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July 20, 2010 10:35 pm
We associate JM Barrie, of course, with Peter Pan, but here he is writing an astute and witty drama about women’s rights. Or rather, the lack of them. This 1908 play, revived here to mark the 150th anniversary of Barrie’s birth, demonstrates considerable sympathy for intelligent Edwardian women trapped in a patriarchal society.
Barrie focuses on one woman in particular: Maggie, a plain young Scot who shows little promise on the marriage market – a fact that perturbs her father and brothers. When they discover that an ambitious, but penniless student has broken into their drawing room to read their books, they spot an opportunity to broker a deal. They will fund him through university if he promises to marry Maggie. Maggie, at first aghast at being traded like a parcel, soon realises the potential of the situation. She will marry the vigorous but blunt John Shand and ensure his success in politics by quietly amending his speeches and polishing his ideas.
What every woman knows – or certainly what Maggie knows – is that behind many a great man there is a great woman. For a 2010 audience, Maggie’s refusal to dent her husband’s ego by letting him see how much he needs her is madly frustrating: you long for Annie Lennox to burst out of the dresser and belt out a quick chorus of “Sisters Are Doin’ it For Themselves”. But that frustration is what drives the play. And despite the initial implausibility of the plot, you are soon hooked, rooting for Maggie and ready to shake the obtuse Shand.
Louise Hill stages the play with warmth and sympathy (though the production could do with more fluidity and the casting is a bit uneven). Madeleine Worrall makes a lovely Maggie: wise, watchful and self-deprecating. Her untameable hair suggests her lively mind. By contrast, Anne-Marie Piazza’s Lady Sybil (for whom Shand develops a daft infatuation), keeps her charming tresses under control and her thoughts in similar order. Gareth Glen is comically believable as Shand, the prickly autodidact, and Carmen Rodríguez brings a sly wit to the worldly-wise Comtesse de la Brière. A welcome revival of a droll examination of sexual politics. (
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