Pros: Enjoyable moments of humour and an acting style that successfully pokes fun at pomposity.
Cons: Has a limited appeal, and for many audiences may feel outdated.
In a week when the media reported female talent at the BBC are paid significantly less than their male counter-parts, this production of Just to Get Married recalls the treatment of women in the early 20th Century and reminds audiences that real equality is still very much a work in progress.
Papercut Theatre, in association with the Finborough’s Neil McPherson, take a gamble in staging this drama: it is Marmite. Written by Cicely Hamilton, the play has not been performed in London in over 100 years and one must question why. A brave choice for the Finborough, a venue that is often at the helm of ground breaking and innovative new writing.
Following the three act structure that typifies the theatrical epoch, the action follows the acceptance of 29 year old Georgiana (Philippa Quinn) to her female fate-of-the-times: to be betrothed to a man who is able to provide for her, before she is left on the shelf.
Boldly, for audiences of the first production at the Coronet Theatre in 1910, Georgiana undergoes enlightenment, risking poverty and loss of reputation to confront the hegemonic status quo. Her turmoil will no doubt be influenced by the protests of her Suffragette contemporaries, but her attempts – though heartfelt – feel whimsical and, arguably, only serve to fuel the existing male stereotyping.
There are some enjoyable moments of comedy. In Act I, before her subversion against the norm and in an attempt to prompt her suitor Mr Lankester (Jonny McPherson) to pop the question, Georgie plays Mendelssohn’s ‘Wedding March’ on the piano, later alluding to her confusion between it and Chopin’s obverse; eye-rolling-ly-obvious humour throughout but nevertheless, timeless.
There are meritible performances, particularly from Quinn and the dashing McPherson. His bumbling portrayal of Lankester’s early awkwardness is entertaining. When confronted by Georgie’s revelations, Quinn and McPherson come into their own, illuminating the script with drama and much needed pace. However, there were moments that felt under rehearsed, affecting line delivery, and some reactions were less than convincing. Costumes were well thought out, but with a costume drama the eye is in the detail and it was disappointing to see thoroughly modern, coloured and mismatched socks worn by one performer. Disappointingly, the stage and lighting design for the last act lacked imagination; more could have been done with lighting to create a railway waiting room – there was an attempt to be too literal here which did not work in the space.
Just to Get Married is reminiscent and typical of other works of this ilk (Ibsen’s A Doll’s House and Houghton’s Independent Means come to mind). Despite having some relevance, there are perhaps more interesting and innovative ways to deal with the play’s themes. I am all for producing historical pieces, but with this I left asking myself: who is this play for? Worthy of note – on my visit – every member of the audience was white, seemingly well-educated and many were of a “certain age”. As a lecturer in theatre, I spend all day every day with young people and as such, I feel able to say that the Finborough’s latest offering will not be attractive and will not ‘speak’ to the vast majority of young people. It does, however, provide a niche appeal to fans of 20th Century costume drama.
Author: Cecily Hamilton
Director: Melissa Dunne
Producer: Papercut Theatre in association with Neil McPherson for the Finborough Theatre
Booking Until: 29 August 2017
Box Office: 0844 847 1652
Booking Link: http://www.finboroughtheatre.co.uk/productions/2017/just-to-get-married.php