Tag Archives: Glenn Chandler

“Fanny and Stella” at The Garden Theatre

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.

Alex Lodge in Fanny and Stella at The Garden Theatre Vauxhall
Alex Lodge

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

“Fanny & Stella” at the Above The Stag Theatre

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


“The Custard Boys” at the Tabard Theatre

As a housemaster at Harrow, John Rae knew plenty about boys: how vicious they could be and how silly. His 1961 novel, The Custard Boys, looks at a group of evacuees from the Blitz as they grow up in Norfolk. This is a coming-of-age story with depth, a touch of William Golding, and a homosexual sub-plot that must have been shocking at the time.

Rae’s novel is now out of print, which is a shame since director Glenn Chandler’s adaptation really makes you want to read it. Chandler seems to have taken a great deal from a rich source to produce an ambitious play. The cast scampers around Cecilia Carey’s boys-own adventure set with terrific invention.

The talented young ensemble excels with humour about stiff upper lips, playing schoolchildren superbly and managing only slightly less well when it comes to being their parents or schoolmasters.
Josh Hall is especially funny as the earnest Felix, while Jack Elliot Thomson gives an enthusiastic performance as the ‘new bug’ Peter, whose place as newest recruit to the gang is supplanted by Mark Stein. Stein, played sensitively by Andrew St Pierre, is a wildly sophisticated Viennese Jew. Having to eat spam sandwiches is the least of his problems as he becomes a target for bullying. Curley is given the task of befriending him and they fall in love.

The relationship is fascinating and empowering, and Curley is performed wonderfully by Charlie Cussons. As paranoid as any of the boys about being regarded as a cowardy custard, and conservative in the way children often are, Curley’s sense of British Bulldog justice gives him the confidence to rebel.

The subplot highlights only one of the themes within The Custard Boys. With the strange logic children sometimes display, the romance becomes less important than the boys’ ability to fight. In a jingoistic atmosphere, encouraged to “play games and pretend” war, the children become perverted by patriotism, leading to a tragic and moving conclusion.

Until 12 May 2012


Photo by Derek Drescher

Written 16 April 2012 for The London Magazine