-off. Whigs and Torys apparently. The Torys are fed up because the Whigs have brought Hanoverian King George I across.

And sure enough, George I and his gang bowl up along the steps of the river and he plants the Royal Backside into the Royal Sedan Chair to the strains of Purcell’s Trumpet Voluntary. My own backside is beginning to remind me that this show’s going on a bit and we’re only about two thirds of the way through. These fireworks for the king’s birthday had better be good.

Flash! Whoosh! Bang!

Hmm. Not bad. But what’s this? A whole troop of ballet dancers dressed as swans? Well, I guess it’s making as much sense as much of this spectacle. Bring ‘em on. They twinkle about the stage. We all applaud politely. I’m getting bumache here.

Hang on. Things are looking up. It’s the interlude, and the heroic life of General Wolfe!

We see him leaving his house in Greenwich, saying farewell to his dad and girlfriend, then we are treated to a thrilling series of tableaux depicting his life. We see “Red Indian sharp shooters” with feathers and tomahawks. We see lots of firing of muskets and cannon, loads of smoke and the daring assault on Quebec, to the rousing music of Handel’s Occasional Overture.

It’s all very exciting. “The French start to shoot before the English in fierce, ragged volleys; then at a word of command, the latter raise their muskets to their shoulders and fire with drill-like precision,” my programme tells me. Hurrah! The English have won the day without breaking a sweat! The gunfire and smoke fade to darkness.

But hold. What is this? Our Hero, lying wounded upon the ground, surrounded by his gallant men. “The frail figure lurches; then drops into the arms of his officers.”

“Oh! Canada!”

As the spotlight holds upon the dying Wolfe, I’m sobbing so loudly that the man behind me kicks me in the cloak. I shoot him such a look. The man has no feeling at all.

The little group slowly rises to reveal the Flag of British Canada. I sob even more loudly. What a show.

Glancing ahead in my programme I get the horrible feeling that my tears aren’t over yet. I have to take a break while I search my pockets for a fresh hanky, for the final Act tomorrow, “Nelson Goes Home…”

*I’m still having problems working out what pudding time is. From what I can gather the phrase (from the political song The Vicar of Bray) refers to a time of life – i.e. the sweet time, that one has been waiting for – the Whigs had bided their time, waiting for the political tide to turn) but I’m not betting on it. Other interpretations will be gratefully received.

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