City Guide to Edinburgh, Scotland

City Guide to Edinburgh, Scotland

For the Love of Willie Review

By Irene Brown - Posted on 19 August 2012

Show details
City of London Freemen's School
Running time: 
Phil Tong (adapter and director), Rachel Mengham (assistant director), (Joe Lott (lighting design), Joe Goldman (sound engineer), Molly Wilson (hair and make- up), Cheralyn Harrington (stage crew), Georgina Lascelles (wardrobe mistress), Chris Ruby (technical manager), Barbara Tong (production design and costume)
Abby Hampden (Old Peggy), Lorna McKellar (The Duchess), Laura Douglas (Young Peggy), Claire Mengham (Mother) Libby Wells (Margi), Kat Daly (Daisy), Maia Penfold (Grandmother), Clare Laudy (Nurse) Olivia Bieri (Mrs Roper), Grace Roger (Lily), Alice Roberts (Annie) Olivia Morris (Cathy) Clara Hutter (Mrs Stuart), James Cole Ezen (Willie Roper), Harry Househam (Father), Dan Sareen (Boris), Angus Gillan (Mine Foreman), Cameron Watson (ARP Warden), Liam Fernandez ( Canteen Assistant), Alex Duke (Doctor), Oliver West (Mr Stuart)

It was a chance handing of Agnes Owen’s 1998 novel, For the Love of Willie, to Phil Tong, director of the City of London Freemen's School that led to this loving adaption by this company of drama students for this their ninth Fringe appearance.

Balloch writer, Owen, tells the tragic story of Peggy, a young girl in 1940s Scotland who becomes infatuated with her married shopkeeper boss, Willie, who has a bit of a weakness for young girls.  When Peggy becomes pregnant, she finds herself abandoned by him and at the mercy of her mother and society’s contemporary mores.

With a simple but effective set of two windows above carefully chosen props of  two cot beds, two basket chairs and cabinets and to bleak cello music in the background, we are in the institution where Peggy now lives as old woman, sharing a dorm with her unfortunate neighbour, The Duchess, both in permanent flannelette nighties and slippers.

Peggy is writing to record her life and reads Camus while The Duchess deludes herself with Mills and Boon fantasy romances. Peggy’s younger life unfolds before them as the old women lie in their cots.

It is no mean feat for an English company to take on a Scottish text and bring it to the Capital’s Festival Fringe.  This group of young actors have taken on the challenge of learning a middle-of-the-road Scots accent to a pretty good standard over all. 

Two of the male actors, Alex Duke and Oliver West, played quite small parts as the Doctor and prospective adoptive parent respectively, sounded particularly convincing.  I would also like to mention Kat Daly who had a small part as Daisy but had a big presence on stage. 

The costumes chosen for the play were immaculate with great attention having been paid to detail. Some of the shoes were nothing short of exquisite! However, the wee glitch of Peggy’s Mother having no wedding ring was a detail missed in this otherwise sartorially convincing production. The rehearsal images given do not do justice to this finely turned out cast.

This play had not quite a cast of thousands, but in the small venue the cast of 21 felt like they could have been in danger of out-numbering a Fringe audience, although the show was almost sold out on their last day.  It also felt in need of editing, as some of the audience’s body language indicated, and ran over the stated 75 minutes.

The play has a strong text peppered with black humour that tells Peggy’s bleak and harsh story of unremitting gloom where over and above the horror of how young single mothers were treated not so long ago,  we have the deaths of the men in Peggy’s family in a mine disaster and an air raid.

Top marks to this ambitious company for highlighting Owens’ work that according to Scottish writer, artist and friend of Agnes Owen, Alasdair Gray, she is the “most unfairly neglected of all living Scottish authors”. Some of Agnes Owen’s family attended this last performance and must have been pleased to see this respectful adaptation of their relative’s work.

Run ended

 Yes, indeed, all the members of Agnes Owens family, who were in attendance, at the final performance of the Edinburgh Fringe run, were very pleased with the production and I am sure will be enthusing to her, our particular enjoyment of it .

My Mother so wanted to be there , but due to her limited ability to travel too far from her Loch Lomondside home, she had to decline, but was delighted about the City of London Freeman's School adapting and performimg her novel and certainly will be happy to hear how we thought it a great piece of theatre.

John Crosbie