Dirty Bath

We all have an image of our hometown, something that seemingly sums up its core essence. For some it might be a particular building, for others it might be a person or event, while for many it will be a combination of people, places and things. For fellow Bathites like myself – I was born in Bath though raised in Frome, so does that technically count? – many of us will have a very specific image of our historic hometown. For most of us, it will include the sandy-coloured stone grandeur of Georgian architecture, women clad in Regency dresses, and dog eared copies of Pride and Prejudice or Northanger Abbey. Bath is an internationally renowned city, recognised for the preservation of its period architecture, its Roman baths and association with a certain 19th Century author, but as often happens with history, certain elements of a place’s story can become lost. Over generations, the narrative of a place can become sanitised by its inhabitants or the powers that be – politics change, propaganda machines can spur into action in a bid for a booming tourist trade – the dirt and grit of a place is swept under the proverbial carpet to be forgotten. Yet, the Bath based Natural Theatre Company have done just the opposite with their interactive comedy show, Dirty Bath – they are proudly lifting up Bath’s deceptively grand carpet to reveal the grime that lurks beneath.

Directed by the Naturals’ Artistic Director, Andy Burden, Dirty Bath explores the darker, raunchier sides of Bath’s over two millennia history. Lesser known residents like the fiery Carroty Kate, the tragic Fanny Dayer, the outrageous Venanzio Rauzzini and the spooky figure of the Theatre Royal’s Grey Lady are brought to life by the ensemble cast, Alison Campbell, Amy Vickers and Florence Espeut-Nickless. Taking the usually street theatre based Natural Theatre Company out of their exterior comfort zone, the show is staged in the cosy environs of the Rondo Theatre, the playful nature of the show superbly realised in its set of piled props and packed costume rails. We are transported across time by the trio of actors as they transform themselves into their various historical personas through swift changes into a myriad of period costumes and wigs, telling the wild stories of their characters with brilliant comic timing and superbly handled moments of audience participation.

This is an incredibly funny and fun show. Following in the footsteps of Horrible Histories, what the Natural Theatre Company have achieved here is a brilliant re-evaluation of Bath’s heritage. Though the struggles of characters like Carroty Kate and Fanny Dayer are played to comic effect, the class politics at play within these two women’s stories is not lost amongst the laughter. By using humour as a lens to tackle darker subject matters, Dirty Bath uncovers the parts of Bath’s history that have been whitewashed by the privileged elite, highlighting that while Bath is so often seen as the playground of the rich – both historically and in the present – it has always been a home to people of every social strata. Indeed, as Amy Vickers excels in the roles of pompous toffs such as Beau Nash and 18th Century sexologist, James Graham, the class divides within Bath’s history are given a harsh airing as hilariously extravagant poshness is juxtaposed by the unjust treatment of the working classes and, in particular, the city’s women sex workers. There is a darkness that creeps amongst the silliness of this show, and it is this interplay between gravity and levity that really drives the narrative.

Dirty Bath is a brilliant piece of comedy theatre, executed with masterful skill by its three actors. Alison Campbell shines as the grotesque and weird characters of Rauzzini and the unnamed clueless producer of the Theatre Royal, while Florence Espeut-Nickless offers more earthy, grounded performances as Carroty Kate and William Gooch. Running at just over an hour, this is the perfect way for one to ease back into live performance, and the instant rapport the cast strikes up with its audience highlights the Naturals’ heritage as an interactive theatre company. Dirty Bath is a highly enjoyable way to spend one’s evening out.

Dirty Bath is performing at the Rondo Theatre, Bath as part of the Bath Fringe Festival from June 2nd until June 5th and June 9th until June 12th, 2021.

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