The Girls of Slender Means

Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh

Four stars

Take five girls. Put them in the same house together with only one borrowed designer dress to share between them in a world where dreams of poetry, dancing and clothes are on ration, and everyday desires look set to explode. So it goes in Gabriel Quigley’s appealingly breezy new adaptation of Muriel Spark’s 1973 novella, brought to life with a busy flourish in Roxana Silbert’s expansive production.

Things begin in the 1960s, when glossy magazine high-flyer Jane Wright discovers the death of posh boy poet Nicholas Farringdon. This provokes Jane to rewind to 1945, when she, Selina, Pauline, Anne and Jo were living in the May of Teck Club. This was a run down Kensington boarding house set up for ‘the social protection of ladies of slender means below the age of thirty years’ who wished to pursue some vaguely defined occupation.

Half a century after it was published, Spark’s study of young women on the verge in a world where post World War Two austerity is about to be blown away by the new optimism afforded by a Labour victory at the 1945 General Election is an elegantly understated mix of light and shade.


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This is partly down to the show’s bright young cast, led by Molly Vevers as Scots émigré Jane, alongside Julia Brown as Selina, Seamus Dillane as Nicholas, Amy Kennedy as Anne, Molly McGrath as Jo and Shannon Watson as Pauline. But it is also to do with the way the women burl through Quigley’s script with an uneasy brio heightened by Jessica Worrall’s design whizzing its way between the confines of the house itself and the spaces beyond that enable the girls to breathe.

Underlying the show’s playful front is a deep set seriousness that points up the long-term side effects of bottled up trauma. Like the world around them, these young women have been blitzed.

As the tragedy that follows sees them crawling from the wreckage to become different shades of successful, the bond between those who make it is etched with pain in a fascinating attempt to take Spark's story off the page with a fresh sense of invention worthy of its source.