Photo by Leslie Black
Two Scottish women, unlikely friends bound to the cause of Suffrage, are the focus of Victoria Bianchi’s new play, kick-starting this new spring season of A Play, A Pie And A Pint.
Deconstructing the image of Robert Burns as flawless hero, regarding him more as priapic pest whose legacy dominates while women are sidelined, these ladies- gauche young Ethel (Stephanie McGregor) and wise, older firecracker Frances (Beth Marshall) unite to take action against the patriarchy, in the form of sneaking into Burns’ cottage undercover of darkness in order to set it alight, as the ultimate gesture of defiance.
As their paths cross initially, there is an air of predictability to the writing, particularly in early scenes where the naive Ethel, keen to join the cause but unsure as to why, gobs off about the ladies being old ugly harpies, etc.- only to realise she has been directly addressing the woman responsible for keynote speeches in the movement.
This is not the only flaw- the language is too steeped in modernity and the structure a little messy, with a cyclical script which runs its course early, and, not quite knowing what to do, finally creates a time lapse from which we see a broken Ethel give a speech calling for change, while tacky music swells .
Yet, the warm, passionate performances from both, some genuinely moving scenes and their knowing undoing of Burns’ songs (particularly a wry A Man’s A Man) mean the play has some sharp moments in the script. Debbie Hannan’s direction is intimate and tense, with fine pacing . They sing beautifully. But the background music feels a little unnecessary… for aw’ that.