Ally Sloper's Half Holiday
Blue Fire Theatre Company
Ally Sloper's Half Holiday is cited as the first comic named after and featuring a regular character: Alexander Sloper Esq, F.O.M. (Friend of Man). Although the title suggests the working class was the primary audience in Victorian times, the magazine crossed social boundaries and was read by both the posh and the poor.
Adapting comics to screen or stage is tricky—the rare combination of words and pictures does not always translate well. For a modern-day audience, much of the pleasure of the printed version of Ally Sloper's Half Holiday is not the text but the intricate and detailed artwork with satirical caricatures of celebrities and exaggerated grotesques.
Chris Harris’s adaptation is not a celebration of the comic but a dramatisation of the character. No background is given as to the type of society into which the magazine was launched or any explanation for its popularity. Harris is content to stage the show as a music hall stand-up with well-worn jokes.
Ally Sloper (Steve Taylor) introduces himself as the editor of The Half Holiday magazine and explains he is awaiting a visit from Queen Victoria. This allows some irreverence to be showed towards the monarchy but, on the whole, this is not a satirical show. There are no other characters with whom Ally might interact, so he is presented as simple comic character rather than a crafty schemer.
Many of the traits that made Ally appealing to a Victorian audience may seem clichéd nowadays. Ally was a predecessor of Andy Capp, a lazy schemer, who went "sloping" through alleys to avoid his creditors. Steve Taylor’s interpretation is very much a lower-class chancer with aspirations above his station—aitch-dropping and h-adding occurs regularly. The audience is laughing at Ally’s pretensions rather than his craftiness.
Ally Sloper's Half Holiday may help to raise awareness of an unusual part of British history but is an unambitious show that does not help explain the appeal of the original publication.
Reviewer: David Cunningham