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The Admirable Crichton

Pitlochry Festival Theatre
Four stars
There was never anything innocent about J.M. Barrie, as this 1902
dissection of class consciousness testifies in an at times
remarkably progressive if ultimately redundant fashion. Richard Baron's
revival has Barrie himself introduce his creation by way of his
elaborate stage directions to set the scene. These concern the
liberal-minded Earl of Loam, who gathers his three spoilt daughters,
Mary, Catherine and Agatha, his equally brattish nephew Ernest and an
extended coterie of aristocrats for a day of meeting the servants on
allegedly equal if toe-curlingly awkward terms before setting sail on a
family expedition.

With the eponymous butler Crichton and mouse-like maid Tweeny
accompanying, by the second act they are shipwrecked and, aside from
Crichton, without a clue about survival. After two years, the girls
have gone the way of most posh back-packers on gap-year, with Mary in
particular morphing into an androgynous lost girl in thrall of
Crichton, who now rules the roost. Any hippy idealism concerning
equality has, alas, been upended by old-fashioned patriarchy in a new
set of rags. What happens on the island, however, stays on the island,
and once the castaways are rescued, all  holiday romances are
forgotten, even as Ernest rewrites history in his self-aggrandising
memoir.

Dougal Lee gives a charismatic and statesmanlike performance as
Crichton, with Helen Mallon capturing the full sense of Mary's
awakening as she moves from studied boredom to off-the-leash abandon
and back. With the old order restored without any emotional or
political resolution, the play's author played by Alan Steele stands
appalled, both by its deeply unhappy ending, and by his impotent
complicity in being either unable or unwilling to rewrite it.

The Herald, July 4th 2014




ends

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