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The Curiosity Cabaret - The Old Operating Theatre (Old St Thomas' Hospital)

Event preview

IMAGINE an era when surgery was performed without anaesthesia, when aseptic technique and antibiotics did not exist. Imagine a time when doctors still clung to their superstitions and medicine was much more art than science…

Imagine no further. Instead, step into the timeless world of The Curiosity Cabaret where past and present collide head on.

Audiences are invited to prepare their minds and senses for the magical, macabre and marvellous world of medical history. This debut show, set to take place from December 2 to December 7, 2014, is equal parts fascinating and entertaining and promises to be just the tonic for relieving the dark winter evening blues.

Taking its inspiration from Renaissance Europe’s ‘cabinets of curiosities’ – encyclopaedic collections of objects whose categorical boundaries were yet to be defined – The Curiosity Cabaret is a brand new London-based production and is the first ever cabaret in the style of a medical lecture. It is an interactive theatrical experience that will delve into the depths of 19th Century medicine.

Plans are already in place to produce a number of other productions over the next 12 months. Each event throughout the year will have a different scientific theme that will teach people about medical history creating a theatre of knowledge, using storytelling, immersive theatre, music, dance, poetry, cabaret and circus.

The fascinating theme of the first show will be The Science and History of Voice in the 19th Century. Dr Anna Maerker, Senior Lecturer in history of medicine at King’s College London, has a specialist interest in this subject and has created a lecture especially for the show. This will set the tone for the whole night.

Dr Maerker is passionate about her subject and will be spending several weeks with the artists before the show to provide them with the stimulus and inspiration to create new work.

The first piece of work will be showcased in a perfect venue for the purpose; Britain’s oldest surviving operating theatre, dating from 1822. A place of education as well as entertainment, the Old Operating Theatre of the Old St Thomas’ Hospital was used mainly for amputations.

The operating theatre is contained within the Herb Garret, at London Bridge (opposite Guy’s Hospital) a beautiful Apothecary’s museum, and is brimming with medical artefacts that provide a rare glimpse at some of the wonders and horrors of medicine before the age of science. Audiences will have a unique chance to witness the amalgamation of science and art in one of Britain’s most unique pieces of living history.

Audiences will hear about the many weird and wonderfully intriguing medical machines popular at the time. These include the ‘Ammoniaphone’, a device which allowed people to inhale ‘Italian Air’ (thought to be the reason why the country produced so many excellent tenors). This was, in fact, a mixture of hydrogen peroxide, ammonia and peppermint oil.

They will also hear about the exceptionally creepy ‘talking machine‘ known as the ‘Euphonia’. This was a bizarre sight to behold: A machine bearing a wax bust of a disembodied woman’s head that shocked and delighted crowds as it ‘spoke’. Concealed from the visitors were sixteen levers, a small pair of bellows, and numerous little bits of metal, wood and rubber that provided the elementary sounds for words. With a skilled operator it could speak in several languages and even sing God Save the Queen.

The Curiosity Cabaret has been developed by (genuine) medical doctor and circus owner Dr Clive Selwyn (of Dr Clive’s Circus, famed for his immersive circus-infused performance nights) and is co-hosted and co-written by Dr Clive and spoken word artist, writer, and storyteller, Rachel Rose Reid (BBC3’s Queen of the Storytellers) who has had her work commissioned for BBC Radio 3, the Royal Shakespeare Company and Billy Bragg.

Intertwined with fascinating scientific stories, will be bespoke performances from internationally renowned and award-winning composer, lyricist, performer and cabaret favourite, Desmond O’Connor, as well as poet, artist, puppeteer and cabaret delight Zoie Kennedy and hosts Dr Clive and Rachel Rose Reid.

Special guests include the contortionist Bendy Bendini, puppeteer Henry Maynard (Co-director of Flabbergast Theatre and co creator of Boris & Sergey) and the multi award-winning 1927’s actor and storyteller, Eleanor Buchan.

For those with an appetite for the weird and wonderful, this event will truly bring history of medicine to a wider audience, illuminating its dark forgotten secrets and gruesome practices…

Tickets: Available at The capacity of the theatre is only 50 people, so seats will be very limited.

Time: 7.30pm.

The Old Operating Theatre, 9a St Thomas Street, London, SE1 9RY