There’s drama with a gothic twist in Barnsley this month, with a play that looks at a real local aristocrat who had a deep scientific curiosity.
The Underground Man takes a fictionalised look at William John Cavendish Scott-Bentinck, the 5th Duke of Portland, an eccentric English aristocrat whose imagination and curiosity knew no bounds.
In the play, this deceptively simple man struggles to come to terms with a world that is teeming with new knowledge, ill-founded opinion and gossip.
Why does he hide himself away? What is his fascination with tunnels?
And will he ever unearth the secrets hidden in his memory?
In a sequence of events that are often bizarre and frequently hilarious, he reveals some moments of often surprising perception and wisdom.
Adapted by Nick Wood from Mick Jackson’s Booker Prize-shortlisted novel, this innovative performance features live music and a specially-commissioned score.
The real-life duke lived on the Welbeck Estate in Nottinghamshire and died in December 1879.
Rumours abounded about his possible madness or disfigurement when he became a recluse.
Among the legacies he left on the estate was an amazing network of underground tunnels.
The estate’s Harley Gallery, which hosts many art exhibitions, is based in part in an old gasworks that once powered thousands of lamps that lit up the tunnels.
Using Victorian engineerign techniques, the duke employed up to 1,000 Irish workmen, using their experience in railway building, to construct 2.5 miles of tunnels, some large enough to pass two carriages side by side.
A miniature railway carriage could even deliver food to his room.
He also had huge kitchen gardens and a massive riding school built on the estate.
The duke was well known as a considerate employer and keen supporter of charity.
The Underground Man is at The Civic on Thursday, January 26 at 7.30pm.
For more information and to book, visit www.barnsleycivic.co.uk or call the box office on 01226 327000.
Current exhibitions at the Harley Gallery near Worksop include Identity and Dress by artist Sophie Ploeg, based on the lavish materials in portraits of the Cavendish family in the 16th and 17th centuries.
Brick Wonders , starting on January 21, features seven new wonders of the world, created by Warren Elsmore using only Lego bricks.
For more information, go to www.harleygallery.co.uk.
The duke’s Welbeck Estate is also open to the public. Find out more on Welbeck Estate