Thursday, February 12, 2015


If grey is not your favourite shade for a pornographic fantasy and you live in reach of Bristol, head for the Old Vic for the colourful 18th Century decadence of the The Life and Times of Fanny Hill. Based on John Cleland's lurid account of the London sex industry (published in 1748 and swiftly banned, reprinted in full only since 1970) this story of one woman's repeated fall and rise is a kind of knickerbocker glory of lascivious simulations, wicked innuendo and lewdly lavish costumes, with a slim but steady trickle of hindsight cynicism. Sharp and witty adaptation by April de Angelis highlights the double standards of an era when whoring was the only reliably-available work for women ~ a list published in 1758 named 10 'gradations' between courtesan and beggar  ~ but the main thrust of the action is bawdy sensuality.
On a set rather like a CenterParks sauna room, Fanny is approached to write her memoirs and, deciding one whore's life is much like another's, rather than struggle to remember she pays two younger women to share their more salacious experiences for her to shape into her own journey. Swallow, the abused naif, and Louisa the tough prostitute, become alter-ego aspects of Fanny's life, showing the grim shadows just below the surface as she scribes and choreographs scenes of debauchery demonstrating every imaginable pose up to and including swinging from the chandelier. And when the book is finished... well, you'll have to go and find out for yourselves.
Caroline Quentin as Fanny is marvellous.  The rest of this six-strong cast are excellent and the graphic physicality is hilarious, but she is so marvellous I could happily watch her narrate the entire story herself with a selection of glove puppets. Direction is by Michael Oakley, and Andrew D Edwards designed the luscious costumes in tones of lavender and peach, a perfect blend of glamour and dishevelment. Just like Fanny Hill's imagined life and times.   (Images Helen Maybanks)

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