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The Straw Chair

Eden Court Theatre, Inverness
Three stars

The sound of twittering gulls flying high over St Kilda that ushers in the first revival of Sue Glover's eighteenth century set play on home soil in almost three decades is a significant pointer to what follows in Liz Carruthers' production, as three women attempt to spread their wings and fly free. While Isabel is the virginal wife of newly arrived minister Aneas and Oona the Gaelic speaking local, at the play's centre is Rachel Chiesley, aka Lady Grange, the furious wild child exiled by a high-falutin' and hypocritical husband who couldn't control her more singular ways.

Like St Kilda, Lady Grange is abandoned, but rather than look on her imposed exile as some kind of retreat, she is a walking confrontation, a stranded Miranda in rags whipping up her own tempest from the neck of a bottle. With her airs and graces barely contained by the rough-shod chair made by Oona that allows her to indulge a sense of superiority, Rachel's defiance in the face of being caged from respectable society opens up a hitherto untapped sensuality in Isabel as she too takes a walk on the wild side.

As it embarks on an extensive Scottish tour, Carruthers' production for Borderline and her newly formed Hirtle company co-founded with Glover and producer Liz Burton King is a fascinating fusion of fiction and an imagined version of the real life Lady Grange. As various forms of emancipation come home to roost in a scene of drunken hilltop abandon, while Ceit Kearney's Oona is settled with her lot, Pamela Reid's Isabel finds herself liberated by the landscape just as much as Rachel is desperate to take flight from it.

Where the other characters retain at least some of the manners of the era, Lady Grange's unfettered largesse allows both Glover's writing and Selina Boyack who plays her to let rip. In this respect, it can't help but be Boyack's play, and she deserves every moment in an otherwise stately portrait of institutionalised repression on our own doorstep.
The Herald, April 6th 2015


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