JOYCE MCMILLAN on HOME AND BEAUTY for Pitlochry Festival Theatre, for The Scotsman, 29.6.15.
3 stars ***
IT’S A FASCINATING thing, to watch Pitlochry Festival Theatre’s new production of Somerset Maugham’s Home And Beauty, first seen in London in 1919. Written during the First World War, this is a drama drenched in ambivalence, like many of Maugham’s works; part bitter satire against the selfish indifference of those who remained on the “home front” while men died in the hell of the trenches, part light social comedy, bordering on farce. And its portrayal of its lovely heroine, Victoria, is equally ambivalent, torn between a faint strand of nascent feminism, and a straightforward misogynistic caricature of a ghastly, self-obsessed woman whose two husbands – Bill, who has returned from France after being presumed dead for three years, and his best friend Freddie, whom Victoria married after Bill’s “death” – are both equally keen to be rid of her.
Richard Baron’s deft and witty production never quite succeeds in resolving the play’s inner tensions; perhaps they are unresolvable. Yet his 12-strong Pitlochry cast give this intriguing period-piece a fine, high-energy run around the stage, with Isla Carter quite outstanding as the hideously spoiled Victoria, and Reece Richardson and Simon Pontin in breezy and rueful form respectively, as the two husbands. Designer Adrian Rees excels himself with sets that are both gorgeous and thought-provoking, as we move from luscious white-draped boudoir to drawing-room redecorated in the revolutionary new art deco style; and in the high recesses of the rooms, small white paper sculptures of crouching, prowling 21st century warriors look on, like silent witnesses to Victoria’s folly, and harbingers of wars to come.
In repertoire at Pitlochry Festival Theatre until 15 October.