George Street

To Hell in a Handbag

16/08/17

Assembly, George Street

Subtitled The Secret Lives of Canon Chasuble and Miss Prism, this nifty little two-hander examines events in the lives of a couple of subsidiary characters in Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest. It hinges upon some of the wheelings and dealings going in in the background of that story. Beautifully played by Jonathan White and Helen Norton, it’s also written by the actors, who, to their absolute credit, have perfectly captured Wilde’s arch, flamboyant writing style – high praise indeed.

Like the better-known characters in the original play (which many people have suggested was a metaphor for Wilde’s secret homosexuality), Miss Prism and Canon Chasuble have their own secrets: she is rather too fond of a drop of sherry for her own good and clearly puts her survival above all other matters, while he doubles as an agony aunt for the Woman’s Weekly and also once found himself in a compromising position in a house of ill-repute – not the best place for a man of the cloth.

The Wilde aficionados in the audience are clearly well on board with this, laughing delightedly throughout and applauding enthusiastically at the play’s conclusion. I find it enjoyable – if polite – entertainment. While I should add that you don’t have to be a fan of the divine Mr W to enjoy this show, there’s no denying the fact that it certainly helps. And if TIOBE is up there amongst your favourite plays, then this is definitely one to seek out.

4 stars

Philip Caveney

Catherine and Anita

07/08/17

Assembly Rooms, George Street, Edinburgh

With so many different Fringe spaces incorporating the words ‘Assembly’ and ‘George’ it’s important to make sure you’ve got the right one. Catherine and Anita is performed in – or rather outside – the imposing Assembly Rooms on George Street in the New Town – a good twenty-minute walk away from the Assembly venues on George Square. We live in Edinburgh so we’re not caught out by this, but the people sweating and panting in the queue behind us have had to run for it, and are only just in time for the show. So – be aware! Make sure you know exactly where you’re headed before you set off.

Anyway: to the show. Catherine and Anita is not the two-hander I’d assumed from the title, but a monologue, performed with absolute commitment by Sarah Roy as the eponymous Catherine. She is Catherine through-the-ages: an adult, a child, a married woman, a widow. It’s a strong performance, drawing out all the nuances of a difficult character, played with a stark intensity. The standout is the restaurant scene, where Catherine’s anxiety is funny and disturbing in equal measure.

This is a tricky piece to review without giving spoiler alerts; suffice to say, the opening scenes have an awkwardness to them that only makes sense once certain facts are revealed. I can see what playwright Derek Ahonen’s intention is here, but I don’t think it quite works. The childhood scene, for example, renders me unconvinced and, even though it’s later explained, it’s curiously alienating as it stands. The play hits its stride in the second half, once we know more, and have a greater understanding of Catherine and her behaviour  – and the hysteria is dialled down.

All in all, this is an interesting – if flawed – piece, with a powerful performance at its centre.

3 stars

Susan Singfield