Being a non-native speaker of English I was quite apprehensive about watching comedy, let alone one set in Edinburgh displaying the great Edinburgh’ dialect. I was in for a great surprise though. Not only did I understand the humour and, most, of the great Scots vocabulary that Tony Cownie has thrown into the script but I wholeheartedly laughed along with the rest of the audience.
Hannah Cowley’s The Belle’s Stratagem gets a truly hilarious and witty make over by Tony Cownie, who adapts the play and moves in to Georgian Edinburgh. It’s a roughened up version of the 1780 play with more provocative and contemporary jokes, and tailored to its Scottish audience with nods towards David Hume and Robert Burns and indications of the English-Scottish tension. The play follows Letitia Hardy (Angela Hardie) who has been betrothed to the dashing Doricourt (Angus Miller) since childhood who falls madly in love with him on his return to Edinburgh. Doricourt, who just has just come back from his Grand Tour around Europe finds Scottish women, including his betrothed simple and boring. In order to gain his affections, Letitia spins a plan to first turn his indifference into hate and then seduce him in disguise during the Masquerade Ball.
A subplot revolves around innocent and country-born Lady Frances Touchwood (Helen Mackay), who has just moved in with her husband Sir George Touchwood (Grant O’Rourke). He tries everything in his power to keep her away from the fashionable and corrupting Edinburgh society. However, he didn’t account for the double act of widows Mrs Racket (Pauline Knowles) and Mrs Ogle (Nicola Roy), who haul Lady Frances away from her jealous and overbearing husband and into the notorious fashionable life. Mingling everywhere is the brilliantly portrayed journalist Flutter (John Ramage), who tends to steal the show during his scenes.
Although it is nearly impossible to pick out favourites with such a strong cast Grant O’Rourke’s Sir George had me laughing the whole time. O’Rourke’s comical, near pantomime depiction of Sir George Touchwood is brilliantly done and just on the edge to becoming too silly. His portrayal of the big man baby that is Sir George ridicules the fragile masculinity and further supports the presentation of strong women. Also to mention is Steven McNicoll who portrays several characters, first and foremost the Provost and father of Letitia, as well as several servants. The success of this play also lies in the ability of Cownie to foreground the servants who are caricatures of Scottish stereotypes. The contrasting nature of Neil Murray’s designs, the simple but effective set design and the colourful and opulent costumes and large wigs add to the deadpan humour of the play.
The play is a riot from the outset, a detailed comical pleasure in which even the rearranging of the set is a comic relief. The interwoven plots all come together during the great Masquerade Ball where the confusion and deceit is at its highest peak. There is never a dull moment and the strong and independent females lead the play until the end.
Guest Reviewer: Leonie Verstegge