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Fanny | Watermill Theatre

Fanny, which is written by Calum Finlay and directed by Katie-Ann McDonough, is a tribute and re-imagination of the life of Fanny Mendelssohn - the older sister of the well known musician Felix Mendelssohn, and the genius behind a great number of his best compositions, allowing Fanny to finally claim the spotlight that she deserves. Told through a fictionalised version of true events, Fanny intercepts an invitation from Queen Victoria to her brother Felix to perform a private concert. Rebelling against her family and societal expectations to marry and give up music, Fanny decides to reclaim her musical masterpieces and find acclaim for her name. Finding friendship and love on the way, Fanny's journey both in finding herself and the truth of the world makes for a thoroughly enjoyable play.

The cast compromises of the brilliant Charlie Russell in the titular role of Fanny. Energetic, enthusiastic and brimming with mischief, Russell delivers a strong performance, lifting the text with a winningly cheeky performance. She also navigates the emotionally heavy scenes well, rendering a heart breaking performance. George Howard as Wilhelm is a delightful addition to the cast, in a hilariously naive and adorable performance. Howard is charming as the romantic Wilhelm, wonderfully delivering an impressive array of continuous puns and a remarkable calming and subtle presence amongst the chaos. 

Corey Montague-Sholay as Felix, Kim Ismay as Lea Mendelssohn and Jade May Lin as Clara Schumann are all immensely talented performers yet are woefully underused. The stand out performer is the simply incomparable Harry Kershaw as Paul Mendelssohn, and steals not only ever scene that he is in, but the entire show. Kershaw's ability to turn the simplest act of leaving a room into a moment of side splitting laughter, or his nervous attempts to always rhyme into a moment of tension, is exactly what the show needs. Notably he (and Russell) are the founding members of the Mischief Theatre Company and elements of this are clear throughout the piece, which will delight all audiences. 

The performances, whilst flawless, don't quite disguise the lack of substance in the book. An interesting and important premise with a wonderful feminist perspective, yet it doesn't quite translate on stage. Stretched into a two and a half hour production, Fanny is oddly paced with an extended and slow first act and an overstuffed second act. The play takes massive liberties, that are admirable and understandable, yet results in confusion with characters who don't remain consistent. Characters who are presented as almost villainous have extreme change of hearts with little reason, and it feels as though portions of the story have been left out or unable to naturally lead into one another. Perhaps an early foreshadowing of kinder tendencies or exceptions would have helped, but as it remains, it presents as baffling at times. 

That being said, Fanny is still extremely enjoyable and makes great use of the wonderful medium of theatre. With long conversations and ever shifting dynamics between character relationships, layered comments and slow reveals of information, the play ensures the audience are invested. The second act seems greater use of theatricality, using props, clever staging, choreography, shadows, physical comedy and audience interaction to create a grander play. 

An excellent, goosebump rising moment involves Russell using the audience, other characters, props, and pre-recorded music to create an inspired piece of music (Yshani Perinpanayagam). Having seen the events of the play lead into this song makes it magical and leaves the audience feeling connected to not only the characters, but also the themes. The set (Sophia Pardon) for act one is the Mendelson's home with a grand piano centre stage, often played by Fanny or Felix. Act two sees the space undergo a series of transformations as Fanny travels to London, using barrels as coaches, benches as a tavern and more. Pardon is also responsible for the costumes, most notably the impressive quick changes for characters. An empowering moment features Fanny wearing her blue dress over her disguise to reclaim her name. An excellent use of lighting and sound (David Howe and Thomas Wasley) creates a high tension cart chase, with additional fight choreography by Greg Tannahill.

Fanny is led by a charming and talented cast, and a strong premise, yet sadly let down by an unclear narrative. Hilarious, witty and heartfelt, Fanny is a show that will doubtlessly shine with a little rework. It is currently playing at The Watermill Theatre until 15th June - for more information and tickets, you can follow the link here.

⭐️⭐️⭐️ (3*)

Gifted tickets in return for an honest review | photography by Pamela Raith


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