Calum Finlay
Watermill Theatre and RJG productions
The Watermill Theatre, Newbury

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Charlie Russell as Fanny Credit: Pamela Raith photography

Callum Findlay’s new comedy Fanny,receiving its world première at the Watermill Theatre, turns the spotlight on Fanny Mendelssohn, the sister of the renowned composer and younger brother Felix. It’s a fast-paced play full of fun, wit, farcical physical theatre and wonderful performances from this highly versatile cast who embrace their characters with utter conviction.

Sophia Pardon’s panelled set covered in portraits is dominated by a grand piano centre-stage, and her costume designs are beautiful, perfectly reflecting the period.

Charlie Russell, a cofounder of Mischief Theatre, is outstanding as the feisty Fanny who received the same musical training as her brother and wrote Queen Victoria’s favourite song, "Italien", that was credited to Felix.

She oozes her love for classical music, conducting the audience as her orchestra with such passion despite her domineering mother’s (Kim Ismay) advice that she should focus on finding a suitable husband and forget her musical career. Wilhelm (George Howard) is perhaps not the ideal suitor, but is determined to win her hand. His many innuendos and puns are hilarious.

Harry Henshaw, playing the hapless, naïve other brother, Paul, is a joy to watch. His crazy antics are played in true farcical moments. By contrast, Corey Montague-Sholey’s Felix is filled with confidence and arrogance, reluctant to admit that Fanny wrote the "Italien".

Things get more complicated when an invitation to perform the piece in front of Queen Victoria is received addressed to F Mendelssohn. Fanny intercepts it and decides to take her brother’s place in London.

The race to arrive first is true farce, with shadow projected trees creating the journey and beer barrels becoming coaches and taverns. Accompanying her is Clara Schumman (Jade May Lin), the wife of the composer. These are two women seeking recognition for who they are in their own right. There is some clever audience participation that we enthusiastically joined in with.

Skilfully directed by Katie-Ann McDonough, with an impressive sound design by Thomas Wasley, this is a hugely enjoyable production.

Reviewer: Robin Strapp

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