The Tichborne Claimant Review

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The British aristocracy are fabled for closing ranks against hoi polloi who don’t know their place. Even so, this tale of embattled toffs, imposture, fraud, show business and a scandalous court case that gripped Victorian England is a real corker.

In the 1860s, spoilt young boozehound Sir Roger Tichborne, heir to a fabulous fortune, vanished on a voyage around the world. Then in the late 1870s, Old Bogle, the aged African butler the Tichbornes had abandoned, introduced an allegedly amnesiac butcher he had discovered in Australia, and happily recognised as the not-very-lamented Sir Roger.

Saddled with his ghastly ‘new’ family, the drunken, ruffian Claimant (theatre veteran Pugh giving gusto a good name) undergoes a crash course in the deportment of an English gent from the embittered Bogle (marvellous Kani), but is still received in London’s jealous society like a farting bull in a fine china shop.

In his debut, Yates confidently sustains the, ‘He isn’t, perhaps he is, is he or isn’t he?’ mystery, while highlighting the social context in Fisher’s rich, witty script. Brit thesps queue up to portray conniving barristers, beleaguered snobs and true believers (Fry, Hardy, Gielgud etc.) and play it straight, allowing the absurdities of the situation to be self-evident.

Using Bogle as the narrator is the perfect device for a dry and ironic running commentary, as when he fears ‘his’ Sir Roger has become delusional: ‘The disease of English eccentricity had claimed another victim’ Twists abound, while sympathy lies firmly with the have-nots, whose support of the Claimant was a precursor to lottery dreams -and if the outcome is more delightful than the probable hard facts, it is a welcome resolution to a fascinating, funny and very handsomely done charmer.