Pros: A brilliant play inspired by the tragic life of an infamous Victorian London cross-dresser and vaudevillian star, staged in the most appropriate of East End venues. Great script, brilliant acting and fantastic staging.
Cons: It was really hard to find anything to fault apart from the fact that the seats were very hard and the view was restricted by the pillars in this 1860s music hall – but in some ways that really added to the ambiance of the play.
Stella, part of LIFT, is a play about a defiant cross-dresser from late 1800s Tottenham who stands up for who she is, but is ultimately rejected by society and lovers alike. The script, written by Neil Bartlett, considers Stella’s unsuccessful strive for love and acceptance in Victorian society. The timing of this play is perfect as transgender issues have become mainstream with the advent of shows such as Ru Paul’s Drag Race and I am Cait – meaning that the play resonates with the audience on a far deeper level than it may have done five years ago. Bartlett spent time with members of the transgender community whilst he was developing the script, and this is evident in the honest portrayal of the rejection and prejudice faced by the characters in the play.
The play is cleverly written, only giving you snippets of the story and flashing between the past and the present. It’s a technique that keeps you wanting more throughout, while you wait for the inevitable hammer blow to hit you at the very last second. The casting is excellent too, with Richard Cant giving a superbly heart-wrenching, but never overly dramatic, performance as the world-weary and terminally ill old Stella. Oscar Batterham is utterly convincing as the beautiful and vain, yet brave and hopeful young Stella who has no idea how terrible her life will become. As the two characters’ experiences diverge at points, so does their dialogue, which rapidly switches the action from one era to another.
The lighting and sound are exquisite, probably some of the best I’ve seen in any show. Dark and moody lighting is broken up with flashes of brightness and cracking, booming sounds permeate the theatre. The combination really jangles your nerves and adds to the forbidding and tense atmosphere. The costumes are beautiful period pieces, totally appropriate for the era and the venue. The set is simple yet elegant, with just a chair, a stool and a few props enhanced by effective use of spotlighting.
Really, I can’t give Stella anything other than full marks as I can’t think of a single thing to improve upon. Well worth the £18 ticket price and worth seeing whilst it’s at Hoxton Hall, which has to be the most perfect venue for this performance. If you can still get a ticket, that is!
Written and Directed By: Neil Bartlett
Composer: Nicholas Bloomfield
Box Office: 020 7684 0060
Booking Link: https://www.hoxtonhall.co.uk/stella/
Booking Until: 18 June 2016