‘Shows how drama can go so much further than documentary’: Fanny & Stella: The Shocking True Story – Above the Stag Theatre

In London theatre, Musicals, Opinion, Reviews by Shanine SalmonLeave a Comment

Above the Stag Theatre – until 2 June 2019

Fanny & Stella: The Shocking True Story is the true story of Ernest Boulton and Frederick Park who scandalised the country by living as women and engaging in “conspiracy to commit sodomy” (a lot). Boulton and Park’s story is one I’ve been fascinated with since first reading Fanny and Stella: The Young Men Who Shocked Victorian England, the 2013 non-fiction book which also inspired this production.

Glenn Chandler’s “play with songs” shows how drama can go so much further than documentary, both in exploring the psychological and socio-cultural constructs of gender and dress, and in centring Fanny and Stella as the narrators of their own story. The play takes the form a show performed in a working men’s club by the pair themselves after their arrest and trial; we the audience are watching the story exactly as Fanny and Stella choose to tell it to us.

We see them bicker between themselves (and with their put upon theatre manager-turned-unwilling actor, played to great effect by the hilarious Mark Pearce), and force the audience to vote on their guilt after a subversively brief and campy re-creation of their trial, following brutal interrogation and incarceration in Newgate Prison.

Fanny & Stella is hilarious, campy and high energy; kicking off with the earworm-inducing ‘Sodomy on the Strand’. The production hangs on the brilliant performances of the two leads, Kieran Parrott and Tobias Charles (making what the programme notes is his professional debut, and one that indicates a long and successful career to come).

But what’s most interesting is what’s missing. By allowing Fanny and Stella to control the narrative, we see only what they want us to see. And what they want us to see is a performance, an illusion. The framing device empowers the characters and certainly makes scenes forced intimate examinations easier to watch. We are allowed a glimpse into the glamorous world of sisterhoods and loving marriages between men. They choose not to show us (at least too much) the other side: the abuse and oppression, the prostitution, the early deaths. LGBT people don’t need to see; we live it. We’ve lived it for far too long.

Ernest Boulton/Stella and Frederick Park/Fanny are commemorated with one of the UK’s famous blue plaques outside their old lodgings in Bloomsbury. The plaque reads, simply, “Victorian crossdressers.”

Shanine Salmon on RssShanine Salmon on Twitter
Shanine Salmon
Shanine Salmon was a latecomer to theatre after being seduced by the National Theatre's £5 entry pass tickets and a slight obsession with Alex Jennings. She is sadly no longer eligible for 16-25 theatre tickets but she continues to abuse under 30 offers. There was a market for bringing awareness that London theatre was affordable in an era of £100+ West End tickets – Shanine’s blog, View from the Cheap Seat, launched in April 2016, focuses on productions and theatres that have tickets available for £20 and under. She is also quite opinionated and has views on diversity, pricing, theatre seats and nudity on stage. Her interests include Rocky Horror, gaming, theatre (of course) and she also has her own Etsy shop. Shanine tweets at @Braintree_.
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Shanine Salmon on RssShanine Salmon on Twitter
Shanine Salmon
Shanine Salmon was a latecomer to theatre after being seduced by the National Theatre's £5 entry pass tickets and a slight obsession with Alex Jennings. She is sadly no longer eligible for 16-25 theatre tickets but she continues to abuse under 30 offers. There was a market for bringing awareness that London theatre was affordable in an era of £100+ West End tickets – Shanine’s blog, View from the Cheap Seat, launched in April 2016, focuses on productions and theatres that have tickets available for £20 and under. She is also quite opinionated and has views on diversity, pricing, theatre seats and nudity on stage. Her interests include Rocky Horror, gaming, theatre (of course) and she also has her own Etsy shop. Shanine tweets at @Braintree_.

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