FANNY AND STELLA

13 Aug

Fanny and Stella from the book  by Neil McKenna 

The Young Men who shocked Victorian England. 

A wonderful post lock down treat. Fanny and Stella is a show that was previously shown last year at Upstairs at the Stag and is now located in the garden of a pub in Vauxhall – The Eagle. The garden has been turned miraculously into an open air, socially distanced theatre, beautifully thought out, and furnished by designer David Shields. There are gorgeous red velvet curtains, many plants and trees, a small raised platform at the back of the acting area which gives the impression of a stage.  Several rocky features for actors to leap on to when needed.  

The audience are well spaced out and have to wear masks, Drinks can be served during the performance and there is free ice-cream – Marine ices, no less.! 

There is a small cast of seven actors including the amazing musical director Aaron Clingham at the piano. An old friend of mine. Totally unrecognisable under his mask. The other performers are mask less but have been well trained by director Steven Dexter to keep their distance from each other. 

The story is a true one, recorded in a book by Neil McKenna, where the two upper middle class young men want to live their lives as respectable Victorian ladies, but in this musical by Glen Chandler who did book and lyrics with songs by Charles Miller, they are a couple of drag artists dressed as showgirls which allows for a certain amount of send up of the original. There is one typically panto song sung by Fanny “Has anybody seen my Fanny” with a chorus which I think calls out for audience participation. This didn’t happen on the press night, but critics are never all that good at singalong. 

We first see the two young men Ernest Boulton and Frederick William Park dressed up in their stage attire as two showgirls Stella (Jed Bery) and Fanny (Kane Verrall). They wear Corsets and full skirts hoiked up to show their shapely legs in fish net tights. 

They are joined by the rest of the company to sing and dance the opening number “Sodomy in the Strand” so the audience is left in no doubt about the content of this musical. All the singing and dancing in this musical is first class.  Song harmonies are great arranged by the masked music director Aaron Clingham and the simple, excellent Choreography by Nick Winston is perfectly performed and seemingly enjoyed by the whole cast. 

 The two young men carry their drag impersonations into their real life, which is where the story gets tricky. Stella is married to a Liberal MP Lord Arthur Clinton, played by Kurt Kansley but is in love with a younger, handsome man (Louis Charles Hurt)who wants her to be a real chap, give up the make-up  and grow a moustache. She loves her purple eyeshadow and wants to stay in her women’s clothes. 

It is inevitable that at some point Victorian morality will insist on the two boys and their lovers being arrested for unnatural behaviour. The Court case is fascinating, involving the entire cast as different characters including Fany’s performance as the mother of Stella. I do not want to give away the ending, but it is a lesson in how influence and money can pervert the law. 

 The story is a fascinating one though ultimately sad – well a little sad.  It is of course a true story and we do not know how the boys turned out after the trial end, but one hopes they  lived happy uncensured lives. 

One of the most interesting things about this production is the huge cast of people who have contributed in so many ways. There is so much unemployment in the business, so all the front of house staff members who would normally be on stage themselves, play their parts with a real joy at just being back in the theatre.   

The show runs until the end of August, but it is so successful that I see no reason why it should not run through September. 

It is a load of fun – played for laughs, but the serious edge to the story adds a little extra something to think about. 

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