THE STRAW CHAIR
by Sue Glover.
Tour to 9 May 2015.
Runs 2hr 20min One interval.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 2 May at The Brunton Theatre Musselburgh.
A corner of Scotland worth reviving.
Like Sue Glover’s Bondagers, revived last autumn at Edinburgh’s Royal Lyceum, The Straw Chair shows an aspect of Scottish life distant in time and place from the modern urban settings and stylistic sophistication of most modern Scottish drama.
Her play, which arose within the tide of 1980s feminism, is well-crafted. Three-quarters of the characters are women, and the only male is hardly forceful. Young cleric Aneas is in charge of his marriage until his nervous teenage wife Isabel finds new strength through the women she meets during his summer spent regularising the religion of the islanders on Scotland’s furthest archipelago, St Kilda.
Glover employs the historical character of Rachel Chiesley, Lady Grange, whose husband became tired of her arguing (and fearful of her threats to talk of his support for the Jacobites), and had her removed to the remote island prison.
Her social assertion seems madness until we learn more about Rachel. Both married women are at stages of repression by male domination, the shallowness of which is seen in Aneas’ fears for his clerical career once it’s known his wife’s helped Lady Grange. Behind domestic oppression lies the structure of a class-based society.
Her initial hostility to young Isabel is evident as, with contemptuous social superiority, Lady Grange snatches back the rough, three-legged chair that’s the only thing available to assert her social position. When she learns Isabel is a minister’s wife, she graciously extends a hand. The basis of her haughty manner in fear and an inward-turned anger becomes clear. And the Lady’s not above stooping to involve the young wife in her plans for escape, while she knows her island attendant Oona is spying on her.
For all Aneas is weak, he helps prop-up the state, realising his career depends upon avoiding the disfavour of great men. Meanwhile, the three women, surrounded by the agents of male power and money, eventually throw-off caution and differences in a scene of progressive drunkenness It’s one where they find a temporary liberty in something usually a male preserve, at the high comic and dramatic point of Liz Carruthers’ capable revival.
Isabel: Pamela Reid.
Aneas: Martin McBride.
Lady Grange: Selina Boyack.
Oona: Ceit Kearney.
Director: Liz Carruthers.
Designer/Costume: Claire Halleran.
Lighting: Bevis Evans-Teush, Dave Shea.
Sound: Jamie Wardrop.