At the cusp of summer, Exeter’s Cygnet Theatre gifted the stage with a stunning performance of David Mamet’s three-woman comedy drama, Boston Marriage. The point of changing seasons to the longer summer days, that come with that added sense of possibility, felt like an appropriate point for performances of this play to begin; Boston Marriage carries themes of illicit love, lust, and mischievousness, that pushes boundaries of social convention for early twentieth century women.
pushes boundaries of social convention for early twentieth century women
The stage and lighting, managed by Lucy Corley, of the lounge (the only on-scene setting of the play) incorporated a rich red backing curtain, deeply coloured patterned rugs and a warm fireplace. Focal to the room, there are two lounge sofas. Accompanied with low lighting, a liquor table to the background, and a chirpy early twentieth century tune that played in scene transitions, the stage setting simply oozed upper class privilege and elegance of the Edwardian era.
centering on the friendship, conflict, and passion
Directed by Stephen Copp, finding its setting in 1910, this performance by Roxanne Eastaugh (Anna), Harriet Birks (Claire), and Thora Maria Bisted Pederson (Maid), brought to life Mamet’s story centering on the friendship, conflict, and passion between the Anna and Claire. These ‘new women’ figures are unmarried and somewhat independent from men, hence the play’s title of ‘Boston Marriage’: a term for two women living with one another, independent of male support.
‘Boston Marriage’: a term for two women living with one another, independent of male support
The drama erupts as Claire visits Anna to announce her new found love, of a woman much younger than herself, that sparks obvious jealousy in Anna and reveals to the audience, a tension, co-dependency, and even unrequited love in Anna for Claire, that is bound up within the women’s friendship.
Eastaugh and Birks play out the repartee between Anna and Claire with engaging chemistry, and deliver the wry humour of Mamet’s lines with clear enunciation, evocative body language, and emotive facial expressions that engage with a feeling true to life- that odd in-between relationship of friends who hold romantic tension between them. As for Pederson, she does well in holding her character strongly, despite her more background role, always using her physical acting and moments of speech to respond accordingly to the escapades of Anna and Claire.
the colours evoke richness and wonder of the tale being enacted
The colours used within this production, of mainly blacks, greens, whites, golds, and reds, within the costume and setting, evoke richness and wonder of the tale being enacted. The emerald necklace, a central plot feature, is notably symbolic of a steadfast bond; this is particularly relevant to Anna and Claire’s intertwined and complicated relationship.
Space is used exquisitely: the Maid fits in and around the movements of the other women; Anna and Claire, on the other hand, work between the lounge chairs, the front of the stage, being physically close together or apart. Their movements encapsulate the turbulence of their friendship and the plot’s stages of building and declining action.
Space is used exquisitely
As the play develops, and a link between Claire’s new love and Anna’s married male lover is revealed, further hilarity and mischief ensue. Anna’s Maid in the meantime enriches the comedy and offers a counterbalance to the scandals of Boston Marriage. She perseveres in her role under Anna’s temperamentality and schemes…only bursting into tears as a result of Anna’s bad behaviour on a few occasions.
raw and unfiltered imagining of Victorian women in love
The illicit nature of the play, focusing on the trials and tribulations of lesbian love and relationships in the early twentieth century, is peppered with details that enrich the emotion and electricity of each scene: questions of whether love is ‘fair?’ and the ‘weaknesses of the sex’ are considered by the characters, the imagining of enrapturing rendezvous, and comedic escapades in order to enable these, as well as endearing moments of reconciliation. If you are intrigued by a performance that captures witty humour and taps into a raw and unfiltered imagining of Victorian women in love, then this is the watch of the summer for you.