Review: ‘Fingersmith’ Is Twisted Fun

Tracee Chimo and Chritina Bennett Lind in "Fingersmith." Photo: Evgenia Eliseeva

By Kristina Atienza
BU News Service

It seems simple enough for veteran pickpocket Sue Trinder to team up with a fellow con artist to get their hands on the fortune of Maud Lilly, a quiet heiress. But when is anything ever that simple in Victorian England? Fingersmith is based on the 2002 Sarah Waters’ novel of the same title. There’s trickery, an asylum, sexuality, love and betrayal. This story is full of twists and turns that have you on the edge of your seat as you follow the different narrators of this twisted tale.

Now when one thinks of Victorian England, they might expect a story focused solely on the aristocratic life of elegant British folk as they try to find love in their relatively uptight society. Fingersmith lets the audience experience Victorian England from the perspective of people most would not acknowledge, such as the criminals and women. It’s raunchy and crude and everything you’d expect from real characters you could connect with.

The theme of sexuality and gender roles are prominent in this play. With Sue and Maud being such crucial characters in the story, it’s great to see that they aren’t solely dependent on their relationships with men to be defined. The differing narration between the two characters let us see their development and mentality. While yes, men still play a role in their story, it is Victorian England after all, these two characters really shine on their own for their own abilities. They aren’t just plot moving devices, they’re actual characters with their complex histories and traits as they clash in telling this story.

Tracee Chimo and Kate Levy in “Fingersmith.” Photo: Evgenia Eliseeva

It’s fascinating to see the idea of female sexuality actually explored in such a way. 2016 was a difficult year for the LGBTQ community and many young people are hesitant to see any stories that explore queer stories because of the fear that characters will die. It’s nice to see a story where the queer characters don’t die and actually have a chance to live happily. The hesitation and confusion both Sue and Maud experience were portrayed very realistically as they explored their sexuality in Victorian England.

Much of the play’s success is due to the scenic designer, Christopher Acebo. The rotating mechanism that sped up the process of moving set pieces on and off stage as well as the projector were crafty tools to echo the play’s themes, showing that whether we were in a poor tenant’s flat or a mansion, everyone’s really the same if you switch out just a few things. The projector transported the characters from the slums where the victorian criminals lived to the elegant library of the mansion where Maud lived with various images shone on the back wall.

The Company of “Fingersmith.” Photo: Evgenia Eliseeva

Each actor gets their showcase too, with Christina Bennett Lind particularly shining as Maud, deftly playing a frail creature who isn’t as innocent and complacent as she appears. Tracee Chimo’s Sue and Maud’s relationship is fascinating to watch. The constant, hilarious fourth wall breaks help provide insight into their perspectives ion the different scenes in their combined story. The fourth wall is broken repeatedly by both as well, reminding the audience that they’re watching a story and helping lighten up a tale that contains a dark tale of child abuse underneath the crafty twists and turns.

Fingersmith will be at the American Repertory Theater until Jan. 8. Tickets start from $25. The play is 2 hours and 40 minutes with one intermission, with a matinee and evening showings available. 

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