Stella at Hoxton Hall – A New Play by Neil Bartlett:
Stella is a new play, written and directed by Neil Bartlett, which opened at Hoxton Hall and is showing as part of the Lift Festival. The festival brings together artists from 14 countries in over 30 events all around London; it connects and investigates the diverse communities, which make London the exciting place it is today.
Stella is inspired by a true story about the strange and lonely death of Victorian cross-dressing artist Mr Ernest Boulton, who was one-half of the infamous female impersonator duo Fanny and Stella. Appropriately it is performed at the glorious, newly restored old music hall, Hoxton Hall, one of London’s oldest surviving music hall interiors, appropriately providing the perfect setting.
The play opens on a bare stage, we hear deep tolling piano notes, and see a broken-looking man, alone in a silent room, waiting for a knock at the door. In an ethereal dreamlike state, almost as if time stands still, Boulton played with fragile depth by Richard Cant, looks back at his Stella days and reminisces on the two parallel stories of her youth, the parties, the glamour, the heartbreak, the regrets and the many men. We experience the impact of her relationship with Tory MP `Lord Arthur Pelham Clinton, which was brought to light sensationally in the trail where Boulton was charged with ‘intending sex with men’, but pronounced innocent.
Oscar Batterham makes an elegant but tortured portrayal of the androgynous Stella as she dresses and plays her audience. We are reminded of the brutality of Stella’s fate, with flashes of cutting light intermittently flooding the stark stage.
One imagines that cross-dressing and open homosexuality were taboo in the suppression of Victorian society, however, interestingly here it allows us to see the wider picture of the LBBT community in Victorian times and almost a celebration of its diversity. Bartlett explores, through Boulton’s eyes, and with deep empathy the pain of transgender identity. We are left with an overriding sense of Boulton’s longing to be loved and to have been able to embrace his sexuality and be allowed to be truly himself.
Stella is set in the perfect surroundings, in a venue that draws you into its history. Bartlett’s play is extremely well written, evocative and complex, although at times it is easy to lose the drift in the dreamlike quality of the piece and it can feel fractured and confusing. Ultimately it is a sad and sensitive tale, addressing the very current issues modern society faces around transgender today.
Stella is showing as part of the Lift Festival
Stella is showing at Hoxton Hall, Hoxton Street, London, United Kingdom and runs until 18th June.
Ticket Prices: £18, concessions £14
Concessions available for full-time students, senior citizens (60+), unwaged individuals, individuals receiving income support, individuals with access requirements. Valid ID must be provided at the point of ticket collection.
Age guidance 16+
For assistance with booking please call the LIFT booking help line on 020 7968 6808 Monday – Friday between the hours of 12.00 & 18.00
All Photos Credit Dom Agius