Cara Kelly is a delight in the title role. Elizabeth Gordon Quinn is the sort of woman for whom that middle name is important. She might live in a squalid Glasgow tenement where all around her women are beginning to find the first hints of emancipation in the munitions factories during the First World War, but she is resolutely bound to her aim of rising to the class to which she believes she should be accustomed.
Her single love in this affair with the grandiose is her piano. It takes centre stage in a set that almost explodes out of her kitchen, up the tenement stairs and into the street outside. She can't play it and she rejects her ever-doting husband to be with it as she refuses to learn how to be poor. Kelly creates a sympathetic character, despite everything – she plays a woman who is so exasperating that you almost want to slap her.
Strong performances from the ensemble help reveal the full depth of her character. Billy McColl creates a staunch husband, if enfeebled and weakened by drink. Lesley Hart, excellent as daughter, Maura, could be the conduit by which Elizabeth claimed success. Instead, Maura is condemned to the life which Elizabeth is trying leave and it is her son who she chooses to try and elevate and who, in Robin Laing, turns out not just to be a deserter from the army, but a deserter from her own cause.
But it is the neighbours who provide the setting which shows off Elizabeth's ideas as being truly poisonous. Myra McFadden as the bitter, unloved, Mrs Black and Pauline Goldsmith as the sharp, proselytising Mrs Cunningham create a humane - if slightly too sentimentally working class - environment which Elizabeth's actions do not merely reject, but actively undermine.
Elizabeth Gordon Quinn is weighty piece of drama that is not afraid to draw on its own comic potential to entertain as well as provoke.
- Thom Dibdin