Review: Just To Get Married (Finborough Theatre)

A rediscovered gem by writer Cicely Hamilton is an absolute pleasure to watch

Joshua Riley, Philippa Quinn and Simon Rhodes in Just to Get Married
Joshua Riley, Philippa Quinn and Simon Rhodes in Just to Get Married
© Tonje Olaussen

I've lost count of the number of times I've sat through a play proudly heralded by its producers as a rediscovered gem, only to get that sinking feeling about half way though act one that there is a jolly good reason why this thing hasn't seen the light of day in years. Genuine lost classics being rarer than hen's teeth, it is therefore an absolute pleasure to encounter Cicely Hamilton's 1910 Just to Get Married.

Hamilton was a fascinating woman: suffragette, auxiliary nurse in WW1, actress and, on the basis of this scintillating piece, a fine dramatic writer. The play centres on hugely likable Georgiana (Philippa Quinn, entrancing) who at age twenty nine is in danger of being left permanently on the shelf and thus being a long term burden to her family. Despite the period frocks and trappings, she is a strikingly modern woman, feisty and funny but also full of doubt and self deprecation. Quinn palpably conveys her inner turmoil as she accepts the marriage proposal of a man she likes but doesn't love, both of them victims of a society that marginalises women who aren't defined by the men in their lives.

Matters are further complicated by the fact that Lankester, the man in question (Johnny McPherson in a wonderful performance that skilfully combines aching longing with the classic stiff upper lip), worships the ground that 'Georgy' walks upon. Quinn and McPherson's scenes together are little masterpieces of comic mortification underpinned with affectingly real emotion.

Melissa Dunne's handsomely mounted production boasts a superb cast, with especially lovely work from Joanne Ferguson as a concerned friend, and Nicola Blackman, a glorious tornado of comic indignation and spiky gentility as Georgy's overbearing aunt, who – despite the billowing skirt – clearly wears the trousers in her household.

Despite her admirable early feminist agenda, Hamilton is too astute and even-handed a writer to make the men and authority figures into two dimensional villains, and the result is an immensely engaging piece of drama. The dialogue is witty, relatable and psychologically astute, and the play's conclusion is a surprise – possibly arrived at rather too quickly to be fully satisfying but which nonetheless brings a lump to the throat. See it, and you may very well find yourself wondering why this play hasn't been mounted on a regular basis. Maybe it will be from now on. Highly recommended.

Just to Get Married runs at the Finborough Theatre until 19 August.