The Fair Intellectual Club (Edinburgh Fringe)
Lucy Porter's new play about an 18th century group of women is entertaining yet a little tame
It's 1717 in Edinburgh, at the height of the Enlightenment, and the sisters are doing it for themselves.
Lucy Porter's new play, inspired by the true story of the club of its title, depicts the secretive efforts of a group of Scottish women to claim an education for themselves within a restrictively patriarchal society. If no one will teach them, they will teach themselves.
The members of the Fair Intellectual Club – nine, in honour of the nine muses – set about studying literature, science, philosophy, modern languages. In Porter's play we see just three of them, co-founders Polyhymnia, Thalia and Clio, while the surrounding audience are cast as the rest of the intimate gathering.
Over the course of a year, we follow these three women as they struggle with formulas, translations and the expectations of their society – chief among which is the expectation to wed. It could be dry, didactic material, but Porter is careful to keep it light, peppering the conversation with giggles and gags. And just in case we miss the message, a rhyming epilogue explicitly draws the link between the Fair Intellectual Club and 21st-century feminism.
Enjoyable though it is, this story is perhaps not the best vehicle for discussing the state of modern womanhood, which is plagued by a whole new set of problems. Instead, The Fair Intellectual Club works best as the Fringe equivalent of a cosy Sunday evening TV comedy: witty, gently entertaining, but ultimately a little tame.
The Fair Intellectual Club runs at the Assembly Rooms until 24 August
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