Sidney Fox’s Crime ★★★★

The real life story of Sidney Fox, a man convicted of the rare crime of matricide, is fascinating one. 

As school, Sidney collected money for a charitable institution then decided that charity began at home and pocketed the money. His job as a page boy to a wealthy couple in London’s West End gave him the opportunity to observe and copy aristocratic manners. And also access to the family plate which he stole. During World War One, banks were understaffed so his plausible refinement landed him a job at Cox’s Bank in Charing Cross. It wasn’t long before he was forging customer’ cheques to fund his partying lifestyle. Despite working as a male prostitute, his six prison sentences were always for theft and fraud. 

So it comes as something of a surprise that someone who had never committed a violent act in his life would be tried for murdering his own mother upon whom he doted. The pair, on their latest hotel fraud, had checked in the Metropole Hotel in Margate. His mother died of suffocation in Room 66 in a fire – just twenty minutes before Sidney’s £4,000 life insurance policy was due to expire…

All photos © PBGStudios

The play Sidney Fox’s Crime, running at Above The Stag, explores these events with Sidney (played by Sebastian Calver) preparing his defence case with barrister James D Cassels (Mark Curry). Playwright Glenn Chandler marshals an impressive amount of historical research into a well-paced script that resists the temptation to become a live action checklist of the true-crime case.

Flesh is put on the bone of the recollections as Sidney switches smoothly from the prison cell to flashback scenes with his mother, Rosaline Fox (Amanda Bailey). Humour and warmth infuse their relationship: Rosaline indulging her son as a loveable rascal while Sidney poetically describes his vivacious (and unconventional) mother as “a glowing ember”. Their us-against-the-world inter-dependence brings heart to the drama and a strong counterpoint to the case that is assembled against Sidney.

This production of Sydney Fox’s Crime is a strongly-cast three-hander. Sebastian Calver is a perfect lead, balancing the title character’s good looks, charisma and easy charm with a petulance and a reckless sense of entitlement that’s never too far from the surface. He conveys a guileless lust for life albeit one with an askew moral compass. It’s an energetic performances that captures how people would have fallen under Fox’s spell but also reflects a callous streak borne out of his solipsism. Amanda Bailey offers a sympathetic portrayal of Rosaline Fox as a spirited, naïve, fun-loving, irresponsible parent. She skillfully contrasts the ebullient survivor that is her younger self in the Roaring Twenties to the pathos of her ailing older self following a stay in the workshop. It’s a well-pitched and convincing journey of decline. And completing the cast, Mark Curry is something of a revelation as Sidney’s defence barrister who has to convince his client that the side the jury need to see is the Sidney Fox who loved his mother. He bring suitable gravitas to the role with a commanding stage presence. He imbues Cassels with a paternal warmth but also an impressive legal showmanship when he directly addresses the audience as the jury. 

Sebastian Calver as Sidney Fox
Amanda Bailey as Rosaline Fox
Mark Curry as JD Cassels

While it deftly re-examines the true crime in detail, Sidney Fox’s Crime is best when exploring the role of privilege within the justice system. Who can lie and is allowed to get away with it could not be more timely. 

Without venturing too far into spoiler territory of a case that is 92 years old, much of the decision to convict Fox rested on the controversial “evidence” supplied by Sir Bernard Spilsbury, the Home Office pathologist. As someone who had an avowed hatred of homosexuals, and knowing that Fox was a gay man, Silsbury’s motive for introducing a key but unverifiable piece of evidence into his report a month late casts doubt on the soundness of the conviction. The contemporary relevance of a man in power misusing his position to mislead and his opposite number not allowed to call him a liar will not be lost on anyone who follows post-Pandemic British politics. 

With a running time of one hour ten minutes, it feels a tad shy of a full play but heftier than a Fringe piece. At Above The Stag, it’s a perfect running time. With crisp dialogue, a strong cast and simple but effective staging (kudos to David Shields and Joseph Ed Thomas for set and lighting design respectively), Sidney Fox’s Crime is an intriguing show that true crime fans will certainly enjoy. Not content merely to dramatise events, the play builds to a satisfying conclusion that does not shy away from its central premise: what really was Sidney Fox’s crime?

The Recs reaches a verdict of ★★★★ (4 stars) for Sidney Fox’s Crime at Above The Stag



Sidney Fox's Crime runs at Above The Stag until 7th May 2022

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