Theatre review: The Straw Chair

In Sue Glover’s play, St Kilda is not a rural idyll but a prison

Despite Sue Glover's status as one of Scotland's most respected playwrights, The Straw Chair has been rarely revived – perhaps surprisingly, since its questioning of Scotland's past, the romantic appeal of St Kilda and its critique of the treatment of 'difficult' women ensures that it has retained a contemporary relevance.

The sophisticated script focuses on the historical tale of Lady Grange who, having found her husband wanting, was abducted and hidden on St Kilda. The arrival of a newly married minister and his wife on the island, however, gives her the hope of escape.

The conflict between Lady Grange's unfettered desires (for her husband, freedom, sex and drink) conflicts with the minister's understanding of his mission, while his wife Isabel, sweetly performed by Pamela Reid, is caught between them.

Glover's script is notably compassionate: all of the characters learn and grow, with Selina Boyack's Lady given a series of spectacular, enraged and rambling speeches. Boyack makes the most of her swagger, pitching her somewhere between Patsy from Absolutely Fabulous and Queenie from Blackadder II. Her tumultuous melodrama sits uneasily with the more subdued performances from Reid and Martin McBride as the minister.

Liz Carruthers' direction is respectful of the words, and moves at a steady pace – giving the actors plenty of space to develop the characters but not always capturing the drama of key moments, such as Isabel's decision to join a party of young women and briefly leave her husband. But it is a welcome revival of a play that still poses some sharp questions about whether romanticism about the past disguises true hardships and abuses.

Reviewed at An Lanntair, touring until Sat 9 May.

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