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Fanny - a New Musichall

The Crescent Theatre

*****

IN A new play, a world premiere, written by Carolyn Scott Jeffs and directed by Ray Rackham, Fanny tells the real story of music hall life in Victorian England.

Complete with corsets, top hats and piano accompaniment, the audience are whisked away to a world of 19th Century entertainment and the Music Hall in a one woman show that tells the story of an aspiring star who talks to the audience about her friends and associates.

Fanny is played by the phenomenal Lizzie Wofford and the play opens with a musical number sung in a beautiful stylised fashion, to set a welcoming tone, laced with innuendos and light-hearted jokes. In true Music Hall style, the audience are invited to join in with the bouncy and popular Victorian songs that fit in beautifully with Wofford’s fiery performance.

We were given a sheet to sing lyrics from the likes of Hold Your Hand out Naughty Boy, All the Nice Girls Love a Sailor, I do like to be Beside the Seaside and Waiting at the Church.

Wofford was so welcoming that we could not resist joining in and singing along. She is a beautiful singer who performs with gusto and passion to remarkable effect. An accompaniment of a piano played by Peter John Dodsworth was a great addition. Dodsworth is also the Musical Director for the show. An authentic Music Hall vibe is felt all round and the audience are fascinated by the remarkable talent in front of them.

We are in perfectly safe hands in the colizziempany of Wofford. She gives an outstanding portrayal of the multiple characters of her Cockney story. Throughout the piece, she creates a world of the darkest Victorian England and what it means to be a woman in the era.

With layers of context beautifully encased with an excellent performance from the lady herself, we are exposed to the horrifying treatment of women. This is a slice of Victorian life as told by modern research and feminist comment. The audience feel as if they have been transported back into a real-life Music Hall performance.

Lizzie Wofford is Fanny

Wofford’s confidence and self-assured performance is truly inspiring. In her portrayal, she is clear in everything she does which leads to a sharp reflection of Victorian life that educates as well a entertains.

The story is clever as it is topical, using Fanny as the main narrator; she is an MC playing both herself and the roles within her story. The evening starts as Fanny introduces herself and her aspirations. The casual and warming conversation leads on to Fanny informing us about her friend, Elsie.

Wofford then takes on the role of Elsie, Fanny and all other characters in between to tell the story of a woman fallen from grace that was all too common at the time. Scott Jeffs’ writing is deeply political and extremely challenging, informing the audience of how far women have come in the very short time since the Victorian period. The story employs a Brechtian style, with placards of a description of each scene; the audience discover the deeply horrific and violating culture going against the liberation of women of the 19th century.

The bouncy tone to the play definitely has its dark moments, and these are used in exactly in the right place. What seem like harmless flirtations at first are the things that become Elsie’s demise. As the story unfolds, Elsie is forced to give up a baby due to not being married, sent to a workhouse and becoming a prostitute.

This is not even the worst of Elsie’s story. Scott Jeffs does well to remind the audience of the commodity of the women within the time, telling us that girls could be arrested for even walking alone. The play finishes with Elsie entering a Lock Hospital, a hospital for fallen women and the treatment of venereal disease. Two placards about Elsie’s fate determined the powerful end to the production.

Rackham and Scott Jeffs have created a beautiful account of women within the Victorian era, set against the backdrop of the infamous Contagious Diseases Acts of the 1860s. Fanny shows a sharp class divide with excellent precision. We are in the safest of hands with Wofford’s stellar performance and characterisation. With a beautiful collaboration with the London Theatre Workshop, the one-woman show is a unique insight to the laws and acts of the time and lets the audience appreciate how far social mobility has altered.

Elizabeth Halpin

19-07-16 

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