Saturday, 29 July 2017

Review Just To Get Married

Just To Get Married
by Cicely Hamilton

How Do You Solve A Problem Like Georgiana?

Poor Georgie has a lot on her plate. If only it were a china service plate of the kind normally given as a present to brides to set them up in their new home.

Instead, with the hopes of her aunt's snobbish but shabby genteel family fixed upon her, she's still hoping, at the ripe old age of 29, that a man will make a bid for her in the marriage marketplace.

Playwright Cicely Hamilton was an actress in the early 20th century and also an active feminist concerned with freeing up the social and economic position of women.

Just to Get Married, first performed in 1911, has at its centre Georgiana Vicary, well-educated but financially and socially dependent on her Aunt Catherine and Uncle Theodore.

Her one fervent wish in life, she believes, is to take herself off the shelf and get married, despite her own misgivings.

Everybody is full of expectations when she seems to attract the attention of Adam Lankaster in possession of a fortune and recently returned from Canada, then still part of the British Empire.

What is to be done? It's a case of will he or won't he, as everyone holds their breath, as to whether the retiring, tongue-tied Mr Lankaster will pop the question bringing credit and social status to Georgie and her aunt's Grayle family.

For despite their patronage of Georgie, the Grayles also have a military son in India running up debts, another Tod, whom they can barely afford to send to Cambridge University,  and a daughter, Bertha, of 16 going on 17, approaching the age - and expense - of coming out as a debutante.

Hamilton herself was single,  the daughter of a colonial officer whose mother disappeared early from her life, possibly committed by her husband to a lunatic asylum.

A single woman's fears about her social and financial status in society, despite the introduction of old age pensions three years earlier, were of course well-founded. However, while these anxieties take centre stage in the play, we found a subtext allying the spinster's fate with the already ailing British Empire just as interesting.

There are literary influences - or are they satiric send ups? - of  Jane Austen, Oscar Wilde  and Bernard Shaw but also a sophisticated structure which, seems to us, to point towards much later playwrights like Emlyn Williams and Terence Rattigan among others.  

Melissa Dunne directs a lucid production, although the play itself has an enormous amount of initial exposition, rather going against modern tastes, until the characterful plot really kicks in.

Philippa Quinn as the tomboyish conflicted Georgie cuts a distinctively tall figure in the Grayle's drawing room.

As the blushing, decent but unintentionally male chauvinist Lankaster, Jonny McPherson manages the deliberate pauses and near-stutters beautifully and gives us a glimpse of the efficient colonial businessman beneath the gauche exterior.

The Grayle family, Nicola Blackman as the ambitious aunt, Lauren Fitzpatrick as her young cousin, a barometer of the clashing interests, Joshua Riley as her self-interested elder brother and Simon Rhodes as the mitigating, seemingly benign, Uncle also evoke the pecuniary and mercenary atmosphere.

Although we must also admit we were unduly distracted by the excessively high, but maybe sartorially accurate, collars of the menfolk from costume designer Lottie Smith!

Stuart Nunn's small role as the footman is also effective. His appearances added to the domination of male action over enforced female passivity in the household.

Designer Katherine Davies Herbst makes excellent use of the space in a well-angled elegantly simple set with neatly positioned mirror over the mantelpiece reflecting the action.

Yet the play only fully comes together for TLT and her own motorised consort when it's set against an imperial and political context.

Hamill came from an insecure background where her mother was perhaps incarcerated against her will and the play's third act (it's a two hour play with one interval) is especially ambiguous pitting possible destitution and its consequences against marriage and colonial wealth.

There's also an uneasiness about Britain's place in the world comparable to Georgie's insecurity as a woman in a world where allies are hard to find in both cases.

This was a time when imperial adventures in the Antarctic had gone sour and the monarchy and the state seemed more dependent on their dominions than vice versa.

While the leadership of the increasingly economic and politically dominant English-speaking America was still prepared to mitigate, the family of countries, the Royal Families of Europe and Russia and the family of Georgie all  seem increasingly unstable.

This makes somewhat more sense and also leaves a prescient question mark over what would otherwise be an expedient and unbelievable status quo ending. It's not a perfect play by any means.

However, it strikes us as a strange but farsighted pre First World War and Russian Revolution piece in a perilous age for women campaigning for their rights and for the state of the world . An amber/green light.    

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