Mary: Rhoda and I will now give a demonstration of our secret weapon in the battle for equal opportunity. Behold the Remingtons!
Alice: Remingtons! I have heard of them.
Monica: Machines for the future –
If you were asked to give the period when women were beginning to fight for emancipation and the right to Vote, you would be forgiven if you suggested the Edwardian era around 1910 -1918. But the first Suffragettes and political activists had started to campaign for a financially independent life and education by the 1880s. Strong-minded, intelligent women now realised that marriage and motherhood should not be the only role open to them.
The play is based on George Gissing’s 1893 novel, “The Odd Women,” a sensitive, frank account of the plight of unmarried women in the Victorian age. Set in 1885, Mary Barfoot, a feisty suffragette (who has been imprisoned and has starved for the feminist cause), runs a school for secretaries with her young protégé, Rhoda. Determined to break down traditional social rules and conventions, they encourage women to master the Remington typewriter as the door to a career and liberation.
Three new secretarial students are the Madden sisters – middle-aged spinsters, Virginia and Alice and glamorous young Monica. Into the centre of this world of five single, "odd" women enters Mary’s handsome male cousin Everard: as well as learning to touch type, they are each introduced to the School of life, romance and adventure.
The dramatic delight of Linda Griffith’s sparkling play is that the language, humour and emotional truth of the women's predicament is positively modern in their attitude and ideas. The entire concept of its staging is contemporary, presenting an open stage, brick walls, minimalist quick changing sets and brilliantly inventive costumes. The fashionable frock designs (by Edinburgh College of Art students) are all about breaking free from social restraint and tight corsets, with deconstructed crinoline wired, bustle skirts and gender-bending “Radclyffe Hall” trouser suits.
The narration flows rhythmically through pin-sharp dialogue interspersed with cracking one-liner soliloquies - thoughtspeak asides which reveal hilarious comments about men and marriage as well as personal feelings about sexuality, fears, failings and jealousy. Performances are simply exquisite, capturing each very different personality to express moments of joy, freedom and sheer frustration.
Rhoda has been drawn into a lesbian relationship but is secretly aroused by Jamie’s masculine charm; Monica is a young girl behaving badly with "les liaisons dangereuses" abandon; Free-spirited Virginia tears off her corset and escapes to experience a taste of Bohemian life, while Alice seems timidly content, trapped at home like a caged bird.
Rather than a classic period drama about Victorian feminists, Age of Arousal explores the timeless battle of the sexes and women’s dream for love, freedom and social equality in a passionate and witty burlesque-style entertainment.
Royal Lyceum Theatre, 18 February - 12 March, 2011
Tron, Glasgow , 15 - 26 March
Eastgate, Peebles, 29 March
Lemon Tree, Aberdeen, 30 March
Woodend Barn, Banchory, 31 March
Eden Court, Inverness, 1 - 2 April
Brunton Theatre, Musselburgh 12 April, 7.30pm
Dundee Rep, 14 - 16 April