FANY (First Aid Nursing Yeomanry) at the Arts Theatre
It need not be said that theatre is an audiovisual medium, meaning that the story is told through both images and sound. This is a fundamental law that FANY (First Aid Nursing Yeomanry) struggles to master. The play concerns a group of women who sign up to ferry injured soldiers from the battlefields of World War I to the hospital, and offers plenty to chew on aurally and textually, but with very little to appreciate on a visual level. Make no mistake, the cast all present highly compelling performances throughout, with Madeleine Gould as Mason and Menri Merriman as the Commandant proving to be the true stars here. Truly heartbreaking moments are masterfully brought to life by stellar performances that are as vibrant and likeable as they are tragic.
The issue is that the story of the play is narrated, beat for beat, told and not shown, with the inexplicable accompaniment of some bizarre synchronised… dance moves? Close your eyes and you’ll hear a compelling audio drama in the making, open them and you’ll see the cast are rooted to the spot, making the occasional hand gesture even as they narrate the plot with real passion. What’s lacking is dynamism, a sense of movement that just can’t be conveyed in dialogue. It doesn’t help that the venue, Above the Arts, is little more than an empty hall not calibrated for sight lines. When characters sit down, as they often do in this production, they become effectively invisible to anyone in the back rows. FANY (First Aid Nursing Yeomanry) seems to be doing everything it can to shoot itself in the foot from a visual standpoint, which is a shame because the cast really are fantastic, and yet have very little to really do.
In other regards this play is quite reasonable. The sound design perfectly brings to life the wartime soundscape and that’s capably, if somewhat bluntly, contrasted with old-timey church and radio songs. The set design is spartan but evocative all the same, incorporating the venue’s own rough simplicity to create the a strong sense of the time. There’s no denying that the actors really make the show, they’re simply not given enough to do on stage to make FANY (First Aid Nursing Yeomanry) a worthwhile watch.
FANY (First Aid Nursing Yeomanry) is on at Above the Arts from 15th March until 2nd April 2016, for further information or to book visit .