Jonathan Tolins’ sharp and successful one-man play is easy to enjoy. Using the extravagance of celebrity to look at fandom and fame in equal measure, this super smart script is full of knowing jokes that should guarantee constant laughter.
Stars don’t get much brighter than Barbra Streisand and to base a fiction around her home life means there’s more than enough material for an hour and half show. It helps to know about her career, but Tolins’ writing is strong enough for anyone to find the show funny.
Director Andrew Beckett appreciates the variety of humour he has to work with and the show’s pacing is effective: there’s the boredom of out-of-work actor Alex’s job in Streisand’s basement (it’s even weirder than it sounds) punctuated by moments of elation when he gets to meet ‘her’.
For all its merits, the production doesn’t quite match the show’s previous London outing at the Menier. The performer here is Adam Sidwell, who does well but doesn’t manage to land all the jokes. Sidwell is careful to stay on the right side of impersonation when delivering Streisand’s lines and good when taking on the role of his boss Sharon. But scenes where he also performs as Alex’s boyfriend aren’t so successful: the couple’s speculation on Streisand – which Tolins develops nicely – flip flops without the required finesse.
Streisand is always going to be more interesting than Alex. But shouldn’t we root for him a little more? Nonetheless, it is easy to share Alex’s escapism in Buyer and Cellar. And… nice; we could all do with something different nowadays and a comedy is good programming. Given their sturdy work, I for one have no wish to rain on Sidwell and Beckett’s parade.
Until 8 November 2020
A true story that’s a gift to a dramatist, Victorian transvestites Ernest Boulton and William Park, with their inspiring friendship, risqué love affairs and dangerous brush with the law, are truly fascinating. Playwright Glenn Chandler’s masterstroke is to have the characters’ eponymous drag personas present their own story in a music-hall style that makes for great entertainment.
Charles Miller’s accompanying Victoriana songs are a wicked delight that I’d have like to have heard more of. And the whole cast is superb. Phil Sealey, whose character represents the manager of the venue uneasily hosting Fanny and Stella’s performance, takes on numerous roles in the retelling of their shocking story. Along with the ladies’ attempts to outshine each other, there’s a faux improvised humour that adds charm as well as laughter. As for the rest of the many jokes, some gags positively creak and the plentiful innuendo isn’t exactly sophisticated, but it’s all great fun.
While the history forms an effective questioning of Victorian attitudes, there’s a purposefully contemporary feel to the show, seen most clearly in the two leads. Robert Jeffery and Marc Gee Finch, in the title roles, are both fine performers, great with the songs and even better with the show’s bitching – sorry, ladies, I daren’t pick a favourite. Camping it up for all their worth, yet capable of providing space for more sombre moments, it’s always funny to see characters milking applause when they are so clearly already commanding the spotlight.
The second half, dealing with Fanny and Stella’s scandalous trial and cruel imprisonment, drops off a little. There’s a touch of preaching to the choir and wish fulfilment – I am not convinced the story shows an early ‘victory’ over prejudice – but the show knows its audience; as the UK’s only full-time professional LGBT theatre, receiving no public subsidy, Above The Stag can’t afford not to. It’s a tribute to the show’s strength that I think the company is selling itself short. I’d love to see the show in a bigger venue (what about Wilton’s Music Hall?) and believe Fanny and Stella have the potential to appeal to all – they deserve to be massive stars.
Until 14 June 2015