Stellar Quines' Age of Arousal explores early days of suffragette movement
Nimble performances and funny set pieces, but often wordy script
A play, ‘wildly inspired’ by George Gissing’s The Odd Women – a novel which even sympathetic critics have dismissed as ‘turgid’ – may not sound like the most promising basis for a night at the theatre. Yet, Stellar Quines’ Age of Arousal proves highly entertaining in its exploration of the early days of women’s emancipation.
The plot focuses on ex-suffragette Mary Barfoot (Ann Louise Ross) and her lover Rhoda Nunn’s (Clare Lawrence Moody) attempts to emancipate the Madden sisters – flighty Monica, alcoholic Virginia and disapproving Alice – through touch-typing and shorthand. As the women’s self-awareness develops they wrestle with the inequities bequeathed to them by their biology as well as the pitfalls of falling in love.
While Linda Griffiths’ wordy script tries hard to show the complexity of sexual politics in the late 19th century, there are times when the dialogue feels didactic and high on exposition, with the result that it is difficult to engage with the characters on a human level. The conceit of having the characters speak their thoughts also proves confusing at times. But the production is kept afloat by the nimble performances, some very funny set pieces, including a mass fainting fit, and the stripped-back, stylish staging.
Royal Lyceum, Edinburgh, until Sat 12 Mar; Tron Theatre, Glasgow, Tue 15–Sat 26 Mar, then touring