The past is littered with magnificent women who deserve to be remembered and Anna Brassey is one of them: curator, collector, philanthropist, photographer, founder member of St John’s Ambulance and inveterate traveller. Her husband Thomas was Liberal MP for Hastings and together, with their young family, they sailed the world in the 1870s aboard a steam-assisted yacht. They would travel with over 40 aboard, family, friends and staff – much to the disapproval of the local gentry who felt that it was verging on abuse to take impressionable children off around the world to meet, and perhaps be eaten by, "savages" and "heathens". But Anna, or Annie as she liked to be called, couldn’t care less. What better education for a child than “real life immersion”? Her motto was “often in danger, never afraid” and clearly there was adventure enough to fill her diaries with astonishing, lively description. To her surprise, the books that she wrote were wildly popular and she became famous as a travel writer.
The past is littered with magnificent women who deserve to be remembered and Anna Brassey is one of them
Told from the points of view of Anna and her servant Bessie, this is a tale of uncompromising curiosity. In a world where the aristocracy “consume and exploit”, Annie wanted to use her resources to explore and describe “God’s manifestation of perfection – this world!” She knew she was privileged and wanted to give something back, both by recording the wider world and, more practically, by helping to set up St John’s Ambulance. Interestingly, Anna wasn’t bothered about suffrage. She knew that women were equal to men. It didn’t occur to her that it could be otherwise. It was just that some men didn’t think so. Anna is an ensemble piece played by a cast of five. There are also puppets, particularly a dog and a child – the ‘ghost’ of Sunbeam, Annie’s daughter who died of scarlet fever aged four, who silently and poignantly witnesses her life and her deteriorating health. The set changes are rather complex but the puppets cleverly help to hold our attention while the stage is changed from land to sea and back again.
Anna Brassey's life remains an inspiration, and this is an enjoyable play whose strength lies in its content - the retelling of Annie's story.