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The Belle’s Stratagem


Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh
Four stars

“The fashionable life is a scream,” beams Edinburgh New Town ingénue Lady Frances Touchwood at one point in director Tony Cownie’s tartan-tinged reimagining of Hannah Cowley’s eighteenth century rom-com romp. By this time, Helen Mackay’s previously prim Lady Frances has been led well and truly astray by Mrs Racket and Mrs Ogle, a pair of grand dames about town who show their new charge the livelier sights of auld and new Reekie.

Meanwhile, dashing Doricourt is back in town swishing his way around like a peacock-coloured pop star on tour, with even his reluctant betrothed Letitia unable to resist his charms despite herself. As various schemes are hatched around these parallel plots, happy ever afters may be inevitable, but it’s the women who run rings around the hapless men-folk.

Cowley’s original script may date from 1780, but even pushed forward a few years as it is here in Cownie’s well turned out production, it remains a progressively proto-feminist confection, centuries ahead of its time. Cownie and his cast have a riot with this, with the relocated wise-cracks giving things an extra potty-mouthed edge.

Angela Hardie’s Letitia is the great arch-manipulator as she contrives to tame Angus Miller’s Doricourt, playing hard to get as she puts her plans in motion. Pauline Knowles and Nicola Roy snipe from the side-lines with deadpan indifference as Racket and Ogle, with Roy doubling up as good-time-girl Kitty to put Richard Conlon’s boorish posh boy Courtall in his place. There is fun to be had too from Steven McNicoll and Grant O’Rourke’s roll-call of comic buffoons. With Letitia, Lady Frances, Racket and Ogle putting them firmly in their place, the patriarchy stands no chance in a breathless burl of a show.

The Herald, February 19th 2018

ends



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