Ever wondered what story lies behind the blackened, ruined mansion on top of Basset Hill? Probably not, because we've never mentioned before that there is one. But there is! – and now's your chance to live its legend, in this Gothic-tinged late-Victorian melodrama freeform. Expect port-glugging hedonism, downtrodden millworkers, mysterious forces of the occult, never-darken-my-door disinheritings, atmospheric crashes of thunder, cloaked strangers, sinister circus folk and much, much more, in… The Fall of the House of Basset!
Roger Basset, founder of the House of that name, was raised to the purple by Charles II on his Restoration, that frivolous monarch keen to reward a gentleman who, rumour of the day had it, had kept him well supplied during his exile in the most delicate necessities for which a young blood of spirit may hunger. In the three centuries since, successive Viscounts Basset have withdrawn from such intimate duties, preferring to serve liege and land as soldiers, landholders and exemplars of noble conduct of the most elevated and awful degree. The present Viscount, the 13th of the line, since regimental duties in India during the terrible Mutiny, has satisfied himself with tending his estate, recently adding to it one of those great engines of prosperity seen now all over our northern shires, a fine carpet mill belching its black smoke up to the glory of the Deity. Some may think industrial endeavour incompatible with true nobility, but Lord Basset gives them the lie: we may be sure that the common folk who toil in the mill are even more thoroughly regulated by their Lord’s paternal eye than their serf ancestors would have been in the high heady days of the feudal system.
The present occasion is a happy one, the evening of February 1st 1870, the coming-of-age of The Honourable Master James Basset, the Viscount’s only son and heir, who attains his 21st anniversary at midnight. To celebrate this glad event, what better than a Grand Ball, a gladsome frolic to spirit away the unprecedentedly bitter chill which has this winter sought to crush the Vale of Basset in its icy fist. Rather than hosting the other Lancashire nobility, or young devils up from London to help The Hon James carouse his way into adult estate, the wise Lord Basset has instead invited a motley rag-bag of local gentlefolk of the village, together with two visitors who were already house guests, in what one can only expect will be a pleasingly subdued and restrained event – how different from the chosen diversions preferred by Master James when footloose and fancy-free in the purlieus of the capital, if the scandal-sheets are to be credited. In what may prove some consolation, a touring troupe of Gypsy circus acrobats has been engaged to provide entertainment as only they know how.
Guests in the great House are Count Nestor Simonyi, Hungarian cousin of Viscountess Basset, a most refined gentleman of exotic habit, and Father Jacopo Angelo, a Vatican scholar reading in Lord Basset’s library. The austere priest will no doubt shun the sybaritic indulgence of the dance, but may we expect to see the Count expose us to some of the curious steps and capers of his native land? Perhaps he will lack only a suitable partner.
Among those staying in the village, sampling the fresh delights of the winter glades, are local artist Mr Justus Pickavance, keen aspirant to the ranks of the Royal Academy. Will his grand portrait of The Honourable Miss Geraldine Basset be the key to his admission? None can say, for the portrait, not yet complete and long in the working, has remained veiled from all but the genius of the brush himself. And Mr Pickavance is not alone in speaking for the Arts here in this far-flung corner of the realm – Mr Wilfred Worthy, the acclaimed poet, journeyed here just after the New Year, together with his devoted sister Miss Gwendolen. How sad that they were held up by highwaymen on the Great North Road, and the greater part of their valuables stolen! Yet the Worthys bear up admirably under the slights of Providence.
Then there are the local resident gentry: Doctor Charles Fitzgibbons, medical man, scientist and skeptic; his dear adversary in debate, Reverend Martin Truelove, Vicar of the parish of St Kevin; and Mr Jonas Saltash, manager of Basset Mill.
The family itself consists of Viscount Basset, Viscountess Basset, the Dowager Viscountess, The Honourable James, The Honourable Geraldine, and their tutor, Mr Dickory Turbot. There are also of course a number of attendants and servants who need not be mentioned here.
The final visitor is a less welcome one – not for his personal qualities (which are not significantly worse than any man’s, so far as we know), but for what he symbolizes. Chief Inspector Seymour of the Yard has recently arrived at Basset Hall, where he is to investigate the disappearance of three young women of the village, missed at various times over the last ten weeks.
Just as we all might commence to cry Ho! for the Ball! though, another to-do has set the house about its ears. The Moonstone, a milky gem of unimaginable size, purity and value, brought back by Lord Basset from India in his youth, has disappeared from the solid display-cabinet in the blue drawing-room which is its accustomed home. It seems unlikely that it could merely have been misplaced, but with so many visitors and guests in the house, whom to suspect? Perhaps Inspector Seymour will get another chance to prove his skills.
Premiere: GenCon UK 2002
Subsequent run: Consequences 2010
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Last update: 22nd August 2010