Review: Fanny – A New Musichall at the Lichfield Garrick

It’s always good to come across a writer whose work you haven’t seen before, and in the case of Carolyn Scott Jeffs’ play it really is a positive treat.

Fanny - A New Musichall

Fanny – A New Musichall

This clever entertainment hides its shocking message very neatly among a welter of audience singalongs, banter and quips, yet it deals with a shameful period in British history, of a time when women (not men, mind) could be held and forcibly examined on suspicion of harbouring a venereal disease lest they infect members of the armed forces.

If this all sounds a bit distasteful, in the hands of director Ray Rackham it isn’t, in fact it’s charming, endearing and funny as all get-out, hiding its learning and its stark historical message of social and sexual discrimination very lightly under a frothy surface that is quite simply pure charm.

The plot is simple. Fanny, played by the delightful Lizzie Wofford, aspires to be a music hall star and is rehearsing for her Drury Lane debut with the help of her accompanist Arthur, in real life the awesomely talented Peter John Dodsworth. During the course of the play she tells us the tragic story of her friend Elsie who’s fallen on hard times through a series of the misfortunes it was only too easy for women to suffer during the unenlightened mid-Victorian period and ends up working as a regular in the oldest profession.

I’ve never been asked to sing along to a drama before, but I’ve got to say it was great fun to hear and also join in with these catchy ballads of sentiment and regret – “There was I, a-waiting at the church” – that made light of the hard lives enjoyed by the ordinary people who frequented the music halls, and everyone in the audience including me looked like they were enjoying it immensely.

The play brings in the campaigning work too of the legendary Josephine Butler who fought the injustices of the Contagious Diseases Acts on behalf of her fellow women, but rest assured that the play wears its learning with the lightest of airs.

Funny, moving, filled with song and above all laughter, this is a one-off of an evening, amusing, instructive, informative but above all, marvellous fun.

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