London's major art galleries are usually hubs of respectable, hushed appreciation. Visitors travel from around the world to silently gawp at Great Britain's dead luminaries, imperiously peering down the centuries through gilded frames. This most stuffy of stuffy environments gently nudges the viewer to see history as permanent and unchanging: this is the official version of events.
Enter Mel Adam's Lenard Pink. Originating as a YouTube sensation, Pink graduated to the London stage last year. Smartly suited with a smattering of hot pink highlights, a wig that's half Warhol/half Ecclestone and a campness that's not so much performed as it is ingrained in his DNA, he takes audiences on a whistlestop tour through a couple of hundred years of 'secret' history.
Beginning with the Wars of the Roses and ending sometime in the late Georgian period, Pink nimbly skips down the years, illuminating his audience on what was really going on underneath the ermine gowns of the men and women who claimed that God himself installed them as ruler over the British Isles.
What transpires a hugely enjoyable tangle of conspiracy theories. Was Henry VIII really brain-damaged to the point of murderous paranoia? Was Queen Anne actually a secret lesbian? Do the hand positions in the paintings of the Kit-Cat club really indicate their membership of the illuminati? Most shockingly, was one of the most iconic women in British history, Queen Elizabeth I, secretly a man!?
They're outrageous claims and frankly I'm sceptical of most of them. But, crucially, they're fun and Pink's explanations are downright hilarious. There's the old maxim (which comes via Jimmy Stewart) that if you have a choice between dull truth and an entertaining legend, always print the legend. Pink takes that and runs with it: even if his arguments are largely unsubstantiated they provide a perspective that encourages us to query established fact.
Though Pink is irreverent from tip to toe, there's a serious political point to reinterpreting history like this. The past is inherently politicised; each generation using the stories of those that came before to buttress contemporary power structures. This means that alternate views on history; based on economic, class, gender, racial or sexuality; are neatly swept under the rug so as not to confuse bright young GCSE students.
Pink's historical viewpoint is deeply grounded in his own sexuality, his explanations that this King or that Queen were gay not quite authoritative commandments, but more an imploring "what if?". Prejudice has ensured that gay history has been confined to the margins and only whispered of. When so much has been scrubbed from the record, what's the harm in theorising a bit. Though audiences will most likely find some (most?) of Pink's idea far-fetched, they will at least leave us primed to examine the the past through new eyes.
Aside from the theorising, Pink also has a knack for explaining history from unique perspectives. Most enjoyable was his aside as to how miserable life was for Georgian women; their lives a miserable gamut of dressy balls, sexual subjugation and soap made primarily of piss. Pink's language doesn't beat around the bush (and from his descriptions god knows how anyone ever plucked up the courage), but sometimes you've got to be vulgar to explain vulgar things.
The only point where things become a little unstuck is when he questions the provenance of Shakespeare's plays. This particular conspiracy theory has always annoyed me, particularly the part of the argument that claims that Shakespeare's relatively brief schooling wouldn't have granted him the intellect or imagination to devise, say, Hamlet. The theory then states that it's far more likely an esteemed Cambridge alumni like Marlowe would have written such masterpieces. Aside from being a bit tired as far as conspiracy theories go, it's the one point in the tour when the establishment feels reinforced rather than eroded, and is the only real blemish on an otherwise stellar experience.
Aside from that I had a deeply enjoyable and memorable night out. Pink is a fantastic guide through the seamy underbelly of British history, introducing his audiences (and the inevitable gaggle of freeloading hangers-on) to theories so bizarre they might just be true. Highly recommended.