The Straw Chair – Review

Four characters who sum up a time and its attitudes: that is the bold sweep of Sue Glover’s play “The Straw Chair”, revived at the Traverse after its premiere there 27 years ago.

The Traverse itself is no longer in the same premises and this play currently on Scottish tour is being performed in a wide range of venues – village halls, large theatres, small intimate spaces. For the play to work in such a variety of settings is thanks to the sparse, evocative, pared down set of this production, a set that conveys landscape and sea, bleakness and austerity.
The eponymous straw chair is a poor, fraying, battered thing – the only chair on 18th century St Kilda, fiercely guarded by Lady Rachel Grange, the historically real-life banished wife of an Edinburgh aristocrat. A wild, half-crazed creature, Rachel has been outcast by her husband to the harsh wildness of St Kilda – a troublesome wife who could not be controlled, could not be silenced, and might be dangerous. In contrast to this chair she tells us of her husband’s sumptuous seat in Edinburgh, which proclaims wealth, status, and holds a political secret. Selina Boyack as Rachel sweeps barefoot across stage in her tattered ball gown, a towering magnificent figure, full of sound and fury, filled with impotent rage. In contrast, Oona, her servant cum jailer, is a douce, island woman, illiterate yet bi-lingual, fiercely rooted in St Kilda with its ancient traditions,and superstitions, yet with a quiet authority over Rachel.
Into this isolated stronghold comes missionary minister Aeneas and his bride Isabel, newly arrived from Edinburgh. The society life of Lord Grange is not their world; theirs is an Edinburgh of moral rectitude, restraint, and disapproval. Aeneas is a fundamentally good man, sincere and God-fearing yet also fearful of human nature itself and his own natural instincts. He has chosen a young and presumably malleable wife, but he has not counted on Isabel as being spirited and independently minded, and he certainly does not approve of her befriending Rachel with her wild influence. That Isabel may prove also to be a troublesome wife is certain. She is passionate and impetuous, luring him physically and possibly blighting his career. Whether he will over time be more enlightened than Lord Grange we can only ponder.
This eloquent play is a co-production between Borderline Theatre Company and Hirtle Productions, the latter founded in 2014 by producer Liz Burton- King and director Liz Carruthers in order to stage this excellent production. We have a vivid portrayal of St Kilda, an evocation of 18th century Edinburgh, (with a hint of turbulent Jacobite politics), and added to this 3 strongly drawn female characters. This is a play that will certainly stand the test of time.

Running at the Traverse Theatre until April 25th.

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