Interview With George Hosker-Bouley of Portsmouth Underbelly Tour

George Hosker-Bouley plays spy Silas Deane on The Portsmouth Underbelly Tour

Tour-givers George Hosker-Bouley and Sarah Shanahan

Photos by ralph morang

Consider yourself warned — this is not your parents’  history tour. Yes, tour-goers walk past historic houses on The Portsmouth Underbelly Tour, but they are noted only if they once contained a brothel, spy ring, murder scene or some other kind of scandalous activity.

All the dirt that’s been swept under the rug in Portsmouth’s long history is deliciously exposed by tour-givers George Hosker-Bouley and Sarah Shanahan. Both are in costume and character — George, as spy Silas Deane, and Sarah as Olive Madberry, a tavern wench. And, as the website says, “they deliver their stories with a heat and humor that jumps right off the page and onto the streets where this history was actually lived.”

The tour started more than a decade ago when George and colleague Laura Pope realized that the stories of Portsmouth’s underbelly weren’t being told. With George’s theatre background, the tour developed into, as he puts it, “a mix of storytelling and vaudeville.”

George is the former artistic and executive director of the Prescott Park Arts Festival and an award-winning playwright. He currently serves on the Pontine Movement Theatre’s board of directors and is a past board member on the NH State Council on the Arts.

Sarah is an actress who has won and been been nominated multiple times for Best Actress in a musical for the Spotlight on the Arts Awards. Sarah three years ago replaced founding member Marian Marangelli who played Minerva Dogood before she passed away.

What’s the most scandalous thing that happened in Portsmouth? The most scandalous thing is that all these juicy stories involving murder, intrigue, scandal, betrayal and promiscuity have been swept under the rug — that is, until now!

Give me one example. There were 11 whorehouses (brothels) in Portsmouth’s heyday (between 1880 and 1915) that served 1,500 men per night! How’s that?

You say Celia Thaxter is associated with scandal? Paul Revere? Some of the most famous names in history have scandal in their pasts, yet all we hear are the whitewashed version of their tale. Celia Thaxter, Paul Revere, John Langdon and John Paul Jones all have stories they would rather hide.

Dirt-wise, is Portsmouth more fertile than most NH cities? All cities have a history they would rather not tell but Portsmouth has all the contributing factors: a thriving prostitution business, a military base, a hot seat for revolutionary fervor and more taverns than you can shake a stick at!

You do the tour in both costume and character? Our tour is different in that we don’t just tell it, we live it by presenting our characters in full costume adorned in the attitude of the day.

What time period do you cover? The tour starts at the city’s beginning in 1623 and skips through time right up to present day. Luckily for us Portsmouth has enough scandal and mayhem to fill all the centuries.

Do you think Portsmouth is a tamer place these days? In any city there is scandal behind every door, betrayal between lovers, greed amongst businessmen and sometimes it is more evident than in other times. There is always something to shock you, regardless of the century. You just have to find it.

Do city officials mind the exposure of city secrets? Most of the elected officials as well as a number of policemen, firemen, city workers and one future senator have all laughed the way through the tour. A great story is a great story regardless of what your day job is!

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