Sidney Fox, young, handsome – a 1920s rent boy to the rich and well-placed in society, and with a penchant for fraud and forgery – killed his mother for the life insurance which has only 20 minutes before expiry, and tries to burn down their hotel to cover his murderous deed. Or did he?
That’s the core theme of Taggart creator Glenn Chandler’s intriguing, gripping and disturbing drama. And in its brief 70 minutes, it sets up a further worrying proposition. The clinching evidence at Sidney’s murder trial at Lewes Crown Court comes from the homophobic pathologist Sir Bernard Spilsbury, who belatedly finds uncorroborated evidence of strangulation: evidence which disappears before other medics can confirm it. And bear this in mind: Sidney absolutely worshipped his mother and had no record of violence – and matricide is an incredibly rare crime.
Chandler, both writer and director of the piece, stages it largely in Fox’s trial cell, with flashbacks to scenes with his mother, who is ever-present in the corner of the stage. David Shields, whose brilliant designs for the Above The Stag stage are always a delight, here settles for a few sparse items of furniture, but back projects the claustrophobic cell, a spacious light and airy Hampstead flat and the war graves of a foreign field. Joseph Ed Thomas sets the right mood, with his sympathetic lighting in the ever-changing settings. There’s even a little 1920s dance routine to lighten the mood, choreographed by Brighton-based Carole Todd.
Mark Curry, as barrister James D Cassels, commands the stage, including delivering straight at us as we become the unseen jury. He pitches Cassels’ erudition, and oratory with a slight queasiness about Sidney’s sex antics, which obviously must be kept from the judge and jury.
Sebastian Calver plays Fox exquisitely, blending his charm and humour, with a petulant self-regard and delight in taking risks. Amanda Bailey moves from flirty, unconventional single mother to an ailing and unhappy ex-workhouse inmate in an arc that never falters.
Though this is a courtroom drama without a courtroom, Chandler also bring in elements we find relevant: the Establishment’s hypocrisy of enjoying queer sex but condemning and outlawing it, lie and deceit among the greatest in the land and the waste of a talented man and a woman treated poorly by society.
In the final scene Chandler gives us his take on the truth of the matter, which I won’t divulge. But go and see it, and like a jury of your peers, decide for yourself.
Sidney Fox’s Crime is at Above The Stag, Vauxhall, London until May 7. For tickets, CLICK HERE