City Guide to Edinburgh, Scotland

City Guide to Edinburgh, Scotland

The Girls of Slender Means Review

By Vivien Devlin - Posted on 15 August 2009

Fringe 2009: Girls of Slender Means
Show details
Assembly Rooms
Stellar Quines & Assembly
Running time: 
Muriel Spark (author), Judith Adams (adaptor), Muriel Romanes (director) Finn Ross (video design), Merle Hensel (costume and set)
Romana Abercromby (Judy Redwood etc), Maureen Beattie (Greggie), Candida Benson (Selina), Teresa Churcher (Jane), Melody Grove (Joanna), Denise Hoey (Tilly), Jamie Lee (Nicholas Farringdon) - and others playing numerous parts

"In the Spring of 1944 on my return from Africa, I went to London to find a job and was soon established at the Helena Club for 'Ladies from Good Families of Modest Means who are Obliged to Pursue an Occupation in London'. This was the original May of Tech Club in my novel The Girls of Slender Means." Muriel Spark, Curriculum Vitae.

With a cast of twelve, a back wall of sand bags, a few screens and a desk, an adaptation of The Girls of Slender Means is being staged in minimalist style at the Assembly Rooms Music Hall.  Set in London, 1945, the novel describes the morals and mores of the young ladies living in the May of Tech hostel. Through the beauty of carefree romance and youthful innocence they ignore the ugliness of war and lingering threat of death.

We meet Jane, "fat but intellectually glamorous", who works for a publisher, counts calories but needs to feed her brain, Selina, tall and "extremely slim", who can slither out of the bathroom window in the pursuit of men, and Joanna, a clergyman's daughter, "fair and healthy looking", who teaches elocution and recites the poetry of Gerard Manley Hopkins to give her spiritual support. They barter and borrow ration coupons, soap, chocolate and stockings, and occasionally invite men friends for supper (at a cost of two shillings and sixpence).

The sirens wail, flickering Newsreel footage is flashed on a screen, Winston Churchill speaks about British morale. Tilly in a (borrowed) Schiaparelli dress is always searching for a Taxi, "to drive, just drive" while pretending to be meeting music hall star Jack Buchanan. Through numerous phone conversations, (the incessant harsh ringing becomes tedious), Jane relates the plight of the political anarchist and poet Nicholas Farringdon through present day and post war scenes.

The drama unfolds through numerous fragmented sketches, performed in semi darkness with spot-lit, dream-like vignettes and abrupt flash forward/back time-shifts. For those who have not read the novel, this is all very confusing and it's a real challenge to follow the plot.  (All that is required is a narrator to introduce the characters, set the scene and period time changes, or include in a programme note).

Judith Adams' allegorical deconstruction of Spark's novel and fine ensemble acting certainly captures its poetic and religious heart, but the clarity of dramatic tension and storytelling is lost by its overly ambitious, stylistic theatricality.

Dates and times - 6- 31st August (not 10, 17th, 24th), at 14.50.