The Fabulist Fox Sister

Luke Bateman & Michael Conley
ALP Musicals
Southwark Playhouse

The Fabulist Fox Sister

Leah, Margaret and Katherine Fox were three sisters whose séances were a core element in the development of spiritualism. In 1848, teenage Maggie and Kate convinced their much elder sister that they were communicating with spirits. With Leah as their manager, they first demonstrated their “rappings” in public in Rochester, NY in November 1849 and soon had a following.

In this play, with music by Luke Bateman, Michael Conley imagines Kate in 1892, half a century later, holding a final séance and conjuring up her sisters to tell their story.

This self-styled “Mother of all Mediums” says she is here to say goodbye and asks, “have you come because you think I can converse with the dear departed or because you don’t think that?”

In fact, the telling makes little use of the sisters who signal their presence with the rapping, or popping as Kate calls it, that as a girl she found she could make with a toe she could bend like a finger, but the public séance provides an imagined audience to whom to tell her tale and Libby Todd’s design and Matt Daw’s lighting create just the right atmosphere for Conley’s charismatic performance.

He makes Kate Fox a bit of diva in a characterisation that playing in travesty allows to be sardonic without losing sympathy. His monologue easily segues into song and the friendly familiarity of the music to which Luke Bateman sets Conley’s lyrics with their multiple rhyming makes one warm to her through songs that share her confessions and aspirations. “If they believe it (who cares if they don’t)” she sings, or in one addressed to her mother, “I don’t want your little life”.

In New York, the girls gain the attention of many eminent people including the editor of the New York Tribune, seeking contact with his four dead children, in whose house Kate lived through her teen years.

In 1871, Kate travelled to England, her trip financed by a wealthy US banker, where she met and married a British barrister but, as she touchingly tells us, she had other loves: Jim Beam (bourbon) and Glen Livet (whisky). It’s a life that has troughs as well as high spots.

Adam Lenson’s direction has a light touch that keeps the pace varied and lets humour bubble while not distracting from this intriguingly ambivalent story of fakery that so many saw as fact. The Fabulist Fox Sister presents 90+ minutes that are engaging and funny.

Reviewer: Howard Loxton