In the sputtering gaslight of a small room in a Victorian New York apartment Michael Conley creates the weird and wonderful tale of Kate Fox- assumed to be the first ever giver of seances and the inspiration for the Spiritualist movement.
Kate Fox existed and she was a medium acclaimed globally, but Luke Bateman and Conley, the co-writers of the Fabulist Fox Sister take wonderful liberties in this tongue-in-cheek monologue recreating Kate’s life and impending death.
Conley, in high-necked plain black gown with a tight bun of a wig and a twinkly eye has a fine line in asides, self-interruptions and snide comments on the rest of his family and standing-room only audiences.
At the outset he leaves us in no doubt that the whole seance thing is a charade for the gullible – but as the show rolls on, he seems to doubt his own deceit – at one point publicly recanting his ability and then un -recanting if there is such a word.
The dialogue is peppered with highly original songs – like his opener “ If You Believe It “ .. in which he says “ if you believe it, is it still a lie ?” It’s an interesting philosophical position and one the writers develop. “ Truth is often opaque, everything is fake, if they believe it, who cares if we don’t ?”
The premise is people want to believe in something, so why not give them what they desire ? There’s also the troubled complex story of Kate, her mother and Kate’s two siblings with whom she sometimes works but more often falls out. And her relationship with her mother is downright nasty-minded . “ I don’t want your little life “ she tells mummy as she leaves for a life in New York as a teenager.
Kate’s story here is a rollercoaster – exposed as a fake by the media, she bounces back, only to be exposed again by her sister. And then there are her love affairs – one with a certain Jim Beam and the other with a Glen Livet , whisky bottles metamorphosed into living spirits if you’ll pardon the pun.
Adam Lenson directs Conley on his tiny parlour space with tightness and sharp humour. It’s a joy to watch .
Let’s hope that Southwark Playhouse will resurrect the show on video or with a real audience when theatres open again.