It’s not unusual that LGBT rights are the main topic of literature, films or even theatre however the recent release of Fanny and Stella: The Shocking True Story presents us with something rather new – LGBT rights in the Victorian era. The show itself immerses you in the intimate Above The Stag Theatre which in turn works perfectly due to the narrative nature of the show. The new play by Taggart writer Glenn Chandler through the narration of Fanny and Stella tells a tale of two Victorian transvestites who were put on trial for ‘Sodomy on the Strand’.
The storyline puts the audience in the Bermondsey Working Men’s Club and allows them to become the jury of the tale being told. Fanny (Marc Gee-Finch) and Stella (Robert Jeffrey) bounce off one another in supplying the audience with hilarity and emotive persuasion of characters. Marc Gee-Finch (previous Candid cover model) told us that the script itself inspired him and that it was an honour to bring the characters involved to life – the attitude that is expressed through the impressive performance of all the actors. There is true belief in what the characters are telling us but also effective comedy by both actors – which can be rare, especially for a double act that haven’t worked together before.
The first half sets the story and introduces the characters and their relationships between one another, this includes Mr. Grimes (Phil Sealey) who is the owner of the Working Men’s Club who is dragged into the performance to assist the story – he brilliantly adds an extra level of humour and immersion into this imaginary place the audience is set in. Lord Arthur Clinton (James Robert-Moore) plays an MP scared to lose his position in parliament and the lover of Stella. However the play is full of debauchery and sodomy so of course we have Louis Charles Hart (Christopher Bonwell) and Robert Safford Fiske (Alexander Allin) acting as romantic admirers of Stella too. Once character relations were established in the first half adds clever storyline with added comical musical numbers such as ‘Sodomy on the Strand’ and ‘Has anyone seen my Fanny’. Personally I have never been a lover of musicals but the lyrics and the presentation of them really added to the theatrics of the characters.
The second half presents us with the court case itself and some more rather humorous sections such as the horrific scene of the girls’ forced medical inspection in prison which proved us that you really can fit countless amounts of innuendo in a performance and they would still be amusing. The show ends having the audience involved in the jury decision of Fanny and Stella, of course in this era our common sense tells the whole audience to vote ‘not guilty’ which I am sure was not as popular with the real jury in the Victorian era.
Throughout they make use of clever set design (David Shields) an achievement in itself worth applauding. Two backless wardrobes and a stage are used as entrances for different scenes and dressed inside between scenes. This ingenious use of design puts the larger productions realistic sets to shame and really shows what an independent theatre can really achieve in the pool of theatre. I found one downfall with this show and that is that you are left wanting to know what happened next which I suppose in the entirety of it all is a positive in this mesmerising and brisk paced musical.