In this age of enlightenment where the lines between the pronouns he and she are ever more blurred and it has become less important to define what one is as a person, it is important to look back to a time when a man was a Man and a woman was a Woman and to see how the revolutionaries and pioneers changed this strict structure of definition. How, through the struggles and misfortunes of those that stood up against oppressive laws we have been able to change what society once deemed set in stone. Yet, there is still a long way to go before each and every one of us can be as we wish without fear of intimidation and attack; each single step against bigotry and homophobia must be celebrated with glee, gay abandon and of course, a lovely little musical interlude.
‘Fanny and Stella: The Shocking True Story’ does just that. It tells the story of Fanny, Frederick William Park and Stella, Thomas Earnest Boulton who, in 1871, were arrested and charged with “conspiring and inciting persons to commit an unnatural offence.” However as the wearing of women’s clothes was not a crime and the prosecution was unable to prove sodomy, then a crime, the case collapsed.
The theatre itself, Above the Stag Theatre, is the only LGBT theatre in London and is cosy, extremely friendly and well worth a visit. The audience are somewhat cheek by jowl but smaller theatres in London by far, there are.
The stage and costumes are lavish and Victorian; bustles, dickies and deep, dark woods, keeping to the fin de siècle feel of the whole play. The dark and subtle lighting creates an atmosphere of it all being deliciously lascivious whilst hiding nothing. In fact the actors often refer or talk directly to the audience so one feels that one is not just an observer but part of the whole performance.
The songs and music are of such toe tapping delight that it is difficult not to be drawn into the gaiety and joy of the production and as a man (or different noun if you prefer) who generally finds musical theatre trite and ridiculous, West Side Story is absolutely cringeworthy, this is an absolute revelation. ‘Sodomy on the Strand’ is both funny and sing-along-able but the magnus opus of the show is ‘Mother’. This tune, and the corresponding choreography, shall undoubtedly have you rolling in the aisles weeping like a happy child.
Phil Sealey, as Mr. Grimes, the theatre proprietor, proves himself to be an actor who can wear many hats and switches between different characters with absolute conviction. A most talented and incontrovertible voice actor. James Robert-Moore, as Lord Arthur Clinton, commands the stage in a Wildean manner projecting well and with utter belief in his part convincing the whole room of his bumbling yet loveable character. Marc Gee Finch, as Fanny, and Robert Jeffrey, as Stella, are the perfect double act with their androgynous looks and their beautiful harmonies; but Stella seems to be the more challenging of the characters to play due to her sense of entitlement. She comes across, at the beginning of the show, as quite a despicable character that one grows to love as the performance continues whereas one instantly takes a liking to Fanny. Christopher Bonwell, as Louis Charles Hart, plays his character timidly which makes him seem really innocent and makes one want to mother him which is perfect as Hart wishes to keep his love hidden from persecution. Finally Alexander Allin, as the American Robert Safford Fiske, is the polar opposite, who is brash and uncaring about what people think or say and he puffs up his chest and plays it so.
This two hour play is, as one would expect, littered with innuendo, risqué jokes and beautifully crafted blue songs. It has fine acting, fantastic songs, passion and above all belief in the show so if you leave without a smile on your face then there is nothing in this world that can bring you joy.
by Mark Speed