There canâ€™t have been too many playwrights to the groat in 18th century England, which makes Hannah Cowley a very remarkable woman.
Married to a theatre critic, she was fortunate in having an in-road to the actor-manager David Garrick, for in those days talent alone wouldnâ€™t have got her very far. As it was, her lively dialogue and well rounded characters were recognised, appreciated and flourished at a time when few women had opportunities outside the home.
Tony Cownie has taken the witty script of Cowley’s â€œThe Belle’s Stratagemâ€ and in a very sprightly adaptation has moved the 18th century action of the play from fashionable London to the elegant drawing rooms of Edinburgh’s newly built New Town. This reworking has provided a rich seam of local humour added to the original, which moves things along at panto pace as the foibles and exaggerations of society unfold. There is a masked ball and mistaken identities, there are feisty women and deluded men.
Angus Miller is the colourful young peacock Doricourt just back from his Grand Tour who finds the prospect of his arranged marriage to a dull Scot rather tedious. Angela Hardie as his anything but dull fiancÃ©e Letitia is determined to teach him a lesson. Aided by a pair of fun loving widows – well named Racket and Ogle – a plan is hatched to bring him to heel.
The same rackety, ogling widows – Pauline Knowles and Nicola Roy- are also determined to help a young newly wed Lady Frances Touchwood break out of the stifling confines of her marriage and live a little in Edinburgh society. Add in a plot to fool a lecherous man with designs on Lady Frances, and the stage is set for lots of merry japes.
There are sexist men and drunken women – all very up to date, really, with women definitely having the upper hand. The jewel coloured costumes are gorgeous against the cool tasteful Elephant’s Breath stage setting by Neil Murray. This production is a joy to watch, and delightfully funny.
Lyceum Theatre until 10th March.
Photo Credit Mihaela Bodlovic