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Sidney Fox’s Crime – Above The Stag Theatre | Review

A few minutes into this production, it began to feel as though Sidney Fox’s Crime was going to follow a now common method of delivering a narrative, by time-hopping over a number of years or even decades. Technically, it does that, as barrister James D Cassels (Mark Curry), in the ‘present-day’ begins to build a case for the defence and asks Sidney Harry Fox (Sebastian Calver) to give his version of events. For the most part, though, events are presented in forward chronological order – childhood innocence comes before minor crime, which in turn comes before more serious offences.

Sidney Fox's Crime
Sidney Fox’s Crime – Production Photography – PBG STUDIOS

Sidney was accused of matricide, on the grounds that his mother Rosaline (Amanda Bailey) died in allegedly suspicious circumstances about twenty minutes before a life insurance policy was due to expire, allowing the serial swindler to make a substantial claim. Ideally, the case for the prosecution would have been staged too, rather than presented by Cassels telling Sidney, and thus the audience, what the other side is likely to say. Sidney,  understandably, freaks out when he learns of Cassels’ track record with regards to the acquittal of defendants charged with murder, and then again after the verdict is handed down. He lived an unusual life – too much of a spoiler, alas, to go into further particulars – suffice to say that Cassels was at pains to try to ensure that, this being 1930, details of Sidney’s same-sex relations with men of influence shouldn’t form part of courtroom proceedings.

This, while entirely credible, poses a slight problem in terms of narrative delivery, because Sidney’s sexuality is downplayed even in private conversation with his own counsel. That said, there are observations about the class system: both mother and son had their ways of coming across as rather posher than they really were (that is, reasonably well to do in the first place), and enough details are given of Rosaline’s life to understand how it was that Sidney became the person he was.

The production proceeds briskly, in part thanks to David Shields’ set design, which requires little in the way of push and pull between scenes (and sometimes, none at all). Projections of still images are used well to make quickly and subtly clear where each scene is set. The play has a lot to say in one act, but it doesn’t feel rushed – in under seventy minutes the audience is exposed to, amongst other things, the heavy toll of the First World War on those left behind, how the Foxes partied in the Roaring Twenties, and the peculiarities of a criminal justice system in which an expert’s testimony, as the production would have it, can be accepted as valid by a jury, despite lack of concrete evidence, based on that person’s reputation.

Calver’s Sidney is vulnerable and charming, at one point breaking down completely, which solicits some sympathy from the audience. There’s also some of the strident confidence which doubtless would have been required to commit criminal acts, expressed largely through an ability to convince his ambivalent mother that his plans will work. Exposition is favoured over dramatization, though this doesn’t disadvantage the production: neither the forging of a cheque nor acts of ‘sodomy’ would (audience sensitivities aside) make for interesting scenes. An intriguing and insightful production.

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

Was a gay rent boy wrongly hanged for murder?

The extraordinary true story of Sidney Harry Fox, fraudster and gigolo, who in 1930 suffered the ultimate penalty for the mysterious death of his mother in a Margate hotel room.

Rosaline Fox – AMANDA BAILEY
James D Cassels – MARK CURRY

Set & Costume Designer – DAVID SHIELDS
Choreographer – CAROLE TODD
Lighting Designer – JOSEPH ED THOMAS
Sound Designer – PAUL GAVIN
Stage Manager – JOEL KENDALL
Poster & Programme Design – JON BRADFIELD
Production Photography – PBG STUDIOS

Sidney Fox’s Crime
Written and directed by Glenn Chandler
20 April to 7 May 2022
Above The Stag Theatre

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