“Wildly inspired” by ‘The Odd Women’, Age of Arousal, Linda Griffiths’s fanciful adaptation of George Gissing’s novel, is an honest and passionate retelling of the early-feminist movement.
The story of Mary Barfoot’s typist school has been projected some twenty years into the future, firing the tale with Suffragette activism and modern promiscuity. Its sexuality is open and unapologetic, revealing itself in provocative moments of shadow-play and exposing soliloquies. This unabashed freedom allows director Muriel Romanes to play with era’s sexual shyness, explode it and exploit it to its comical full.
As the colourfully named Rhoda Nun, Clare Lawrence Moody perfectly streaks between the stalwart suffragist and the amorously abashed. She diffuses the polemic which could dog her character, hopelessly melting around suitor Jamie Lee and yet somehow maintaining a dogmatic elegance. Molly Innes and Alexandra Mathie, too, are excellent as school’s latest intakes, frantically raving against their own antiquity and reluctantly adapting to the new world order.
Janet Bird’s Victorian couture costuming is splendid. All tightly tied pointed boots and pale silver bodices, Bird’s design clashes the old and the new worlds which rage throughout the production, stripping her gowns back to their skeletal frames and sloping them high above the knee.
Griffiths’s script is surprisingly light for one which touches on such emotionally fraught issues. Her reading of the New Woman is succinct enough to find the empowered yet bludgeoned spirit of the era and still present it with such a comedic realism. As Eve Ensler wrote monologues for her sex, Linda Griffiths has written spirited podium speeches for her ancestral sisters.