Last year, Helen Wood, who has a lot in common with the similarly named Victoria Wood, was in a small room at Surgeon's Hall, exploring the male-dominated world of mapmaking with her fun show The O.S Map Fan Club.
The National Trust Fan Club, Gilded Balloon at the Museum (Venue 64) * * * *
It's great to see now she's packing out a much larger space here – her core audience of older festivalgoers and their parents growing faster than the 566 National Trust properties of this show's title.
Once again Wood's husband, Peter, and dog, Henry, form the supporting cast of her stories, and thanks to her easy rapport with the audience, I now think of them as old friends.
On one level, this is a superficially simple piece, in which our deceptively unassuming but highly skilled narrator attempts to visit 100 National Trust properties in a year, following the death of her mother. However, it also works on a deeper level, celebrating the connections between people through the device of period properties and the bizarre paraphernalia they're filled with.
Through astute comic observations on everyday characters, Wood finds joy in the activities filling the leisure time of many people of a certain age in the UK, much to the delight of an audience who not only recognise themselves but, through some good-natured interactions involving scones, are also an integral part of the show.
A comic celebration of a cosy Britishness that's instantly identifiable but rarely explored in theatre, it's a shout out for anyone who's ever struggled to get into a car park or suffered the effects of early winter closing times on an otherwise meticulously planned day out.
Maidenhead, Berkshire, Swindon, Lincolnshire – their names don't chime with drama, but Wood proves places are important through the roles they play in stories from her life and our own.
Until 26 August