REVIEW: The Fabulist Fox Sister, Southwark Playhouse (Online)

This fascinating new musical by Luke Bateman and Michael Conley effortlessly merges history, comedy and music to uncover the story of the Fox sisters – the creation of spiritualism.

(c)Jane Hobson

Back in the 1800’s, three sisters unexpectedly came up with the idea of being able to talk to spirits following a joke that they played on their mother at an early age. As they got older and the tales of their abilities became well known, the sisters became famous – but of course soon the lie became too much and it all fell apart.

The story of the Fox sisters might seem like an unusual one for a musical, but through his book and lyrics Michael Conley has managed to uncover themes of family and faith to create a fascinating and darkly funny show.

Set in 1892, the last remaining Fox sister Kate is holding her last séance in her apartment – reflecting on her life and the religion that she inadvertently helped to create. Featuring a sharply written script, The Fabulist Fox Sister has the feel and style of a cabaret show that is reflected in every element of the show – from Libby Todd’s intimate set design to Luke Bateman’s music hall styled music, everything feels really focused.

Throughout the show, the audience is never really sure on how much of what they are hearing is true, because it is clear very early on that Kate (Michael Conley) has a bit of a flair for drama and the whole story is seen from her perspective.

The Fabulist Fox Sister has got a great energy about it, with director Adam Lenson ensuring that it is consistently focused and makes the most of the script. It is not rushed and the audience is definitely given a real insight into Kate’s life and thoughts – but it would be fascinating to hear what the other sisters made of their life and spiritualism just to balance it out a bit more.

But underneath the humour and story, there is a strong element of Kate really reflecting on her life and the choices made that give the show real strength. In particular, you can really feel how much more that she wishes that she had done for her sister Maggie – although it is made clear that her relationships with Maggie and Leah were complex.

Michael Conley as Kate delivers a real razor sharp performance, capturing the complexities of her personality with great understanding. It is performance that delivers plenty of attitude and makes the most of the darker elements of the script that makes her story so fascinating to hear about.

While perhaps more depth could be added to the story for a more balanced take, The Fabulist Fox Sister is a darkly funny and unexpected treat that brings this story back to life in a wonderful way.

By Emma Clarendon

The Fabulist Fox Sister is available to stream until the 16th May.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

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