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Edinburgh Fringe 2017

To Hell in a Handbag

Helen Norton and Jonathan White

Genre: Comedic, Theatre

Venue: Assembly Rooms (Venue 20)


Low Down

While others are preoccupied with cucumber sandwiches and railway cloakrooms, two minor characters from The Importance of Being Earnest are up to their necks in something else. A country rector and a governess, models of Victorian propriety in public. But in private? This is the play behind the play: a tale of blackmail, false identity and money. Or rather, the lack of it…


This sparkling two hander offers a rather different view of two rather staid minor characters in The Importance of Being Ernest: Canal Chasuble and Miss Prism. Framed by excerpts from the play we find out what really went on when Miss Prism after she has decided that ‘I think, dear Doctor, I will have a stroll with you.  I find I have a headache after all, and a walk might do it good’. The subsequent (and hitherto unseen) scenes reveal more than a few surprises about these two apparently blameless characters.

While the characters are firmly linked to their birth in The Importance of Being Ernest it seems that they have a life none of us would have imagined involving ever escalating misdoings. The twists and turns come thick and fast. Written and performed by Helen Norton and Jonathan White the script nods to the style of Oscar Wilde. Peppered with acerbic one liners it links fluidly to the original so that even those in the audience unfamiliar with the play can follow the story. Although judging by the laughter at Assembly most of the audience spotted and enjoyed every allusion.

Norton and White are confident and completely on top of their material with excellent comic timing. Norton manages to convey entire chunks of the story with a grimace, a shudder or a lift of her expressive eyebrows while White provides a well-crafted and slightly bewildered foil.

We hear some of the original play as voice over – which serves to locate the action but also leaves an empty stage at times which slows the pace a little, a shame when the rest of the play bowls along with such verve.

To Hell in a Handbag is a light and sparkling comedy for a lunchtime at the fringe. You will never watch the original again without remembering just what might be going on in the vestry.