Once again, the King’s Head Theatre Queer Season brings out a fascinating show to challenge stereotypical ideas of how plays should be written, performed and acted. This time is it with Sue Frumin’s show Fine & Dandy.
This is the story of Ernest Faigele Fine (Dani Singer) a young Jewish person who, at the turn of the century (19th to 20th) find themselves kicked out of their home country and with parents and siblings in tow, sets off for the new world. Unfortunately, due to a slight issue of boat destinations, the family find themselves in Liverpool instead of New York. This is the start of Ernest’s adventures as they attempt to head to America to find their Papa (Matthew Betts). A tale that takes Ernest to Manchester, Blackpool, the Western Front and California. Along the way, Ernest meets and gets involved with a whole host of characters, including the enigmatic Dandy (Tamsin Omond), a jealous snake charmer called Lulu (Sarah Warren) complete with python (Anca Vaida), the dastardly Shufflebottoms (Dan de la Motte & Jo Sutherland) and the voice of God to name but a few.
I wasn’t sure what I was expecting from Fine & Dandy. When I arrived, there was a three-piece band – clarinet, accordion and drum – playing a range of music whilst the cast gently danced along at the side of the stage in their highly colourful costumes courtesy of designer Lu Firth. Once the music stopped and the play began, there felt like a hint of Pippin in the show with Anca Vaida acting as a kind of ringmaster, controlling the cast and interacting with the audience. But then the story got going and the arrival of Ernest really started things moving in a logical way that appealed to my sensibilities.
Sue Frumin’s writing is, for the want of a better word, completely bonkers in many respects. Over the course of around 60 minutes, Ernest and company get caught up in so many strange and wonderful events, each of them portrayed by the cast playing a huge range of characters. There are songs, dances, humour and tragedy aplenty in the show along with some, very appropriate for the time but slightly uncomfortable to view, anti-Semitic language and sentiments that reflected how life would be for someone like Ernest at the turn of the century. There were some slightly iffy points in the story – for example, I didn’t really understand why Papa had disappeared or what happened to Mama and the rest of the family after they arrived in Manchester. But, this didn’t distract too much.
The cast swap roles with skill and pay no heed to theatrical conventions. So men play women and vice versa with an ease and believability that makes each one – no matter how absurd they may be – feel right. I was really impressed with the range of accents on show as well. This is a really talented cast no question. Special mention here for Anca Vaida who totally inhabits the role of Ethel the python. I also want to highlight Tamsin Omond, who has a really impressive singing voice.
The highlight of the show for me had to be Ernest’s rendition of “When I’m Cleaning Windows” in Yiddish – a really amazing performance from Dani Singer.
On the whole, I thoroughly enjoyed Fine & Dandy. In many ways, it made me think of a Pierrot Show – in fact, according to the programme, the cast are all part of the Troupe – and this gave the show a lovely summer feel to it that added to the fun of seeing Ernest’s story played out. I’m sure that this was a deliberate move on the part of the writer, along with Director Lil Warren, as Pierrot shows would often start with an ensemble number. Fine & Dandy did this with a lovely old tune first performed by Marie Lloyd, and I can only echo the chorus of the song which nicely sums up my feelings about this fine production “A little of what you fancy does you good.”
Review by Terry Eastham
Veteran queer writer and performer, Sue Frumin and Sea Change Theatre bring her acclaimed show back to the King’s Head Theatre where it premiered in 1999 and subsequently in 2018 by the Arcola Queer Collective (directed by Jonathan Richardson) to rapturous applause.
Ernest Faigele Fine a wandering Jew at the turn of the century, moves across continents from the Pale of Settlement through to Manchester, Blackpool, The Music Hall and The Battlefields of Northern France. In Blackpool, Ernest meets the enigmatic Dandy, but alas, their love is thwarted by the evil snake charmer, Lulu Labelle. They are re-united several years later at “The Liberty Fair” in California in a terrifying finale which includes, The Garden of Eden, a Two-spirit Shaman, an infuriated snake charmer and a pair of boots. An epic tale of trickery, treachery, love, redemption and overcoming disasters.
Presented by Sea-Change Theatre Company
Written by Sue Frumin
Directed by Lil Warren
August 6th to 11th 2019