Sunday, November 30, 2008
In his book “The Victorian Underworld” in the chapter headed “Magsmen, macers and shofulmen all of which really mean tricksters, twisters, and con artists, (there’s a glossary of a couple of hundred truly weird words and expressions of the period) Kellow Chesney makes particular reference to Sarah Rachael Leverson - I wonder why he put the “e” in Rachel – known as Madame Rachel, possibly one of the greatest confidence tricksters of all time with her message of being able to make women BEAUTIFUL FOR EVER. In my all women play of that title I tell the story of how Madam Rachel took one particularly silly lady by the name of Borrodaile to the cleaners an exercise which eventually led to her, Rachel, landing up in gaol. As far as I know, the play, although published by Samuel French a good many years ago has only had two productions, both in Wales. It would seem actresses who are forever bemoaning the fact that writers do not write parts for women simply do not want to play characters like Sarah Leverson or Mrs Borrodaile, neither of them what might be called prepossessing but most definitely extremely interesting and challenging characters. Although Madame Rachel used a fictitious romance with a minor nobleman, Thomas Heron Jones, Lord Ranelagh, to con Mrs Borrodaile out of everything she possessed, in writing the play I decided to exclude men altogether. This was made easy as the supposed romance was carried out by letter writing. In fact I have written three plays with all women casts, BEAUTIFUL FOR EVER, THRILLER OF THE YEAR and GENERATIONS, and some other fabulous parts for women like La Belle Otero and not necessarily for young women either so what are all these actresses moaning about not having parts written for them? What particularly interested me in Mr Chesney’s telling of the Rachel Leverson story is that he comes up with some derails of her character and carryings on that in fact, despite the amount of research I did at the time, make her out to be even more of a blackguard (can a woman be a blackguard? The dictionary defines it as a man who behaves in a despicable way but never mind) than I thought, for example that she used her bathhouse as a place of assignation and was therefore more of a madam than a madame. It wouldn’t really make any difference to the play as it stands but it’s always fascinating to make new discoveries. Madam’s treatments could cost up to £1000, a great deal of money in the 1880’s and one of her amazing cons at considerable price was her “Magnetic Rock Dew Water,” dew distilled sparingly from a rock in the middle of the Sahara desert and possessed of the most extraordinary property. I think the only extraordinary property was Mrs Leverson’s chutzpah but she got away with it for a long time although she eventually died in prison – but that was second time around.