Fanny Hill

CHRISTOPHER SMITH Sewell Barn, Norwich


Fanny Hill! The very name speaks volumes. John Cleland's novel sparked scandals in 1749; in the 1960s, obscenity trials filled the newspapers; and now, at the Sewell Barn, Robert Little, directs a theatrical adaptation by a writer called, with unlikely aptness, April De Angelis.

How on earth do you make a play out of a story in which the most striking episodes take place between the sheets?

The answer is ingenious, if not totally persuasive. It is not simply to shape the drama around the events, but also to stage the process of writing up what happened.

So we see flashbacks galore, with obvious role-playing and meaningful doubling of parts by a very busy, small cast.

To set the historical scene, Voltaire appeared as a prologue – though he is denied the last word he might have been expected to say.

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Bex Walton, as Fanny, records as if at second-hand her adventures, while they are played out again by Kate Russell, who relives her adventures. Narration mixes with dramatic presentation, just as flowery literally expressions are matched by uninhibited earthiness.

Repetition soon stales the raunchiness, as the leading character herself admits.

But something else soon starts to emerge.

It is not just sympathy for a world, tottering on the unsure foundations of sexual double standards.

It is also a feminist claim for the right to freedom in expression, as well as in action and feeling.