The Fabulist Fox Sister by Luke Bateman and Michael Conley. Southwark Playhouse online 4 to 5 December 2020. 3***. William Russell

This monologue with songs about the three sisters Fox who in New York in the 19th century launched what was to become spiritualism is mildly amusing and well performed by its creator Michael Conley who plays Kate, the middle sister, whose ability to make tapping sounds with her toes started it all. Her sisters Leah and Maggie joined in at various times in their lives as mediums but the mistressmind was Kate who collected a few rich men with dead children they wanted to talk to along the way.
It is 1892 and Kate, now on her uppers, is recalling how they rose and fell. Conley is good, but somehow a man playing a woman adds an unnecessary fake level to the whole thing so that Kate is never what she must have been – an utterly convincing con woman.
It seems as if the piece was filmed before a small audience – there is some applause, but it is thin, which these days in the nature of things it would be.The monologue has some good punch lines which need laughter and applause to work, and also has rather a lot of four letter words which one feels are wrong somehow – it may be Victorian women used them, but I rather doubt it. It all sounds very 20th century.
Her story still has relevance in the world of today when so much is not what it seems to be but people still believe in it. It runs for 70 minutes and takes a little while to get going – but once Kate is in full flood, acquiring and losing wealthy patrons and husbands, discarding and regaining her sisters – she hates Leah adores Maggie – it starts to get interesting. She also acquires a taste for gin and scotch.
By the end of her days Kate may be a fallen star but spiritualism went on to greater things. One thing that did help their con was the American Civil War – many sons died and many parents found consolation in the thought they could talk to them.
This is a world premiere and a piece worth putting on, but I suspect it would play far better in New York than in London – the Foxes are forgotten fakes here, whereas in the context of New York celebrities they would be familiar types.
The best thing to so is look up the story of these three unusual sisters who, had they been Russian, would have got to Moscow.

Catherine Fox: Michael Conley.

Director. Adam Lenson.
Musical director: Tamara Savinger.
Set and Costume designer: LibbyTodd

Photograph: Jane Hobson.

ReviewsGate Copyright Protection