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Posts Tagged ‘Steven Dexter’

It’s 21 weeks since I attended a cultural event. Normally it would have been between 60 and 80 in that timespan. I queued, socially distanced of course, for a very short while. My temperature was taken and hand gel dispensed. I was led to a table where, after orderly ordering at the bar, my drink was brought to me. I scanned the QR code and registered for track & trace. Then I was led to my seat in the garden with another splash of sanitiser on the way. It was all done in a very professional, unhurried, slick way, so gold stars to the Garden Theatre at the Eagle Vauxhall for this, and for being the first off the mark on the London fringe.

Fanny and Stella were the alter egos for two men – Ernest Boulton & Frederick William Park – in Victorian London, who flouted the law by performing dressed as women, and staying in drag beyond that. Ernest had a ‘sugar daddy’, a peer no less, who treats him and refers to him as his wife, but Ernest also has a boyfriend in Edinburgh and has a dalliance with the American Consul based there. They finally overstepped the mark and after a period on remand in prison were somehow acquitted, perhaps because Frederick’s father was a judge!

The book and lyrics by Glenn Chandler, the creator of Taggart, one of Britain’s longest running police dramas, are witty and cheeky, littered with double entendres and, with Charles Miller’s chirpy score, create a music hall style which suits both the story and the venue. They’ve worked wonders with a few red curtains and potted plants to create a lovely garden theatre and David Shields design and costumes are a delight. MD Aaron Clingham, with his branded Fanny & Stella facemask, plays the score gamely on piano. Steven Dexter’s direction and Nick Winston’s musical staging are fresh and sprightly. Despite the lightness of the treatment, the serious side of the story isn’t lost.

Jed Berry and Kane Verrall are terrific as as Ernest / Stella and Frederic / Fanny, with excellent audience engagement. Kurt Kansley as Lord Arthur Clinton, Alex Lodge as friend Louis Charles Hurt and Joaquin Pedro Valdes as the American Consul provide great support, with Mark Pearce often stealing the show in a number of small roles, all delivered playfully.

I suppose you could think a theatre lover would fall for just about anything after a 21 week famine, but I can honestly say it was great fun, and an absolute tonic.

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This 1995 play by Jonathan Harvey somehow passed me by when it was first staged at the Donmar, despite the fact he’d been on my radar since the first outing of Beautiful Thing, his most enduring play, a couple of years earlier, so this revival at Above the Stag (which isn’t any more) was a good opportunity to catch up with it.

Liverpudlian brothers Shaun and Marti, ten years apart, had until recently been estranged for seven years, since Shaun, the younger of the two, was sixteen in fact. Until then they had been very close, Marti a surrogate dad. We eventually learn the reason for the estrangement. They both now live in London and the play takes place in the bedsitter Shaun shares with his girlfriend Juliet, currently away at her dad’s funeral in Barbados. Shaun has a mobile hairdressing business and Marti sells stretch covers, reverse stereotypes given Marti is gay. The other characters are English teacher George (girl) downstairs, on the rebound from ex Malcolm, who clearly fancies Shaun, mad-as-a-hatter Clarine / Zoe / Sharon upstairs and Dean / Fifi, Marti’s trans friend whose love is also unrequited.

All of these relationships play out in the one room, superbly designed by David Sheilds, in an intimate traverse staging by Steven Dexter which is at times a touch melodramatic but enthralling nonetheless. Harvey’s characters sometimes veer towards caricatures, but they are well drawn and here very well performed by Tom Whittaker and Hal Geller as the younger and older brothers, Phoebe Vigor and Amy Dunn, upstairs and downstairs respectively, and Myles Devonte as Dean.

This was my first visit to Above the Stag’s plush new under-the-railway space, much better than their two previous homes.

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