After 149 days of live theatre lockdown – yes, I have been counting – I was always going to love the first trip back to a show. Thank you, thank you, LAMBCO Productions, for the first fringe production since March. But, sincerely, Glenn Chandler’s play with music is a jolly affair that is well worth seeing. It’s entertaining, interesting and a lot of fun.
Chandler takes on a lot, and admittedly over-reaches. Based on true events, a show-within-a-show format tells the story of performers Ernest Boulton (AKA Stella) and Frederick William Park (Fanny), who dressed as women offstage as well as on and were arrested for doing just that in 1871. The history is light: there’s not enough shock about the men’s “painted faces” and not much peril. It is in questionable taste that the medical examination Boulton and Park had to undergo is played for laughs. And the idea of either man as a transwoman is not explored. Chandler’s decision is to entertain, and this is what he does.
Going for pleasure makes the setting of The Eagle pub garden in Vauxhall appropriate and the audience were clearly smiling under their face masks. All manner of crudity and old jokes are allowed and the cast camp it up considerably (David Shields’ clever costume designs are useful here). Special mention to the hard-working Mark Pearce, who takes on so many roles and accents. And to Alex Lodge, who plays one of the (many) loves of Fanny’s life, injecting some romantic moments and also doing well as a gutter-press journalist.
The evening’s stars are Jed Berry and Kane Verrall in the inimitable title roles, which both the script and director Steven Dexter balance nicely. The chemistry is great and there’s a convincing sense of sisterhood along with some fine comic timing. Both work the crowd wonderfully. All of this is accompanied by Charles Miller’s clever little songs – all, importantly, performed live. It really is a great night out… the best I’ve had in 149 days, actually.
Until 25 August 2020
Photos by Alex Hinson