JM Barrie's pro feminist play has a wonderful female protagonist in the form of feisty Maggie Wylie (Jenny Ogilvie). This strong-willed Scottish woman hides behind the veil that her knitting provides. But upon meeting scholar, John Shand (Mark Arends) she begins to live up to her true potential. "Every man who is high up loves to think he has done it all himself; and the wife smiles, and lets it go at that." Thus Maggie quietly helps Shand enter the murky world of politics turning her hand to tweaking his speeches and providing the man with the mettle required to succeed.
The problem is that Maggie's devotion to John is not reciprocated. She herself claims "I am plain and I have no charm." Her beau seems to agree and seeks love elsewhere in the guise of the beautiful but empty Lady Sybil (Ruta Gedmintas). After meeting Sybil's Aunt, comtesse de la Briere (Gabrielle Drake), Maggie begins to realise that she can use her intelligence to greater effect as puppet master to Shand's marionette persona.
The wonderful thing about this lovely production is the ease with which it entertains. From the opening scene, Ogilvie wins you over in a turn which is both comic and tragic. She is the true back bone of the play and the audience on the night I went gave her a rousing reception. Arends convinces as a student but less so as the politician. He simply looks and acts too young. Drake is delightful though as the mischievous, enigmatic and knowing confidante. Her scenes with Ogilvie are a joy to behold as they are deliriously funny.
This charming tale is filled with comic gems and each line has resonance as Barrie has crafted a narrative way ahead of its time. It is refreshing to see a play written at the height of the Suffragette movement which has such relevance today.
Louise Ann Wilson's gorgeous set design highlights Maggie's extraordinary lifestyle changes as she quietly controls Shand's destiny. Pete Rice's sound likewise brilliantly explores the changes ahead as we hear the sound of the growing crowds cheering the young politician on.
This warm and lively production is perfect for anyone wanting to banish the winter blues as Braham Murray's excellent direction enables you to immerse yourself in the visual splendour and wonderful wit on display. Manipulation has never been so amusing.
- Glenn Meads