Thursday, July 18

The Girls of Slender Means – Royal Lyceum, Edinburgh

Directed by Roxana Silbert, “The Girls of Slender Means” follows the lives of five young women living in the May of Teck Club in London during the summer of 1945. Adapted by Gabriel Quigley from Muriel Spark’s novel, the play explores the post-war hopes and struggles of the characters as they navigate love, work, and survival in a society torn by war. Romance, fashion, and politics intersect as the girls grapple with uncertainty and cling to their dreams amidst the rubble of the past. The fragmented structure adds depth to the storytelling, inviting audiences to piece together the narrative while reflecting on themes of resilience and the lasting power of hope.

Under Silbert’s direction, the production shines with its immaculate production design, drawing the audience into a world where memory and emotion intertwine. The set and wardrobe, carefully created to transport you to the decade of the forties, add depth to the storytelling, inviting viewers to piece together the narrative alongside the characters. From recitations of Gerard Manley Hopkins’ poetry to the camaraderie of the May of Teck residents, every moment resonates with poignancy and depth.

The ensemble cast delivers stellar performances, breathing life into Quigley’s adaptation with nuance and authenticity. Supported by a talented creative team including designer Jessica Worrall and composer Nick Powell, the production seamlessly blends visual and auditory elements to create a truly immersive theatrical experience.

© Mihaela Bodlovic

Set in the summer of 1945, in a hostel for the ‘Pecuniary Convenience and Social Protection of Ladies of Slender Means below the age of twenty five years who are obliged to reside apart from their Families in order to pursue an Occupation in London,’ The Girls of Slender Means follows the adventures of the women who live there. They do their best to act as if the war never happened. They practice elocution and jostle one another over suitors and a fabulous Schiaparelli gown, which they each use whenever the occasion demands. But behind the girls’ giddy literary and amorous explorations hides an exquisite fragility and sinister peril, as they strive to survive ‘when all the nice people were poor.’ The Girls of Slender Means is a story of glamour in austerity, women at work, women at play, and women’s wit.

The cast was carefully assembled so that the essence of each protagonist was captured by the actor playing it. Julia Brown was superb in embodying Selina Redwood, the frivolous and materialistic spirit of post-war England. Amy Kennedy, Molly Vevers, and Shannon Watson are perfectly cast as Anne, Jane, and Joanna respectively. A special mention should be added for McGrath who plays, what I consider to be, Spark’s alter ego in the play, the complex and hopeful Joanna. The female cast is ably supported by Seamus Dillane, who plays the only masculine character in the play, the controversial poet and anarchist Nicholas Farringdon.

“The Girls of Slender Means” offers a thought-provoking exploration of post-war life, enriched by Gabriel Quigley’s adaptation and Roxana Silbert’s direction. The production and performances engage spectators with their immersive narrative and significant subjects, prompting contemplation on the lasting influence of optimism and fortitude amidst challenges.

On a personal note, “The Girls of Slender Means” resonates deeply with me due to its portrayal of women navigating a society still grappling with the aftermath of war. The play beautifully captures the resilience and strength of its female characters as they confront challenges ranging from societal expectations to personal ambitions. Despite the limitations imposed upon them by their circumstances, these women assert their agency and carve out spaces for themselves, whether through pursuing careers, seeking love, or forging bonds of sisterhood. The adaptation skilfully explores the complexities of female experience, shedding light on the intersecting forces of gender, class, and power that shape women’s lives. Through its nuanced depiction of female friendship, solidarity, and resilience, “The Girls of Slender Means” serves as a poignant reminder of the enduring struggles and triumphs of women throughout history.

Returning to Edinburgh’s Royal Lyceum Theatre for the first time since 2009, “The Girls of Slender Means,” adapted by Gabriel Quigley from Muriel Spark’s novel, will be running in Scotland’s capital from April 13th, 2024, to May 4th, 2024.

Reviewer: Nazaret Ranea

Reviewed: 17th April 2024

North West End UK Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.