The Admirable Crichton

The Admirable Crichton

Pitlochry Festival Theatre

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Neil Cooper

There was never anything innocent about JM Barrie, as this 1902 dissection of class consciousness testifies, in an at times remarkably progressive if ultimately redundant fashion. Richard Baron's revival has Barrie himself introduce his creation by way of his elaborate stage directions to set the scene. These concern the liberal-minded Earl of Loam, who gathers his three spoilt daughters, Mary, Catherine and Agatha, his equally brattish nephew Ernest and an extended coterie of aristocrats for a day of meeting the servants on allegedly equal if toe-curlingly awkward terms, before setting sail on a family expedition.

With the eponymous butler Crichton and mouse-like maid Tweeny accompanying, by the second act they are shipwrecked and, aside from Crichton, without a clue about survival. After two years, the girls have gone the way of most posh back-packers on gap-year, with Mary in particular morphing into an androgynous lost girl in thrall of Crichton, who now rules the roost. Any hippy idealism concerning equality has, alas, been upended by old-fashioned patriarchy in a new set of rags. What happens on the island, however, stays on the island, and once the castaways are rescued, all holiday romances are forgotten, even as Ernest rewrites history in his self-aggrandising memoir.

Dougal Lee gives a charismatic and statesmanlike performance as Crichton, with Helen Mallon capturing the full sense of Mary's awakening as she moves from studied boredom to off-the-leash abandon and back. When the old order is restored without any emotional or political resolution, the play's author - played by Alan Steele - stands appalled, both by its deeply unhappy ending, and by his impotent complicity in being either unable or unwilling to rewrite it.