Theatre Review: Stella

Entering the old music hall for this performance, you can tell why this location was chosen to host the story of the Ernest, one-half of the famous Victorian cross-dressing duo, Fanny and Stella.  This play delves into the dark depths of this unique character’s inner world, his emotions, his despair and heartbreak, and his most fascinating life based on a true story.

Stella is set during two intimate periods of Ernest’s life: his cross-dressing youth, and his later years.  There’s something of a ‘Waiting for Godot’ element at present here, both Stella and the older Ernest are waiting for something or someone, not sure if they actually want it to arrive.  Both thrive on their fantasy lives, for Stella this exists in the future, for Ernest it’s held in the past.  There are intricate layers of storytelling present here, operating in a conceal and reveal approach, both emotionally and physically.  Information shared about Ernest’s past is deliberately inconsistent, and the truth fluctuates, with his tale constantly retold under a different light.  Lighting, after all, is very important to performers!

Both actors playing Ernest/Stella do a great job of showing the vulnerability and insecurities of the character, but Richard Cant’s performance as Ernest really shines through.  His portrayal of the character transforms throughout the performance, starting as an old, listless man and becoming increasingly more animated as he talks about his past life and experiences.  It’s at these times the similarities and mannerisms of both performers can be seen; they are in some way, a reflection of each other, and this is played well by both performers.  The third silent character played by David Carr displayed great physical control as he moved through scenes.  However the role of this character was confusing at times.
This is a performance stripped bare, a script which relies on its dialogue, and although it sometimes hits home, at other times it sadly misses. The wit and humorous elements are written and performed fantastically and do much to break up the often serious tone to this performance.  The writer has also cleverly made the characters speak about their lives in a way which seems stage-managed, fitting in perfectly with their need to be on stage.  The idea of a once great performer losing his voice is a point which can’t be missed.  Unfortunately there is something important missing from this performance, it loses momentum from time to time and lacks a certain power and emotional connectivity that could have made it something special.

I was invited to review this performance by the London Theatre Bloggers, you can catch this show at Hoxton Hall until the 18th of June as part of the Lift Festival. 

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