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Quality Street


Pitlochry Festival Theatre
Four stars

“I am tired of being lady-like,” determines school-teacher spinster Phoebe Throssel to her sister Susan in the second act of J.M. Barrie’s neglected early play, revived here by Liz Carruthers in suitably chocolate box fashion. Such wilful reinvention is born of wisdom and experience after Phoebe effectively buried her fun-loving self a decade earlier when handsome himbo Valentine Brown swanned off to the Napoleonic war. Now, Valentine has breezed back into town, and, uniform notwithstanding, Phoebe wants a piece of the action a non-military intervention should have provided her with years ago. Cue an elaborate conceit that unveils her hidden party girl.

Set on designer Adrian Rees’ circular blue and white room – a kind of chill-out sanctuary where the sisters hold court before turning it into a school – Carruthers’ production is a deceptively frothy confection with subtle depths lurking beneath the surface. As ever with Barrie, the separation anxieties of war loom large, as do keeping hold of or rediscovering the child within in the face of more grown-up stuff.

To offset some of the play’s period foibles, Carruthers and co take full advantage of the ornate elaborations of the play’s stage directions. Such detailed florid flourishes allow them to be rendered by the gaggle of society belles who make up the nosiest of Greek choruses alongside Helen Logan’s cheeky maid Patty.

As the central trio, Fiona Wood as Phoebe, Camrie Palmer as Susan and Alan Mirren as Valentine run giddy rings around each other as Wood makes a metamorphosis from a skittish Phoebe of the ringlets to bookish schoolmarm and back. What on earth Phoebe sees in a bloke so dim he takes a decade to realise she fancies him is the real mystery here in an otherwise pithy rom-com designed to please.

The Herald, June 18th 2018

ends

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