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8 October 2001
East Enders ring in the changes

Patrick Marmion

The East End is abuzz with all sorts of wacky walks, but as the North American guide of this whimsical history tour points out "this is not one of those cheesy Jack The Ripper tours for American tourists". In fact, renouncing her Dick Van Dyck accent and defying her Victorian corsetry she goes on to add: "All that cod Victoriana shit really pisses me off." And she's right, this eccentric performance-art event is not your standard issue heritage industry fodder. Before roaming round the East End, the trek makes a promising start with a spoof music hall show featuring a little Victorian girl with a bird cage singing "I Had a Little Thrush". After this, it veers off into the night, stopping at strategic points for the trussed-up hostess to relate the counter-cultural facts of life within the sound of Bow Bells in the 19th century. Meanwhile, we are assiduously pursued by a filthy street urchin gathering faeces for sale. Other significant interludes on the loony trail include a zany encounter with a street "prater". But it's not all comic capering and a visit to the dilapidated synagogue at 19 Princelet Street strikes a sadder, artier note. Fleshing out the haunted history of the building with living "exhibits", there is a supine waif covered in bagels, a disturbed young lady wielding tailor's scissors and a singing Huguenot ÈmigrÈ weaving her Rapunzel-length hair into a silk loom. Negotiating drunks and disbelieving bystanders, the two-hour tour eventually pitches up in Toynbee Hall, where Bette Bourne lovingly performs an elegy to the old lecture theatre written by the artistic director of Hammersmith's Lyric Theatre, Neil Bartlett. It is an Alan Bennett-like piece of queenily sentimental nostalgia which tops the show's anything-goes line-up. Between moments of time travel and ar rant period knavery, Mark Whitelaw's direction for Duckie productions provides an amusing, stimulating and atmospheric stroll down memory lane. ? Until Saturday 20 October at the Old Truman Brewery, London E1. Box office: 020 7737 4043.

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