As a longtime devotee of the novels of P.G. Wodehouse, many of which are set amongst the upper echelons during the golden period between the wars, I’ve often enjoyed the odd day dream set in Edwardian England.
The carefree decadence, the fancy dress balls at gargantuan country estates and the rollicking romantic imbroglios depicted in Wodehouse might drive anyone to wish they could turn back the clock and play cricket with a dinner roll in the Drones Club.
But, for some fanatics of period drama, building castles in Spain with a good book just won’t cut it. They want real castles.
Enter Fairweather Manor.
“Fairweather Manor is a larp set in a great English estate. It’s inspired by such TV series as Downton Abbey, ‘Upstairs/Downstairs, and the lives of servants and nobles in the beginning of the 20th Century.” Says Claus Raasted, the project coordinator for the elaborate larp (short for “live action role play”).
You might have seen nerdy young people staging medieval battles in public parks using foam weapons — that’s larping. This, however, is “Nordic-style larping” and it’s on a very different scale.
Fairweather Manor is a country estate on the border on Poland and the Czech Republic and people are paying serious money to fly over and participate in these “historical-ish” reenactments.
Nobles, experts, and artists pay €395 ($440) to participate, while servants pay only €125 ($139). Optional costume rental can cost another €100 ($111), according to Town and Country.
Roughly 140 participants from around the world fill the historic home each weekend to play the roles necessary to enact the “the Duke of Somerset’s 60th birthday.”
“We sometimes tell ourselves that this is supposed to feel like ten episodes of Dowton Abbey crammed into one weekend,” Raasted says in an 18-minute-long documentary about the larp (which can be seen below). “The reason we chose to do Fairweather Manor is the same reason people watch TV shows about this period. It’s 100 years old, but this whole feeling of being apart of a great house, whether you’re a servant or a noble or just a guest, there’s something amazing about that. And we wanted to try and recreate that.”
And that’s where the whole project goes from very nerdy fun to ahistorical and extremely tone deaf.
A serious downside to this Fairweather Manor is the way it romanticizes what was a very harsh and regressive class structure. Exploiting workers shouldn’t be a bit of weekend fun, nor should pretending to be lowly servant. It risks leaving participants with the mistaken feeling that they actually learned what it was like to live these roles, when in fact what is happening at Fairweather Manor is pure fantasy.
There is just no way it could actually be fun to be an Edwardian scullery maid for a weekend. Why pretend like it was?
Nevertheless, for those who have the urge to squeeze into a period costume and play pretend, this is the most elaborate, well organized and creative drama I’ve ever seen. And the activities — croquis, hunting, scientific demonstrations, lectures, etc. – seem like a lot of fun. It’s really just a Renaissance Fair or a murder mystery dinner on steroids. But is it worth booking the next
flight steam liner to Poland?