May 06

Fanny And Stella, Brighton Dome Studio Theatre, May 4 2013 by Duncan Hall

Following my talk at the Brighton Festival recently, Duncan Hall gave me a glowing review in The Argus.  Here it is.


If Neil McKenna’s talk had a message it was that gay history is all around, if people are only willing to look.

His book Fanny And Stella tells of the scandalous early 1870s trial of two young men dressing in women’s clothes and living as sisters.

He admitted he had come across the story while researching his first book, The Secret Life Of Oscar Wilde.

When a project to write about Lawrence Of Arabia collapsed – after he repeatedly failed to get through the first chapter of the Seven Pillars Of Wisdom – he returned to the pair, beginning a long research process.

Clad in a pair of questionable leather trousers, double entendre fan McKenna was clearly keen to encourage his audience to consider what the straight historians had ignored and make history a living experience.

His reading from landlady Miss Ann Empson’s testimony proved he was as interested in entertaining his readers as getting the little known story out there.

But he was not afraid to underline some of the horrors gay men had to endure in the Victorian period – such as the unspeakable examinations required to prove sodomy – as well as point out that Fanny and Stella might not have been the only ones living a “camp” life.