The beauty of London is its diverse abundance of theatres - there is more to London theatre than just the West End, with many hidden spaces coming alive to reveal performance spaces all over the Capital. One such space is 'Above The Stag' in Vauxhall - a place I regularly walked (well, stumbled) past after a night at a club next door, but had surprisingly never been inside. I'm pleased to say I fixed that long overdue oversight last night.
Currently playing there is Sidney Fox's Crime - a new play written by Glenn Chandler, who also directs this production, that was first performed last year as part of Above The Stag's "Not The Edinburgh Fringe" season. Recounting the true story of thief and forger Sidney Fox who spent the roaring twenties in and out of prison. Devoted to his mother, he was accused of murdering her which he was ultimately found guilty for and hanged, though there was more to the story than meets the eye.
The titular character is played by Sebastian Calver who is utterly captivating as his life plays out in front of us. Jumping back to the present day and his youth, Sebastian effortlessly switches in to whichever age he is supposed to, with deceptive levels of innocence. Completely charming, he gives a nuanced performance that leaves the audience wondering if he was really guilty.
The role of Sidney's mother Rosaline is played by Amanda Bailey. Throughout the course of the play, she not only loses her sunny nature but also ages as her health deterioates, with Amanda doing a fantastic job of showing these changes through subtlety and movement. The cast of three are completed by the wonderful Mark Curry, fresh from his turn as The Wizard in Wicked as James D Cassels - the man given the unenviable task of representing Sidney in court and hopefully saving his life, with Mark brilliantly showing authenticity in his conflicting emotions as the case plays out.
The chemistry Sebastian has with each of his co-stars is what makes Sidney Fox's Crime come alive, with the incredibly close relationship with his mother played out beautifully, even if it does verge on too close to comfort with some real near the knuckle humour, while he and Mark have a complicated relationship as they try to figure each other out for the best chance of winning their case.
The writing is exemplary, showing the life of Sidney and how he descended into a life of crime. While the real case of Sidney Fox is controversial for how likely it was he wasn't guilty and had the verdict used as an excuse to hang him for his sexuality, rather admirably this play doesn't end on an ambiguous note and shows you exactly what happened in the end. It would have been easy to let the audience wonder so their courage in showing this should be applauded... even if it does make for extremely uncomfortable viewing.
The themes explored through the play include the attitudes towards homosexuality 100 years ago (in a stark reminder of how far we've come), the closeness of family and the lengths people can resort to in desperation. With serious themes played out through natural dialogue, filled in with a good smattering of humour, this short and snappy play is always riveting to watch. With set and costume design from David Shields, surprising elements of choreography from Carole Todd and effective lighting from Joseph Ed Thomas, this is a play where all the elements come together perfectly to add to the experience.
Sidney Fox's Crime is a reminder of what a good story can do - three marvellous actors on a stage with the bare minimum of props are all that is needed to tell a gripping story in the best possible way. In the space of an hour, it has the capacity to make you laugh and potentially cry when exploring the darkness of themes. Ultimately this is a play with a lot of potential for future life - it would be a crime to miss it.
Sidney Fox's Crime plays at Above The Stag until May 7th. Tickets from https://abovethestag.org.uk/theatre
Photos by PBG Studios