Age of Arousal, Tron Theatre, Glasgow
Monday 21 March 2011
It's hard to imagine The Odd Women filling a theatre on a weekday night on a cold evening in March.
Yet retitle this freehand adaptation of George Gissing's 1893 novel Age of Arousal and the potentially worthy subject matter – these women are not odd in the Ann Widdecombe sense, they are the half million surplus females of the Victorian population – becomes a zippy, thought-provoking comedy with, as it turned out at the performance I attended, barely a seat to spare.
Mary, former suffragette, has chosen economic emancipation over electoral representation. With three clacking Remingtons and her lover, the much younger Rhoda, she opens a secretarial school.
When the three Maddens – two ugly sisters smelling of gin and cats, one comely minx with an eye for the main chance – enrol, and Mary's reprobate cousin Everard turns up, sexuality, fidelity and identity all come roiling to the surface.
As each character switches between dialogue and interior monologue, we hear dilemmas that have changed little over a century: will she leave me because I'm too old, should I marry him, what the hell do I do now I'm pregnant.
These parallel views are underscored in the set and costumes. The wings have been removed, leaving the clutter of props visible, and the women wear an exaggerated pastiche of Victorian fashion, some with the bustles and wiring on the outside. The artifice of conventional conversation and appropriate dress is laid bare.
With Linda Griffiths' sparkling script, the director of this production, Muriel Romanes pulls off a clever sleight of hand.
This is neither period piece nor modern resetting of dusty Victoriana but a genius combination of the two, working in important historical detail while nodding to the present day. The knowing, witty staging – Monica, the lubricious Madden, wears a hoodie over her crinoline – allows this to happen very organically.
It is though rather a shame that the last line – that in 30 years all these problems will be resolved – got the biggest laugh of the night.
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