Fanny Hill (Edinburgh)

Deliciously risque play makes lust a big laugh

Fanny Hill first appeared with her Memoirs Of A Woman Of Pleasure in literary circles in 1749, and it’s astonishing to think that for more than 200 years, until 1970, this book remained firmly on the banned list.

In Afterthought’s production a company of nine players sets about re-enacting the diary of the naive young country virgin turned expert pleasurer of gentlemen. Thomas Everchild’s adaptation for the stage catches the essential lusty humour and irreverence of John Cleland’s original book, and gives the cast a firm grounding from which to work.

The regal strains of the harpsichord link each scene and are in direct contrast to the starkness of the set, which is completely black but for two tables and a stool. This lack of set dressing concentrated the attention fully on the characters, relieved the audience of unwanted distractions, and brought the intricacies of the 18th century costumes – designed by Isobel Drury – to the fore.

Actress Philippa Hammond is instantly likeable as the much-sought-after Fanny, and brings an unexpected grace and vulnerability to the character. Between them the remainder of the cast portray myriad characters, presenting the illusion of a much larger company. As the perils of Mistress Fanny unfold, they manage a whirlwind of costume and character changes with ease. Some nice comic touches keep the pace up tempo. One scene in particular, in which an unwanted suitor tries to prise Fanny’s legs apart, is priceless. While some scenes are deliberately overplayed, the direction is always tasteful, and you never quite see as much as you imagine you have. Nevertheless, the inclusion of any number of peccadilloes, and an orgy scene, make this very definitely adults-only.

The whole piece is firmly set in the bawdy school of low humour. Touches of Benny Hill and Carry On surface briefly, but mostly the intelligent script explores the base reality behind the veneer of genteel respectability in an enchanting and highly entertaining way. The sex scenes are handled with either the aforementioned comic touch or, more often than not, a sensuality and sensitivity that is surprising and most welcome. While in this day and age Fanny Hill might be considered tame, its capacity to outrage is still there, as demonstrated. last night by the audience reaction to the naughtier scenes, and outrage is an element that this production uses to its best advantage.

Afterthought Productions have a scorcher of a show on their hands with this one. It’s sure to be a hit with Fringe audiences. Get your ticket now, because Fanny Hill is going to sell out.

Liam Rudde
Edinburgh Evening News