PLAYWRIGHT Cicely Hamilton was a remarkable woman of her time. Brought up by foster parents in the late nineteenth century – an experience she hated – she became a radical feminist and active suffragette.
It is no surprise therefore that her views were powerfully reflected in some of the plays she wrote – none more so than How The Vote Was Won (1909) and A Pageant of Great Women (1909).
They also provide the backdrop to Just to Get Married, a splendid Hamilton play currently showing at the remarkable Finborough Theatre in London’s Chelsea.
As the title suggests, the play looks at the role of women in society in early twentieth century Britain. A role that meant their overriding duty was to get find a suitor and get married. Marriage, says Hamilton, is forced upon women because they are not looked upon as equals. Men hold all the power and have all the money. It is a theme Hamilton also explored in an earlier play, Marriage As A Trade.
The play’s central character is Georgiana Vicary (Philippa Quinn) who is being brought up by aunt Lady Catherine Grayle (a splendid Nicola Blackman) and husband Sir Theodore Grayle (a dithering, stuttering and delightful pipe smoking Simon Rhodes).
The Grayles are desperate to offload Georgiana (after all, she is 29) and they believe they have found her the perfect marriage partner in Adam Lankester (Jonny McPherson), a somewhat reserved individual who has spent a decade or so in Canada. Good looking but dull is the general consensus of Georgiana’s friends Julia Macartney (Joanne Ferguson) and Frances Melliship (Tania Amsel).
Georgiana does not beg to differ, stating that Lankester says nothing that matters. Her verdict?: ‘When you’re a pauper, you have to take what comes along.’ Hamilton at her most strident.
Will the reserved Lankester propose before he heads back to London? Or will he remain almost mute? Or will Georgiana go off with Frances and live with her in London? It is something Frances is keen to organise (she is obviously besotted – even in love – with Georgiana).
Is the marriage on or off? There are many twists along the way, some of which stick in the craw a little (the ending in particular). But that should not detract from what is a remarkable play and a top drawer production, expertly directed by Melissa Dunne.
The nine-strong cast are faultless although the four standouts are Quinn, Blackman, Rhodes and McPherson.
Quinn, tall and elegant, brings out all of Georgiana’s frustrations at her plight. She also perfectly captures Georgina’s cruel side. ‘Leave me alone, I’ve never loved you,’ she barks at Lankester. ‘Don’t look at me as if I am a wingless angel.’
Blackman is probably the star of the show, saying as much with her stares, eyes and posture as she does with her mouth. Her Lady Grayle rules the household with an iron rod and dominates her husband, which probably explains his stutter. A stunning performance.
Rhodes plays the somewhat hen pecked Sir Grayle to perfection while McPherson ensures Lankester develops like a chrysalis. By the time the play ends, a man of few words and head permanently bowed has turned into a fluttering butterfly (along the way subjecting Georgiana to mouthfuls of vitriol and affection). A chameleon as well as a butterfly.
Just to Get Married is on until Saturday August 19. I highly recommend it. A ground-breaking play when it was written and one that still packs a powerful punch. Another triumph for the Finborough Theatre – remarkable given the fact it resides over a pub in Chelsea with just about enough room for Lady Grayle to swing a cat (if she had been minded to do so).
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Just Get Married – 4/5
Frances Melliship – Tania Amsel
Lady Catherine Grayle – Nicola Blackman
Mrs Macartney – Joanne Ferguson
Bertha Grayle – Lauren Fitzpatrick
Adam Lankester – Jonny McPherson
Footman/Dobbins – Stuart Nunn
Georgiana Vicary – Philippa Quinn
Sir Theodore Grayle – Simon Rhodes
Tod Grayle – Joshua Riley
Director – Melissa Dunne
Set designer – Katharine Davies Herbst