A show – about two, real life, Nineteenth Century gay cross-dressers – which resonates
Susan Elkin | 12 Aug 2020 12:18pm
Image: Fanny and Stella (Kane Verrall as Frederick William Park aka Fanny) and Jed Berry (Ernest Boulton aka Stella). Photo: Joseph Thomas
By Susan Elkin
This is a show – about two, real life, Nineteenth Century gay cross-dressers – which resonates. They have been acquitted of indecency offences and now, as actors, take their show on the road to tell their story. Cue for some nifty and versatile role playing among the accomplished cast of six. Even today many people will recognise and identify with some of the serious issues it lightheartedly raises.
And the press night I went to was a pretty special occasion because for most of the threatre-starved critics in attendance this was the first live show they’d seen for five months. There was a great sense of joy in the atmosphere even before we were ‘safely’ escorted out to the Eagle’s newly reburbished garden. I for one, was thrilled and charmed, even to be in the same space as performance after such a long deprivation.
Jed Berry as Stella and Kane Verrall as Fanny spark well off each other – each character sometimes troubled but also being shamelessly outrageous. Mark Pearce is good value as Mr Grimes (a role he is reprising from a previous production) gamely becoming whatever character he’s required to. Glenn Chandler’s book and lyrics are spiky fun with lots of double entendres.
Charles Miller’s music is spot on for the 1870s with echoes of Arthur Sullivan and music hall. And it sets off the words which are sung with impeccable clarity by this well directed (Steven Dexter) cast. ‘Sodomy on the Strand’ is a fine, catchy song but maybe not one you’d want your child to pick up and sing at school. This is definitely an adult show. All the musical accompaniment is provided by Aaron Clingham, playing keys in a face mask at the back of the playing area. And Nick Winston’s musical staging provides some compelling dance routines complete with smouldering looks and sexy shivers.
Saucy and ribald as it often is, this production of Fanny and Stella also has a quality of innocence about it and the end with its line about surely not having to wait another hundred years for tolerance and acceptance is ruefully moving. Generally though, The campness is delicious and by golly, it was good to be back in a theatre space.