“If I never get anything else out of life, I can say I’ve lived. That’s what everyone needs – to be able to say they’ve lived.”
We first meet Jeannie McLean when she doesn’t have much of a life. It is 1936 and she is practically a slave to her demanding and controlling father in a “wee one-eyed” town in Scotland – her life is all work and no play. But Jeannie has a dream, which becomes apparent when she receives a large inheritance and does something quite unexpected – she decides to see the world.
Her first stop is glamorous and sophisticated Vienna – a place she has always wanted to visit, as Strauss’ Blue Danube Waltz is her favourite piece of music. Here she comes across Stanley Smith again, a washing machine inventor and seasoned traveller from Yorkshire, who she first met on the ferry crossing to the continent and later on the train to Austria, and who has taken her under his wing and looked after her; and then a real Viennese Count, who seems to sweep her off her feet.
It might be Jeannie’s first encounter with romance, but she is neither a push over nor as naïve as everybody thinks. And she most certainly knows her own mind and is a stickler for the truth. Well, mostly.
Jeannie is an utterly charming play, a 1930s version of the Cinderella story, and unseen in London since the 1940s, by rediscovered female playwright Aimée Stuart and I dare anybody not to fall in love with its protagonist.
Mairi Hawthorn, a born Scotswoman, is perfection in the title role and it is a joy to watch her play the witty and delightful Jeannie. Her face is so wonderfully expressive, and she has great comic timing. Matthew Mellalieu is wonderful in the role of Stanley Smith, the solid yet worldly Yorkshireman, who is at first bemused, but then amused by Jeannie.
Patrick Pearson plays the slick Viennese Count with the right amount of sleazy charm and Madeleine Hutchins convinces both as Mrs. Whitelaw, Jeannie’s English neighbour in Scotland, and as The Blonde, the fashion-model temptress who tries to get her claws into Stanley.
There is also great support from the rest of the cast. Carol Holt as cousin Bessie and later on the mistress, who takes Jeannie in and Evelyn Adams as cousin Maggie and an American at the hotel in Vienna. Kim Durham is giving a great performance as Jeannie’s dour father and pops up again as reception clerk and waiter in Vienna (his Austrian German is spot on) and Max Alexander-Taylor plays a myriad of smaller characters required in the play, from the porter on the boat to a waiter on the train and a page at the hotel.
The set was genius and easily transformed from the kitchen in Scotland to the hotel and a restaurant in Vienna and back again via the cross-channel ferry and a train. The costumes were also spot on.
Directed by Nicolette Kay. Set and Costume Design by James Helps. Sound Design by Rachael Murray.
Presented by New Shoes Theatre in association with Neil McPherson, Artistic Director for the Finborough Theatre.
Jeannie’s playwright Aimée Stuart (1886 -1981) was born in Glasgow and was one of the West End’s most successful female playwrights between the wars – and a fascinating character in her own right – staunchly feminist, and never afraid to tackle controversial subjects which led to some of her plays being banned by the Lord Chamberlain. The original production of Jeannie was an instant hit, transferring both to the West End and Broadway and turning Barbara Mullen who played the title role into a star overnight. It was also filmed with Michael Redgrave and Kay Hammond. Aimée Stuart was also a novelist and script ‘doctor’ for acclaimed films including Leslie Howard’s The Gentle Sex (1943) and The Wicked Lady (1945).
Director Nicolette Kay returns to the Finborough Theatre where she directed Seed, Love Child and Hurried Steps. She is Artistic Director of New Shoes Theatre and has directed and toured working in venues as diverse as NIDA in Sydney, Battersea Arts Centre, Lancaster Playhouse, the MAC and the Demarco Gallery, Edinburgh.
Tuesday 27 November – Saturday 22 December @ The Finborough Theatre.
Click here for performance times and tickets.
118 Finborough Road, London SW10 9ED
Telephone: 020 7244 7439
“What’s the use of romance if there’s no truth in it?”