Sasha Selavie reviews Fenella Fielding’s mesmerising new show.
Who, pray tell, radiates nuclear glamour? Certainly, none of the dumb, interchangeable X-factor pop tarts who prance, dance and barely merit a second glance. And please, don’t even whisper the former Posh Spice, that sadsack opportunist merely famous for marrying a national hero, scowling selfies, and a laughable fashion brand developed on autopilot [EDIT: QX Magazine would like to acknowledge at this point that the views of our columnists do not reflect the views of the magazine – we adore Victoria Beckham and always will]. No, with the possible exception of the shockingly svelte Cate Blanchett – surely the 21st century’s surrogate, Princess Di – true old-school glamour is dead, dead, dead!
Except, marvellously, in the diminutive, vintage goddess form of Fenella Fielding, the last survivor – along with Barbara Windsor – of the UK’s Carry On movie franchise. But unlike Babs, Fenella merely graced two of the flicks in that seemingly interminable series, Carry On Regardless and Carry On Screaming, an indisputable, camp comedy masterpiece.
In both, Fenella seems like a passing, inscrutable visitor from another world, hinting at exotic, indefinable pleasures lovelier than consensual date-rape with a hunk supreme! Partly, that’s due to the elusive elasticity of Fenella’s mystique; in a very real sense, her actual biography’s been thrillingly submerged by wild supposition and unsubstantiated rumours.
And thank Holy Jesus on the high road for that – me, I’m pig sick of over-documented, so-called ‘stars’, their every, lunchtime morsel tediously over-exposed on Facebook! Who cares? Give me fabulous improbabilities every time, not leaked or stolen sex-tapes and confidential medical histories. So, I make no apologies whatsoever for celebrating Fenella’s witchy charisma twice this year – she’s 90, rarer than hope, gold dust or humane politicians, and must be relished while she’s here!
Still, Fenella’s off-the-scale charisma evades precise definition. Partly, it’s physical poise, the way both her body and imitable voice seem to levitate, as if she’s about to be constantly ravished by a besotted God! And – maybe most importantly – it’s an old-school reticence, an absolute reluctance to squander personal mystery on the high-voltage, attention-seeking physicality of method actors.
Sure, applaud De Niro porking-out or starving himself for roles if you must, but as Laurence Olivier once witheringly said to a brash upstart, ‘Ever tried acting, dear?’
And Fenella does – in spades. Blessed with the most seductive, husky contralto ever, she makes Just a Little Murder – her most recent show – more life-changing than instant, religious revelation!
Yet, it all begins so charmingly low-key. Together with grizzled, veteran actor Stephen Greif, Fenella unleashes a spoken-word, read selection of Ancient Greek prose and poetry, dwelling on one, perennially fascinating subject – murder.
Okay, on paper, author David Stuttart’s two-hander seems seriously unpromising – an old soldier sick of war, only fired by lust, counterpointed by love poetry – but unlikely magic happens. Fenella’s breathy tones, unfailingly, make even the most brutal, ancient murders – Clytemnestra butchering Agamemnon in his bath, for instance – sound like rapturous phone-sex. Seamlessly interweaving bizarre, mythological rapes – being violated by a shower of living, liquid gold? – with shocking violence, Fenella comprehensively bewitches the audience.
It’s not surprising. With rare exceptions, most modern murders are deeply banal, click-bait poison, barely worth skimming and completely lacking any grand, mythological excess. Still, there are exceptions – Kenneth Halliwell’s hammer-blow destruction of Joe Orton’s skull comes straight from snuff-movie paradise, along with Jeffrey Dahmer’s show-stopping atrocities. Even so, Ancient Greek murders – a peculiar blend of high-end philosophy and wanton barbarism – still fascinate us far more than bog-standard, post-code stabbings.
Why? Maybe, because they’re vivid snapshots of mindsets completely terrified of instant, divine retribution, if they even think of misbehaving! It’s a savage, moral compass we’ve completely lost, which Fenella brings thrillingly to life, along with all the passion and outrage we secretly crave! Come on, who wouldn’t rather be Oedipus, killing his pop and balling his mom, instead of serving a virtual, life-sentence on social media? Ultimately, the brilliance of a consummate actress is she makes anything seem plausible!
• Fenella Fielding in Just a Little Murder @ Crazy Coqs