Inviting audiences back with their first production since lockdown is The Eagle pub, its outdoor garden theatre providing a welcome space to stage the energetically performed comedy musical Fanny and Stella, directed by Steven Dexter and written by Glen Chandler, creator of Taggart, writes Carolyn Hart Taylor.
With social distance measures in place, a quick temperature check at the door, one level seating and the request for mask wearing, we happily escape today’s news and journey instead to the past as Fanny and Stella re-enact the 1871 real life trial of Ernest Boulton, known as Stella (Jed Berry) and Frederick Park, Fanny (Kane Verrall).
Invigorated by their penchant for dressing up as women for the sheer joy it brings them, Boulton and Park invariably attract the attention of strait-laced Victorian society and end up in the dock charged with conspiracy to commit illicit acts.
Roles in amateur theatricals had provided Boulton and Park the safety to quench their thirst for bodices and voluminous skirts as they trod the boards as saucy women, playfully singing ‘Has anyone seen my Fanny?’. Being unimpeded on stage leads to barbed lines like: ‘Anytime time Stella ends a relationship she plants a tree – has anyone seen Epping Forest lately?’ They attract their admirers.
Childhood sweetheart Ernest (Alex Lodge) implores Boulton to discard his female persona, declaring, ‘Be a man for me and I’ll be a man for you’, giving an insight to pressures faced back then, and to some extent 150 years later. Fanny and Stella, however, mainly cancel out the seriousness for this tongue-in-cheek, nod and a wink romp.
The striking costume design (David Shields) united character and theme. Corsets, laced boots, slick, tailored suits showered with extravagant jewellery, lapels tiered with gingham bows, and embossed waistcoats made for a bewitching all-male cast. They strut through the numbers resembling a Vivienne Westwood music-hall themed catwalk. Both Fanny and Stella in their male and female attire blurred boundaries, demonstrating how men like to peacock, while never cutting ties with the dressing up box entirely.
A jolly good show that is very much worth seeing.
Fanny and Stella is on at The Garden Theatre, The Eagle, 349 Kennington Lane, SE11 5QY until 25th August. Times: Monday at 7.30pm; Tuesday at 6.00pm and 8.30pm. Admission: £16.00 + booking fee.
Main Photo: Alex Hinson