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Mark Fisher
Edinburgh, Scotland, United Kingdom
Follow me @markffisher and @writeabouttheat I am an Edinburgh-based freelance journalist and critic specialising in theatre and the arts. Publications I write for include the Guardian, Scotland on Sunday and the Scotsman. I am the author of The Edinburgh Fringe Survival Guide: how to make your show a success, published in February 2012 and How to Write About Theatre: A Manual for Critics, Students and Bloggers published in July 2015. From 2000-2003, I was the editor of The List magazine, Glasgow and Edinburgh's arts and events guide. See my website for more information and comprehensive Scottish theatre links.
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Monday, June 22, 2009

What Every Woman Knows, theatre review

Published in Northings

What Every Woman Knows

Pitlochry Festival Theatre

J M BARRIE is best known as the creator of Peter Pan, the boy who wouldn't grow up. Here in the Kirriemuir playwright's 1908 play, What Every Woman Knows, we find another boy who wouldn't grow up, except on the surface the circumstances are very different.

John Shand – played by a suitably unreflexive Christopher Daley – is a self-made man who has worked his way up from railway porter to MP through a combination of natural intelligence, unstoppable self-belief and dogged application. His achievement is great, but it is at the expense of self-knowledge. When it comes to emotional intelligence, he is a child – perhaps even less than a child, for not only is he incapable of expressing love, he has no sense of humour and cannot laugh.

Maggie Wylie – played with great sensitivity by Irene Allan – is emotionally damaged in another way. She has grown up under the misapprehension that she is charmless and unlovable and that she counts for nothing in a man's world. Her inferiority complex nearly cripples her.

The two make an unlikely couple – indeed, it is a relationship forged only from a financial deal with the woman's family – and, inevitably, their marriage implodes. John feels the rush of sexual attraction (for another woman) for the first time, just as Maggie is getting to grips with being the real power behind his throne. It’s a crisis that forces them to realign their relationship and the play ends with some hope of equality in the battle of the sexes.

In this, the play comes across as lightweight Ibsen or less verbose Shaw, a proto-feminist parable infused with Barrie's observations about the class divide, the grip of the establishment and the behind-the-scenes nature of political power. In psychological terms, it is about two lost children reaching a sense of wholeness and maturity through each other, although the play's fear of sexuality probably speaks more of Barrie's own hang-ups.

John Durnin's production has something of the stiffness of John Shand himself, but it shows off a little seen play to good effect and rattles along entertainingly, almost enough to overlook Elizabeth Graham's terrible French accent.

What Every Woman Knows is in repertory at Pitlochry until October.

© Mark Fisher, 2009

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