The Belle's Stratagem continues David Greig's campaign to reimagine classic texts

The Belle's Stratagem continues David Greig's campaign to reimagine classic texts

Hannah Cowley's play is a saucy comedy with a decidedly feminist slant

The Royal Lyceum Theatre's 2018 programme continues artistic director David Greig's ambitious campaign to reimagine classic texts for the 21st century: while 18th-century comedy is frequently revived for its saucy humour and witty writing, The Belle's Stratagem is an example of a distinctively female voice amid the roistering knaves and aristocrats of the 1780s.

Hannah Cowley's script was written in response to another comedy of manners, Farquhar's Beaux Stratagem, a piece that became an immediate success in its time. It provided a favourite role for Ellen Terry, one of the 19th century's greatest interpreters of Shakespeare, but offered a sardonic commentary on the role of women in marriage and seduction. Playing on the tropes of comedy – disguises, masques and male egotism are all wittily deconstructed – The Belle's Stratagem has a strong feminist theme from an age where Enlightenment doctrines of equality hadn't quite reached the domestic sphere.

Under the direction of a familiar and popular Lyceum veteran, Tony Cownie, The Belle's Stratagem elegantly fits with Greig's vision of allowing theatre's past to reflect on contemporary issues: the belle maintains her virtue, but not without making the demands of romance on her suitor and, along the way, exposing the moral corruption of those dandies who triumph in a permissive society.

Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh, Thu 15 Feb–Sat 10 Mar.

The Belle’s Stratagem

A witty riposte to Farquhar’s The Beaux Stratagem, Hannah Cowley’s rediscovered gem turns the tables on the farcical goings-on and has the women coming out on top.

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