20 Feb


At the Vaults Festival 

Fanny is an ambitious music hall performer who knows the danger of independence and tells the sad story not set on stage but in the streets of London. 

In Victorian Times, it was dangerous for a woman to be out on their own. Without a male escort. It meant that they could be arrested and examined by doctors in the most humiliating way possible to see if they had syphilis. If they were infected, they were locked away in insanitary ‘Hotels’ in order not to infect the men who were duty bound to keep healthy by having sexual intercourse.  If they should get syphilis of course it was not their fault but the fault of the female.  This rule was actually devised by Queen Victoria herself who believed men should have as much sex as possible and produce children to help her run her Empire. 

The poor heroine of Fanny’s story is Elsie, who fell in love with a sailor – and the most poignant scene in Carolyn Scott-Jeffs story is when Elsie, who was waiting for Harold, her sailor lover, to arrive, (he was always late) she was arrested by the police. Harold arrived and when asked if he knew her, he said “I’ve never seen this girl in my life” 

 Fanny, is a music hall hopeful. She is ambitious to be a big star, but is aware of the dangers of independence and tells us this story interspaced with music hall songs that in some way illustrate the story. We are of course invited to join in the chorus and we have song sheets, probably hardly needed by most of the audience. “All the Nice girls love a sailor”, “There was I waiting at the Church” etc. She has an amusing piano player called Arthur and played by Tom Noyes. who is also responsible for putting out the chapters of the story written on cards in the calligraphic style of silent movies.  

Fanny herself is the dazzling Lizzie Offord, probably one of the most powerful, charismatic and talented performers I have ever seen. She has a great voice which can be loud and blowsy one minute and sweet and heartbreaking the next, creating comedy and tragedy in equal measure.   Her version of ‘Boy in the Gallery’ is gentle and touching. It is a song about Fanny herself. She doesn’t ask for the audience to join in that one. 

The director of this version of Elsie’s story is Tim Ford who definitely has an empathetic relationship with Fanny and her creator. The show was originally put together by Ray Rackham at the London Theatre Workshops along with the author and the original musical director.  A play organised by a committee that actually works.  It is good to see that music hall style love and concern for the audience is the current trend in musical theatre.  

Fanny is only on at the Vaults Festival for a short run and tonight will be the final chance to see it. However, I am certain that we haven’t seen the last of Fanny and Ms Offord. It is worth looking out for. 

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