Home » London Theatre Reviews » The Fabulist Fox Sister at Southwark Playhouse | Review

The Fabulist Fox Sister at Southwark Playhouse | Review

The thing about Kate Fox (1837-1892) (Michael Conley) is that she hails from an era before spin doctors. Thus, early on in this ‘séance’ (inverted commas mine), she simply blurts out the technique used to summon spirits. It’s extraordinary what certain members of the public will fall for: a spirit is invited by giving one ‘tap’ for yes, or two for no. But if the spirit is not there, then how would it know to give two taps? It is rather like asking if someone is deaf and having them audibly reply with a ‘yes’. There is even more to the Fox sisters’ method, however – too much of a spoiler to give away here (even if a quick Google search will tell you everything in seconds) – either way, the early revelation is in some ways refreshing, as the rest of the show can then be spent sitting back and enjoying the details of the narrative.

The Fabulist Fox Sister - Southwark Playhouse - Photo Credit Jane Hobson
The Fabulist Fox Sister – Southwark Playhouse – Photo Credit Jane Hobson
It takes a little while for the musical to fully get going – there’s a lot of spoken word in the first few minutes, which made me begin to question, given the seventy-minute running time, how much of a song and dance there would be. Once it takes off, however, it becomes something of a nostalgic force as Fox rattles through the life and times of herself and her sisters Leah (1813-1890) and Maggie (1833-1893). As ever with single-person narratives, the story could benefit from other perspectives, in this case, that of the other siblings.

The show still works tremendously well, even if one comes away not having a clue how much of the story was embellished either because Fox’s recollection seemed hazy at times or because she appeared to be putting her own spin on matters, Trump-like, insisting, for instance, that crowds in London – and indeed everywhere else – adored her, with only sparing and grudging acceptance that there were some sceptics and critics.

At the heart of their work was, although never expressed in quite such terms, the law of supply and demand, particularly during the American Civil War (1861-1865). With heavy casualties on both sides and the growing popularity of spiritualism, an ever-growing number of people wanted to use mediums to contact the deceased. Aspects of the personal lives of Fox and her sisters were also discussed, usually, in a gloriously spiteful manner – the level of sarcasm with which sibling rivalries are repeatedly emphasised would, I suppose, suit British audiences more than American ones.

Like it or loath it, there’s canned applause and laughter, which at least avoids the awkwardness of ending a big number in complete silence. There are few if any, regrets on Fox’s part and any poignant moments are short-lived, with not much room for sentimentality or a sense of bereavement for those already departed (which would, mind you, fit well with being able to contact them in spirit form in any event). It’s hard to tell if Fox has a delusion of grandeur or if there is something to take away from her way of thinking: in essence, the customer is always right. A bombastic and entertaining production.

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

New York, 1892: Kate Fox, the woman who inadvertently invented séances is holding her last one. A final audience gathers in her apartment to watch as she conjures the ghosts of her two sisters to tell the story of their lives and the religion they accidentally began.

Loosely inspired by the loosely true story of Kate Fox, ‘The Fabulist Fox Sister’ is a silly, scathing and sardonic one-person musical inspired by our own era of approximate truth.

In this world premiere conceived entirely for multi-camera streaming, the role of Kate will be played by Michael Conley who also wrote the book and lyrics. This won’t be the first time he’s played to an empty room, though it will be the first time it’s intentional!

Directed by Adam Lenson with music by Luke Bateman and book and lyrics by Michael Conley ‘The Fabulist Fox Sister’delivers the magic of live theatre… but with more legroom and cheaper drinks!

The Fabulist Fox Sister
by Luke Bateman & Michael Conley
performed by Michael Conley


Scroll to Top