London fringe theatre returned to the capital with a bang, as the first socially distanced and fully Covid-compliant live musical production of post-pandemic England 2020 was staged in a specially renovated garden space at The Eagle pub in Vauxhall. “Fanny & Stella” a hilarious, poignant, and sharp-witted com-romp through some extraordinary events gave theatre fans a snapshot into the real lives of two eccentric Victorian Londoners – Ernest Boulton and Frederick William Park.
Based on the book and lyrics by Glenn Chandler (creator of hit TV series ‘Taggart’) the show was directed by Steven Dexter and produced by Peter Bull and Richard Lambert of Lambco Productions. Richard also designed and operated the lighting using his handy Zero 88 FLX S24 console.
“It was perfect for the job,” enthused Richard about the console, “totally portable and fitted easily onto a fold-out table, and just like the essence of the show, it literally popped up!” He is a great advocate of Zero 88 consoles, adding, “It packs away into a tiny flightcase about the size of a satchel!”
The 40-capacity audience sat under cover around tables that were re-arranged each performance to accommodate guests in their relevant social bubbles as identified in the online booking system, while the stage was in the open air.
Needless to say, most of the cast and crew became earnest meteorologists for the run of shows, which was originally scheduled to be nine performances, but another 18 were added to meet demand … indicating that the British public is clearly ready to get out and start enjoying live theatre again!
Every single show sold out every single seat, and the final week the Box Office was inundated with phone calls and emails for tickets as it became THE hottest show in town!
Richard specified front lighting only to attain the truly ENSA (Entertainment National Service Association – nicknamed back in the 1940s as “Every Night Something Awful”) – style of ‘pop-up’ theatre aesthetic desired by the director to set the scene for the piece, which is set in 1871 when Boulton and Park were subjected to a notorious show trial for dressing as women and conspiracy to commit sodomy (then a felony) … as detailed in the rousing opener, “Sodomy on The Strand”.
With a 6 p.m. and an 8.30 p.m. performance most days, lighting still made a subtle impact even on the earlier shows, especially on cloudy days, while for the later ones, the stage lighting combined seamlessly with natural light as dusk fell. This included some stunning sunsets over the month.
The main lighting fixtures were six GLP X4 Atom 30W full colour LED luminaires rigged on scaff bars above the audience area alongside some outdoor birdies. A Zero 88 portable Betapack provided dimming for the garden spots.
These lights created a nice face-wash and some keying for the cast who stand on correct ‘marks’ at strategic moments.
Additionally, Richard scattered P-light strings around the garden in the bushes and foliage to augment the general ambience.
It was effectively a one-scene lighting show, carefully balanced for that fusion of stage and natural lighting. This ‘naturalistic’ approach to lighting also enabled the highly talented cast to shine without distraction or augmentation.
While he didn’t even scratch the surface of the power of the FLX S24 on this, Richard likes the FLX consoles for many reasons including the ZerOS software which enables “quick and intuitive” programming, and also makes shows highly cross-compatible between consoles.
He made the most of the surrounding environment, threading power and DMX cables through plant pots and along trellises in the garden and storing the console multicore in a hanging basket overnight! After each day’s final performance, the Garden was re-opened to pub patrons and audience members who wanted to enjoy an al-fresco drink.
The cast stayed distanced whilst onstage, while the audience had temperatures measured on arrival and scanned a QR code to register for track-and-trace before entering the pub where they were taken to their allotted places and received table service for food and drinks.
“Fanny & Stella” was a great success as the story unfolded revealing two extraordinary characters and their infiltration and influence whilst cruising the edgy underbelly of stiff upper lipped Victorian society.
Photos: Richard Lambert.