11:04 | 19th February 2019

Reviews: Live Shows

Mon 25 May, 2015
By Robert Ingham

with strong performances and fantastically funny lines throughout

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After their hugely successful show ‘Rise Like A Phoenix’, a comedy about HIV, Above The Stag returns to tackle the subject of cross-dressing in Victorian England with ‘Fanny & Stella: The Shocking True Story’.

This musical tells the story of Fanny and Stella, two young men who rocked society and headlined the country’s newspapers when they were accused of indecent acts. Told entirely from their point of view at the ‘Bermondsey Working Men’s Institute’, it is an interesting twist of an historical, but not well-known, moment in LGBT history.

Once again, the intimate space works to the show’s advantage.

A gorgeous set is used to great effect and the director, Steven Dexter, has worked hard with designer David Shields to make sure everything looks perfect.

There isn’t anything wrong with ‘Fanny & Stella’. The two leads, Marc Gee Finch (Fanny) and Robert Jeffrey (Stella) are outstanding in their roles. Their incredible voices blend together superbly, and they perform in absolute earnest. A complete joy to watch, in and out of drag, although Finch’s ‘Mother’ is a particular stand-out (think Maureen Lipman). Top marks go to them for making their characters come to such vivid life.

Christopher Bonwell, playing Stella’s best friend and ex-lover, literally caught the audience’s breath when he first appeared. He’s a very good-looking chap and plays the part of Louis very nicely, as did Alexander Allin, playing American Robert Safford Fiske. And James Robert-Moore, Stella’s “husband” Lord Arthur Clinton, becomes more and more memorable as the show unfolds. However Phil Sealy, who hilariously plays a myriad of characters, is a complete tour de force and worth the ticket price alone.

‘Fanny & Stella’ could have easily become a less exciting piece if it wasn’t for the brainwave of writer Glenn Chandler to write it as a musical. The songs are great, certainly the opening “Sodomy on the Strand” sets the tone for the rest of the show. Having said that, the song “Mother”, which is a great song and is certainly right for the show, is the only moment that feels out of place. The choreography is over the top and seems a little too panto. This isn’t a major issue as this is just my opinion and the audience loved it regardless.

This is a good show with strong performances and fantastically funny lines throughout, though perhaps a certain demographic will appreciate it more. It looks like it will have another sold-out run yet avid fans of Above The Stag theatre may think it’s not the strongest show they have done this year.

Still – let that not put you off. There is plenty to keep you happy, laughing, and even singing along. And the “medical examination” will have you in stitches. Get your tickets and see why Fanny and Stella deserve to have their story told.

‘Fanny & Stella’ is on until 14th June at Above The Stag theatre, Arch 17, Miles Street, London, SW8 1RZ.


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