With social and political movements arising across the Middle East, and International Women’s Day looming, The Age of Arousal is a very timely production about the early feminist revolution at Edinburgh’s Lyceum Theatre.

A brilliant cast with some cracking laugh-out-loud lines, had the full house tickled by the bristling wit and political humour of the play.

“I want to run from the stink of lavender, sweat and … something with yeast.”

“I foresee the day when we can weep for a kitten and oversee transactions worth millions.”

“I am half lady, half shop girl.”

And blithely, “We want passion, not penetration.”

The play by Linda Griffiths is ‘wildly inspired’ by George Gissing‘s 1893 novel The Odd Women.  Mary Barfoot (Ann Louise Ross), an ex-militant suffragette, and her lover Rhoda (Clare Lawrence-Moody) are determined to make women rich by teaching them to master the new invention that will gain them freedom – the typewriter.

They recruit the three Madden sisters (Molly Innes, Hannah Donaldson and Alexandra Mathie) to their pioneering secretarial school.  The sisters have been suffering from ‘genteel starvation’ and pinning their spinsterly hopes on the youngest securing a suitable marriage to save them from certain destitution.

Pour into the mix the sensuous Evrard (Jamie Lee), a new man practising ‘free-loveism’ and supporting the liberation of women, and you have a heady concoction of intense female characters ranging from terrorists and alcoholics to cross dressers and mothers.

This sets in motion an odyssey which explores Jealousy: “the hierarchy of beauty offends me”; Love: “Your love is worth £400 per year”; and Idealism: “typing is the way to liberty”.

Linda Griffiths writes about her ‘philosophical ancestors’, the women in the suffragette movement who fought to be liberated from the chains of legalised prostitution, aka marriage, through economic empowerment, aka getting a job.

A stunning skeletal set is wheeled on and off the stark fabulist stage.  Sublimely surreal Victorian costumes are worn with wire stays on the outside along with tubular, dragon-scaled bustles.  Three lamp-lit Remington typewriters on wheels act their socks off as tools of liberation, enjoying a music-hall waltz with the characters.

The Age of Arousal makes devastating use of ‘thought-speak’, a way of conversing in an appropriate manner and yet in continual asides belying the real passions that lurk beneath.

With it’s stylized lighting, witty banter and high ideals, the play scored highly in all areas.  With one big but.  The script allowed little more than a political affinity with the characters’ conditions and stood in the way of true emotional engagement.

Nevertheless, a stellar production with fiesty quines and one very fine loon.

Show: The Age of Arousal by Linda Griffiths. Venue: Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh. Dates: 18th Feb – 12th March 2011. Tickets: £5 – £28.  Times: Tues – Sats 19:45. Matinees: 2:30pm Wednesdays and Saturdays (23, 26 Feb and 2, 5, 12 March)

© Fin Wycherley

Check this article on STV Edinburgh here


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