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The title of Jack Thorne’s Fanny and Faggot leads you to expect something more intensely sex-conscious and homosexually orientated than you are given. What you get is more or less two separate plays, one before and one after the interval, with only one thing in common. One of the characters in each is Mary Bell, who was for many years celebrated for having murdered, in her childhood, another child.

Though the first play is called Two Little Boys, all we see are two little girls, Mary and Norma, played by adult actresses. The names “Fanny” and “Faggot” are just part of their prurient girl talk. They are girls in search of games to play, but these games include sudden flashbacks or flash-forwards to their trial for murder, with one girl playing lawyer to the other’s defendant. It is an interesting concept, but Thorne’s writing here is creaky: the girl-talk is seldom interesting in itself. And Stephen Keyworth’s direction does not solve the old problem of adults playing children, here exaggerated, here coy, here winsome.

There are four characters in the second play, Superstar, with Mary the least forward. Ten years have passed, Mary has escaped from prison with a fellow convict, Lucy, and the two young women and two soldiers on leave have picked each other up. By the end, Lucy and Steve are having sex under a blanket on one side, but Mary and Ray have just reached their first kiss. It is, of course, her first kiss ever. She knows she is famous in the larger world, is mainly relieved that Steve and Ray have not heard of her, and above all is anxious to be normal. All Thorne’s writing here is relaxed, natural, as is Keyworth’s direction. Very seldom indeed are we reminded that what makes this scene remarkable is that it involves the child murderer Mary Bell.

Elicia Daly plays Mary in both plays; Christopher Daley and Simon Darwen are immensely appealing as the soldiers; Diana May is pitch-perfect as the confident Lucy. What emerges unmistakably is that Mary Bell is a supporting character in her own life story, and anxious to be so.

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