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Fanny and Stella (Susan Elkin reviews)

Fanny & Stella: The Shocking True Story – ★★★★
A play with songs by Glenn Chandler. Music by Charles Miller
performance date: 08 May 2019
venue: Above The Stag Theatre, 72 Albert Embankment, London SE1 7TP


William Frederick Park and Ernest Boulton were gay, transvestite actors (‘Fanny’ and ‘Stella’ respectively) whose 1880s trial for indecency ended in acquittal. This revival of Glenn Chandler’s 2015 musical account of their story is sparkily funny, enjoyably explicit and neatly staged.

Steven Dexter’s thoughtful direction makes deft use of an accomplished cast of six with a lot of slick, unfussy scene shifts and Brechtian acting. Christian Andrews, for example slips effortlessly between the physicality of Fanny’s overbearing father, a judge, and the camp Lord Arthur Clinton among other roles and Mark Pearce, both hilarious and talented, delights as impresario, Mr Grimes, who ‘apologetically’ plays lots of other nicely hammed up minor characters.

At the heart of the action Keiran Parrott as Stella minces, simpers and says outrageous things with a wonderfully wicked, complicit grin which manages to include every audience member. As Fanny, Tobias Charles is larger, softer and more complex. In conversation with his father, the character drops most of the archly camp manner. When performing, or in company with, Stella he is complementarily and exaggeratedly effeminate. Charles has a richly resonant voice and shines as the best singer in the cast.

Charles Miller’s music delights. He is clearly a man who knows his Sullivan and many of the numbers, ably accompanied on piano by musical director, Aaron Clingham, are ripplingly tuneful. There’s an appropriate, catchy music hall flavour to a lot of this music too and I walked back to Oval tube afterwards, singing Sodomy in the Stand to myself. Best of all is the clarity of the diction with which these songs are sung. Every word is crisp – and because the words are so witty they become the backbone of the show.

Yes, this piece is comic but of course it also makes some serious points for 2019. Winning the court case is, in a sense, a breakthough. There’s a poignant line at the end, however, about a time in the near future when people like Fanny and Stella will be free to be themselves. It isn’t as though they’ll have to wait another century or anything, comments Stella with a rueful look at the audience.


First published by Sardines:

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Susan Elkin Susan Elkin is an education journalist, author and former secondary teacher of English. She was Education and Training Editor at The Stage from 2005 - 2016
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