Fanny A New Musichall
Crescent – The Vaults
Reviewed – 18th February 2020
The Unruly Regiment, consisting of mother-daughter duo Carolyn Scott-Jeffs and Lizzie Wofford brought to the VAULT Festival an engaging and engaged new musical. And it is absolutely stunning.
Fanny wants to sing in music halls. Given she possesses the unbelievably strong voice of Lizzie Wofford as well as her charismatic stage presence, she may well succeed. But Fanny feels she needs to tell a story – a story of her friend Elsie who, as her cabaret counterpart, also “wasn’t what you call a blushing flower” and definitely “as a matter of fact, she rented by the hour”. Although “happiest corpse” she probably was not. The story of Elsie goes from nought to 100 in no time. What starts as a cheerful, slightly sentimental and genuinely funny journey to the world of music halls and Victorian morality (with audience participation galore) takes a much gloomier turn in the second half. The 19th century that is so often romanticised on stage and on screen, with all its dark sides blissfully covered over, is here with an unforgiving world of misery – particularly for women, and even more particularly – for prostitutes.
“Fanny: a New Musichall” was written by Carolyn Scott-Jeffs, and brilliantly so. It is very well composed – a traditional musical theatre formula (introducing songs in the first half, reprising them in the second) and the deconstruction of the story as well as the balance between comedic and tragic elements create a seamless and internally logical whole. Characters she created are unaffectedly engaging and easy for the audience to empathise with, richly brought to life by Tim Ford’s clever direction. Lizzie Wofford who plays Fanny and Elsie (and virtually every other character in Fanny’s tale about Elsie) is a powerhouse. Tom Noyes as Fanny’s a bit “funny” pianist is wonderfully hilarious. The musical arrangements by Peter John Dodsworth are quite brilliant, above all in the reprisals that extract a wholly different meaning from popular show tunes. Design (by Connie Watson), lighting (by Anna Reddyhoff) and costumes (on-budget variation on period attire) all complement “Fanny” in a perfectly fine if a tad unobtrusive way.
The only downside is, “Fanny: a New Musichall” runs for only three performances during the VAULT Festival. It is definitely not enough for a show that great.
Reviewed by Dominika Fleszar