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BWW Review: FANNY & STELLA, The Garden Theatre at The Eagle


The first London fringe production since lockdown

BWW Review: FANNY & STELLA, The Garden Theatre at The Eagle BWW Review: FANNY & STELLA, The Garden Theatre at The Eagle

Fanny & Stella is the debut production at The Garden Theatre, situated in The Eagle pub's beer garden in Vauxhall. This is a brand new, socially distanced, open-air production - the first London fringe opening since lockdown - running until the end of summer. The show had a previous run at Above The Stag, and the book and lyrics are by Glenn Chandler (Taggart), with a score by Charles Miller (When Midnight Strikes).

This one-act musical is set in Victorian London, and tells the true story of Ernest Boulton and Frederick William Park, otherwise knows as Fanny and Stella, who were put on trial for dressing as women and conspiring to commit sodomy.

The audience is taken on a theatrical journey narrated by Fanny and Stella themselves. We begin with the glory days, when the two young men would perform in drag, then frequent parties after - often in the same attire - leaving a trail of suitors behind them. Then, as events take a turn for the worst, we watch the characters go through a gruelling trial and see them right through to their eventual acquittal. We learn that this was an incredible victory for the time, when sexual acts between men carried a sentence of two years.

In many ways, Fanny and Stella were pioneers for pushing against gender stereotypes, celebrating homosexuality and being true to oneself. For this reason, Fanny & Stella is an important show that will resonate with audiences today. It's both educational and inspirational.

Each character adds a different layer to the show and serves an important purpose in the storytelling. The actors have been cast with careful consideration to truthfully play these characters, with most taking on multiple roles. Mark Pearce is particularly impressive at playing countless characters, each with distinctly different accents and physicality, with merely a hat or a prop to aid the transition.

Kane Verrall and Jed Berry, in the titular roles, are entertaining and full of life. There are also some lovely more serious scenes between Berry and Alex Lodge, who beautifully bring to life the thwarted romance between their characters.

Steven Dexter has done a wonderful job at staging this production, and the fairly small, outdoor, makeshift theatre is made to feel a deliberate part of the show. The audience are convincingly led to believe we are at Mr Grimes's venue in 1871, which Fanny and Stella - along with their theatre company - have taken over for the night to share their story.

Nick Winston's musical staging/choreography is wonderfully theatrical and 'cabaret' styled, with nods to Fosse - particularly in the use of chairs. Miller's score nicely sets the vaudevillian theme, with plenty of vamping and Sprechstimme. There are also some wonderfully heartfelt musical numbers, including the love song sung by Lodge's character.

Chandler has done impressive work in retelling an important piece of history in a way that feels historically accurate in language and style, but that also resonates with a modern audience. Some of the comedic moments are very clever, and the juxtaposition between the modern drag make-up and punk boot heels and Victorian era garments is a great touch.

Fanny & Stella is important, educational and a whole lot of fun.

Fanny and Stella runs at The Garden Theatre at the Eagle until 28 August

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From This Author Bella Bevan