J.M. Barrie’s four act classic What Every Woman Knows adds itself to the long list of period dramas presented by Pitlochry Festival Theatre and helps kick-off the PFT 2009 repertory season.
The play, set between 1900-1908, when women began to pursue full equality through the women’s movement, follows the rise of John Shand, from scholar to MP. However, it’s his wife Maggie’s impact that really sends his career soaring and as explained in the play itself, every woman knows that behind every successful man there is a woman pulling the strings - a fact that is unknown to John until the play’s conclusion. Along the way a few sticks are thrown at the wheels of this traveling classic, but more or less it’s a straight road with a few bumps.
Leading the cast are Irene Allan as Maggie Wylie and Christopher Daley as John Shand, both making their PFT debuts and complimenting each other perfectly. Maggie describes herself as a ‘little brown hen’ with ‘no charm’ in Act One as she sits quietly in the corner of the Wylie’s parlour knitting, not only with her needles, but weaving together her ideas and plans, quietly and unassumingly. However as the plot evolves, we realise Maggie has the most charm of any other character in this story: charm that finally melts the egotistical, arrogant and self-important Shand. The leads are supported by Gillian Ford as Lady Sybil Grace, who is eventually exposed as an Edwardian bimbo, Martyn James as Maggie’s father, Greg Powrie (who is reminiscent of Dougall in Father Ted) and Alan Steele as brothers James and David respectively and the wonderful Elizabeth Graham as Comtesse de la Briere who delivers each line with exact precision and amusing panache.
Under the direction of John Durnin, the story moves along swiftly despite a few moments of artistic reservation. The group scenes with extras are rather tiresome and prolonged and add little to the proceedings other than an unwelcome amateurish impression. Designer Adrian Rees cleverly transports the audience from the Wylie’s parlour to a hairdresser’s shop in Glasgow, onto John Shand’s London study and finally Comtesse de la Briere’s Surrey home. Renowned for their quality sets and costumes, the sumptuous design of this production ticks all the artistic boxes.
Another classic offering at Pitlochry, which I’m sure will keep audiences entertained and amused throughout the season.
- David Somerville