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Mark Fisher
Edinburgh, Scotland, United Kingdom
Follow me on Twitter at MarkFFisher, WriteAboutTheat and LimelightXTC I am a freelance journalist and critic specialising in theatre and the arts. Publications I write for include the Guardian and the Scotsman. I am the author of The Edinburgh Fringe Survival Guide: how to make your show a success and How to Write About Theatre: A Manual for Critics, Students and Bloggers. I am also editor of The XTC Bumper Book of Fun for Boys and Girls: A Limelight Anthology. From 2000-2003, I was the editor of The List magazine, Glasgow and Edinburgh's arts and events guide.
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Sunday, February 27, 2011

Age of Arousal, theatre review 2

Published in the Guardian

Age of Arousal

Royal Lyceum, Edinburgh
4 stars
Canadian playwright Linda Griffiths doesn't so much adapt George Gissing's The Odd Women as explode it. She takes the genteel 1890s setting of this novel about a philanthropic women's secretarial college and gives it a vigorous modern voice. Like Janet Bird's costumes, which filter the stiff formality of the Victorian bustle through a 21st-century lens, she allows the passion to poke through the prim surface of respectability. The result, in Muriel Romanes's fluid production, is funny, dynamic and politically fascinating.

Gissing's original title is a reference to the gender imbalance in post-emigration Britain. By the middle of the 19th century, women outnumbered men by 500,000, leaving many single and the odd ones out. As Griffiths presents it, they were odd in other ways, too. Many spinsters, feeling socially and biologically redundant, were driven towards eccentricity and neurosis. Or, indeed, each other. The arousal of Griffiths's title is as much sapphic as straight

Prickly young businesswoman Rhoda Nunn (Clare Lawrence Moody, one of several first-rate performances) declares herself "ferociously odd", channelling her sexual energy into feminist zeal and paving the way for emancipation.

What the play does brilliantly is show how these first stirrings of progress were as much a result of social circumstance as of coherent ideology. Forever voicing their inner thoughts in pugnacious Howard Barker-esque asides, the characters are both subjects and instigators of social change, caught in the whirlpool of a revolution in which the place of love, eroticism, intelligence, responsibility and class has still to be defined. Like the impressionist paintings that so perplex them, the world they are helping create is strange and frightening, leading to a similarly turbulent production, both funny and fervent. (Photo: Marc Marnie)
© Mark Fisher 2011
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