Edinburgh Fringe 2021
This is the story of a man who had three women blatantly and surreptitiously fighting over him. There is but one he marries, but all are his muse, and they sit to be painted by the man they all fall over. Fanny Cornforth begins with her own introduction, followed by Lizzie Siddal and finally, Jane Morris. One by one they describe their infatuation as Fanny Cornforth, the prostitute is brought in to replace the fiancé Lizzie Siddal, who is so overcome with the rejection ends up on laudanum. It is an unfortunate drug which leads her to an overdose, then marriage to Dante, and suicide as Mrs. Morris spies her chance. She cannot, however, get rid of the ghost of her predecessor. Whilst she may be his new muse, and the wife of a dear friend, she shall never escape the haunting presence of Lizzie.
This has great depth to it. There are three women whose tale can be nothing but dramatic, whose voices should never be shrill and whose experiences must be more than fodder for our eyes. Onstage the presence of Julia Munrow portrays Fanny Cornforth is strident and proud. She has Cornforth beautifully poised – all attitude and front. Emma Hopkins, at times struggles a little with the less strident and more tragic Lizzie Siddal but does capture the essence of her. The scheming Mrs. Morris is beautifully brought to us by Sarah Archer.
The script helps a great deal and aside from a few tendencies for poignancy – “The baby died in me. Everything died in me” has captured all three women well. The scenes that have been written between Cornforth and Morris are particularly notable in their ability to show us more than the words portray.
The major issue for me comes as I think the writer needs to take the director out for a coffee. Leaving actors at the back of a stage when they ought to have left it, does not work well. Exits and entrances are therefore left hanging. Either the need, given the nature of the stage should be to allow them to stay onstage, in full view, with no pretending to heighten the effect of these women being absolutely aware of what is going on; having their noses rubbed in it, or take them off by another means.
There is also the issue of sight lines. This is a raised stage with audience 20 or so rows deep, all on the same level. It means that it does not take anyone with a big hat sitting on front of you to block your view. Perhaps looking at the blocking and the opportunity to have chairs upon which to sit when not in a scene but be upright when you are could have been an idea to help the unfortunate audience at the back.
But it is a great piece and a lovely 50 minutes or so in the company of women competing for a man unworthy of any of their attentions. I found it both charming and illuminating and quite right for it to be brought to us with the joy of all three being exposed to us all.