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F.A.N.Y (First Aid Nursing Yeomanry), Arts Theatre Studio – Review

Pros: A brilliantly constructed story of women fighting for recognition and acceptance in the First World War

Cons: Very few, although there was initially a strong smell in the auditorium which quickly passed; or were they simply recreating the trenches?!

Pros: A brilliantly constructed story of women fighting for recognition and acceptance in the First World War Cons: Very few, although there was initially a strong smell in the auditorium which quickly passed; or were they simply recreating the trenches?! I’ve long been fascinated by World War I, but confess this production exposed a shocking gap in my knowledge of the conflict. The First Aid Nursing Yeomanry (F.A.N.Y) was formed in 1907 to provide assistance to civil and military authorities in time of emergency. The Corps were active in nursing and intelligence work during both wars; this production concentrated…

Summary

Rating

Excellent

A heart-warming, stirring account of women contributing to the war effort, and a fascinating precursor to female suffrage that followed shortly afterwards.

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I’ve long been fascinated by World War I, but confess this production exposed a shocking gap in my knowledge of the conflict. The First Aid Nursing Yeomanry (F.A.N.Y) was formed in 1907 to provide assistance to civil and military authorities in time of emergency. The Corps were active in nursing and intelligence work during both wars; this production concentrated on their nursing work during the Great War.

The Arts Theatre Studio provided a compact setting for the play which explored the Corps quest for acceptance by the military. They provided invaluable help, driving ambulances, running hospitals and casualty clearing stations for the Belgian and French Armies. By the Armistice, they had been awarded numerous decorations for bravery, including 17 Military Medals, 1 Legion d’Honneur and 27 Croix de Guerre. This is where my ignorance kicks in; mystifyingly, the British Army wanted nothing to do with them and weren’t even recognised as a regular unit of the armed forces. Members of the Corps had to pay for their own uniform and laundry; they even had to rely on women from wealthy families donating ambulances to the cause.

The story centres on five women serving the Corps; Angel, smitten by a French Army Officer; Bruton, stiff upper lip commanding officer; Bobby, anxious to serve her country with a brother already in combat; Phyllis, well to do, avoiding a dull marriage and Emily, working class country girl with something to prove. We follow the girls’ enlistment, training and eventual transit to France. There is a smart transition when Bruton fights officialdom, the remaining cast members take on the role of General, Field Doctor and others, who patronise, berate and undermine the Corps efforts.  There is a tremendous sense of injustice in what is, shockingly, a true story; women actually having to pay to serve their country.

The production is wonderfully judged, simple props (brass cages, trunks and a couple of stretchers) add to the stark reality of a brutal conflict. The cast are totally convincing throughout; Bips Mawson, willowy and attractive as Angel; Henri Merriam, stiff backed and correct as Bruton; Leila Sykes, nervous and tense as Bobby; Madeline Gould; defiantly independent as Phyllis and Stella Taylor as earthy Emily. The story arrives at a surprise conclusion and finishes as it started, a transcripted interview with Bobby (voiced by Anna Carteret) many years later recalling subsequent events.

The women of the Corps were true patriots, easily matching the heroism shown by their male counterparts; we should all salute them.

Author: Bips Mawson
Inspired by Novel by:  Robert Radcliffe
Director: Anonymous Is a Woman Theatre Company
Producer: Susie Newbury
Box Office: 0207 836 8463
Booking link: https://artstheatrewestend.co.uk/whats-on/f.a.n.y-(first-aid-nursing-yeomanry)/
Booking until:  2 April 2016

About Brian Penn

Brian Penn
Civil Servant. Brian flirted with drama at school but artistic differences forced a painful separation. At least he knows what his motivation is. Now occupying a safe position in the audience he enjoys all kinds of theatre. He was bitten by the theatrical bug after watching a production of Tommy in his teens. Other passions include films, TV and classic rhythm and blues. He also finds time for quizzes, football and squash. A keen sports fan, his enthusiasm crashes to a halt whenever anyone mentions golf. A musical based on the life of Tiger Woods could be his greatest challenge.