Fanny & Stella: The Shocking True Story at Above the Stag Theatre
Feminism had the Suffragettes, LGBT rights had the likes of Fanny and Stella, two 19th-century transsexuals who brazenly flustered the sensibilities of straight-laced Victorians, and were put on trial for sodomy. Not that London was really as pious as it appeared, particularly around Soho where “debauchery” prevailed. Men in drag had been selling themselves in Britain’s capital long before then. But the late 1800s were a time of upheaval, which resulted in a focus on controlling people’s sex lives, in a classically misguided attempt to stem societal chaos.
Glenn Chandler’s Fanny & Stella: The Shocking True Story, directed by Steven Dexter, is a charming, mostly musical rendition of these events. With funny songs, dancing and bawdy innuendo, the play is presented as a cabaret spectacle for the Bermondsey Working Men’s Club, combining thought-provoking theatre with vaudeville and humour. Also becoming the jury during Fanny and Stella’s trial, the Men’s Club serves as the story’s social backdrop.
The two protagonists are a couple of fellows from a moderately privileged milieu, Ernest Boulton and Frederick Park, whose alter egos, Stella Clinton (Kieran Parrott) and Fanny Winifred Park (Tobias Charles) command an extensive fan base as performers and paramours. Like gay world courtesans, they attract the attentions of some prominent figures. Their rise to fame and subsequent public scandal – irreverently and affectionately portrayed via song, dance and risqué humour – is intriguingly conveyed via excellent direction and performances.
With entertaining vocals and ebullient flair, Fanny and Stella are particularly well-played with charisma and aplomb by Charles and Parrott who perceptively express the characters’ emotional damage from parental rejection, and their rebellion against homophobia, social tyranny and the shackling of expressive freedom.
Excellent, historically accurate costumes and set create an appropriately evocative atmosphere of Victorian London in this partly dramatic and tragic, sometimes romantic, and primarily joyful and lighthearted piece. Music (Charles Miller, Aaron Clingham) and songs such as Sodomy on the Strand and Mother are terrific. Contributing to an aura of delightful outrageousness is the flamboyant choreography.
A culturally relevant and informative show touching on the evolution of LGBT rights, Fanny & Stella: The Shocking True Story is superbly audacious, fun and entertaining.
Photo: PGB Studios
Fanny & Stella: The Shocking True Story is at Above the Stag Theatre from 8th May until 2nd June 2019. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.