This romp through Victorian morality is a splendid way to spend a couple of hours at the Bermondsey Working men's Club. Given the chance to tell their own story on the stage, those he-she ladies go to town with drama, songs and ribald jokes. With knowing references to the hypocrisy of the era and the time it took for significant change in society, Chandler emphasises that these pioneers had less influence than they expected.
Mark Pearce as Mr Grimes, the Club's chairman, introduces the proceedings. He brings his panto experience to the part as he deftly adopts various characters to expand the ladies’ story. His shocked frustration melting into actor's vanity is great fun. Kieran Parrot as Earnest Bolton AKA Stella carries the thrust of the story, with a tree planted for each of her lovers now forming Epping forest. He has a light hand in flitting between lovers. As William Park AKA Fanny, Tobias Charles relishes in the bawdy. Their sisterly rivalry is convincing as they revel in the utterances of the gutter.
Christian Andrews gives Lord Arthur Clinton a fey, idiotic charm. Tom Mann makes Stella’s childhood friend Hurt a pleasing blend of the boy who wants to continue playing and the employee who realises his desires must remain secret to safeguard his job. As Fiske, Blair Robertson convinces us that an American diplomat would run ridiculous risks in pursuit of pleasure. The lovers also play a variety of other characters. All the cast perform the songs and dances excellently. Aaron Clingham provides musical support/direction from the piano – an unsung hero of the piece.
Steven Dexter has tightened his direction of the play in this production. The story moves swiftly and the cast use the set efficiently, although there is a tendency for them to form straight lines across the stage. Another impressive set and costumes from David Shields with enough to suggest period music hall, working men's club, courtroom and drawing room with a minimum of fuss. I was unsure about the lighting at first as there were several dark spots in the action. I accept that this is period effect with delicate use of colour. Maybe the cast need to be more aware to find the light. Carole Todd has devised pleasing choreography which the cast deliver well.
With most characters' entrances and exits out of, then back into the closets, it is subtle when the ladies make their final departure through the main theatre entrance into the modern world. I left still singing "Sodomy on the Strand" to the surprise of evening pedestrians.