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F.A.N.Y review at Above the Arts, London – ‘amusing and moving’

The cast of F.A.N.Y. at Above the Arts, London. The cast of F.A.N.Y. at Above the Arts, London.
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Along with readings, scratch nights, comedy, cabaret and brand new Austen play Nonsense and Sensibility by Tom Cranshaw, Anonymous is a Woman Theatre Company bring back last year’s First World War Centenary production F.A.N.Y. to complete their ‘Women in the West End’ takeover of Above the Arts.

Known today as the Princess Royal’s Volunteer Corps, the women-only First Aid Nursing Yeomanry drove military ambulances in Calais and Arras. This devised piece uses the uniformed unit as a way to discuss the role of women during the war, the interrupted suffragist movement, and crucially, the question of class.

These women not only eagerly volunteered but had to pay for the privilege, and donated supplies and even vehicles before being allowed to join up. Commandant Bruton – played with Scottish military precision by Henri Merriam – realises while interviewing one candidate that she is Phyllis Mason – as in Fortnam and Mason. She cheerfully chips in for the talented, working class Emily Parker, who must scrub up her aitches before she can get to work on the engines.

Although a few lines clang and the present-day voiceover feels heavy-handed, the piece is on firm ground when a rich sound design by Dom Kennedy is offset by upbeat songs from the era, or the unit burlesque sexist Army officers.

Reminiscent of Oh What A Lovely War! these scenes amuse, but the heart of the piece is in the agonising details of the night-time ambulance runs related by the whole company – the sights, smells and screams.

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Moving examination of the privileged but oppressed women of the First World War from a promising young company