There’s a lot of jolly bum slapping happening Above The Stag and one gets the feeling its not only occurring on stage as a jovial Friday night audience positively laps up the chipper Cleveland Street. Full of ‘wink wink nudge nudge’ cleverness Glenn Chandler’s new musical is brimming with good natured, if incredibly bawdy, charm; children avert your eyes.
Chandler’s book centres around 19 Cleveland Street, a brothel with two madams and a purely male menu. Set four years after homosexual acts were made illegal in Britain, number 19 became the centre of a Victorian scandal that almost shone a light on aristocratic homosexual hypocrisy. Almost but not quite, the upper classes it seems have had decades of getting away with it.
As the telegraph boys at the heart of the uproar (a delightful quirk being that these were Royal Mail uniformed sex workers) Michael Anderson, Adam Elliott and Ashley Martin do a sweet job of portraying these doe eyed delicacies. Anderson gives a particularly layered performance as the childish Thomas Swinscow but all three portray a knowingness that belays any claims of manipulation or abuse.
Josh Boyd-Rochford and Fanni Compton are deliciously salacious madams, their strong comedic performances tinged with a touching affection for each other. Compton is a fine comic actress, nearly bringing an audience to tears with her turn as a rough and ready hot chestnut seller.
Matt Devereaux’s music is polished and the band, led by musical director Aaron Clingham, add to the overall sense of music hall which typifies this score.
Cleveland Street hangs on in there for a little too long and its style is as thick as a Matisse brush stroke. But it is just as vibrant too and the fascinating source material makes this an interesting, as well as smirk filled evening.