The world premiere production of FANNY, a new comedy by Calum Finlay, is now open at The Watermill Theatre until Saturday 15th June.

This is the story of the other Mendelssohn. The renowned 19th Century Romantic composer Felix Mendelssohn had an older sister, Fanny. This was a musical family, and this production tells the story on the basis that Fanny might just have been more talented than her younger brother, and that she deserves more credit. But in an age when women’s destiny’s were to get married and have children, this was denied to her.

Produced by RJG Productions and The Watermill Theatre and directed by Katie-Ann McDonough, this fun and irreverent new comedy celebrates classical music and recognises the work of a composer overlooked for being a woman.

Fanny comes across a letter addressed to ‘F. Mendelssohn’ from Queen Victoria inviting Felix to play for her. Fanny discovers that the Queen’s favourite musical piece is "Italien", which she had composed, but which her brother had published as his own. She decides to hide the letter, and disguised in her brother’s clothes, attempts to take his place at the palace.

What then ensues is a comical race across Europe, by horse, boat, train, and later foot, to ensure that Fanny gets to the Queen before her brother. The travelling scenes were all really effectively staged and performed. I particularly liked the train scenes, complete with tunnel darknesses, and swapping of seats and positions to denote the passage of time. That was really beautifully done. Thomas Wasley’s sound design also puts The Watermill’s sound system to good use.

The premise of this could have been misleading, but this was definitely not a dull play about an unknown historical figure. Instead, what we have is a hilarious, fast paced, piece of historical slapstick. Plenty of physical theatre, and silliness, but also so much heart. It’s a production that genuinely cares about telling this story, in a fresh, very accessible way.

The actors all play their parts – some of them doubling up in multiple roles – extremely well. Special merit must go to Charlie Russell (who can often be seen in Mischief Theatre shows) who is utterly compelling as Fanny. She is a woman who lives and breathes classical music, and cannot understand anyone who doesn’t have the same passion. The play starts (and ends) with us seeing her hearing the music in her head, and passionately conducting us, the audience, as her imaginary orchestra.

Equally impressive are Kim Ismay, as the Mendelssohn matriarch Lea, but who also featured as an inn-keeper and stage manager, as well as other cameo roles, to great comic effect, and Harry Kershaw, another Mischief Theatre regular, who was brilliant as the boring brother Paul, hovering awkwardly behind doors.

The rest of the cast, Corey Montague-Sholay playing the arrogant Felix, Jade May Lin as Clara Schumann, and George Howard as Fanny’s love interest and eventual husband, Wilhelm, are also all extremely talented and the cast works well together, thanks to Katie-Ann McDonough’s fast paced direction.

A beautiful touch is that The Watermill Theatre has invited along women musicians to take part in the ‘Noble Call’, an Irish tradition, and to share a song, piece of music or poem at the end of each performance. At Press Night, I was privileged to see a Cellist and Violinist on stage at the end, introduced by Charlie Russell, who gave us a beautiful rendition of Coldplay’s Viva La Vida, in full blown ‘Bridgerton-esque’ style. It was stunning, and many of the audience – as well as Charlie herself, had tears in their eyes! This was a truly lovely touch.

Brother Paul, is obsessed by numbers, and there is a lovely running joke about what people will give the show out of 5…well, for this production, I have no hesitation in giving Fanny a solid 4 stars out of 5!

This is great fun, a hilarious, truly original production, with plenty of laughs, and also a lot of warmth, and definitely one to catch.

This show was reviewed on the 29th May 2024 at The Watermill Theatre, Newbury where it runs until the 15th June 2024.  Tickets available here: FANNY (

Review written by Ruth Hawkins


Photo credit: Pamela Raith

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