The Girls of Slender Means @ Assembly @ George Street, Edinburgh

cast list
Teresa Churcher, Melody Grove, Candida Benson, Mary Keegan, Jamie Lee, Pauline Lockhart, Maureen Beattie, Clare Lawrence-Moody, Denise Hoey, Kevin McMonagle, Barnaby Power

directed by
Muriel Romanes
Muriel Sparks best novels are coiled and concise pieces of writing, thin blades of books.

Written in 1963, The Girls of Slender Means was one of her personal favourites, a taut tale set in the final months of the Second World War.

The stage adaptation by Judith Adams for Scottish theatre company Stellar Quines however fails to fully capture the precision of the novel.

The plot slides back and forth in time between 1951 and 1945; Nicholas Farringdom, an aspiring poet turned Jesuit missionary has been reported dead in Haiti and his death is the spark for a series of flashbacks to the tail end of the war, to a London that was bomb-battered and where people had grown accustomed to the idea of death raining from the sky.
The knowledge that their lives could end at any minute had become part of their day to day existence, a mere background whisper.

Farringdon (Jamie Lee) becomes friendly with a group of women at the May of Tec Club, a hostel for girls of slender means. There young women who are living away from home for the first time are looked after by a stern but motherly house mistress. Muriel Romanes production conveys a sense of the girls lives, their giggling and gossiping, fearing for the future but living for today. They own one glamorous green dress, a Schiaparelli, between them, which they all take turns in borrowing and occasionally to amuse themselves they clamber out of an attic window onto a nearby roof, though only the slimmest can squeeze through the gap.

The set consists of a series of moveable screens, onto which images are projected, in front of a wall of sandbags. Sound and imagery are layered together creating a collage effect. In many ways the production is very atmospheric, conveying a strong sense of a wartime world, but its also foggy and overly fragmented. The time-jumping narrative lacks clarity and, with the exception of Jane (Teresa Churcher), who is forever fretting about her weight and very conscious of her role as the smart one of the group, always going off to do brain work, the characters of the girls are poorly defined. When the inevitable tragedy comes, the incident that made Farringdon abandon his literary dreams, it is oddly muted, not nearly as devastating as it could be.

The period costumes are lovely and covetable but something of the sharpness of Sparks writing has been lost in the transfer from the page to the stage.

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