The Girls of Slender Means (3 stars)

This article is from 2009.

The Girls of Slender Means

A new adaptation of a never-before staged novel by Muriel Spark, The Girls of Slender Means is set (mostly) in that strange limbo period between VE and VJ Day. The war had ended, but hadn’t quite ended really, and the young women living in the May of Teck Club, a women’s hostelry ‘providing lodging for young gentlewomen of slender means obliged to seek employment in London’ are suddenly faced with the future. Time is fragmented rather than the backbone of a narrative: these are women living in a Blitz-enforced spirit of carpe diem; lovers go off to fight and die, and are replaced, and grieving may happen when it’s all over.

The famous adaptation of Spark’s best-known book, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, filleted characters and a rudiment of plot from the novel. What Judith Adams’ script tries to do here is recreate the texture, art and whole of the book, and this is possibly what leaves this production feeling rather oversaturated.

Visually, it’s stunning; the set is composed of several movable transparent screens on which flickering projections can enhance, contradict or haunt the action. The poetry recited by doomed innocent Joanna Childe (a lovely, memorable performance by Melody Grove) provides another layer of metatextual commentary on the action.

However, there’s often a clamour of voices telling different stories at once, and a lot to look at, and while this is clearly a deliberate move to try and capture the way the novel skips between different perspectives, it leaves the audience, like the girls, rather frantically trying to seize the moment. Because of this, the one climactic flash of horror on which the story pivots is rather rushed over.

Perhaps this adaptation is best valued as a companion piece to the novel, or an artistic response, rather than a stand-alone theatre work. However, for all its flaws, the ambition, imagination, and some lovely comic performances, make it well worth checking out.

Assembly Rooms, 623 3030, until 31 Aug (not 24), 4.20pm, £15–£18 (£14–£16).

Girls of Slender Means

  • 3 stars

Adapted for the stage by Judith Adams in celebration of Muriel Spark's literary spirit and genius. 'The greatest Scottish novelist of modern times' (Ian Rankin).

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