‘like a classic Sunday afternoon black and white film with a mug of hot cocoa- just the thing for chilly winter evening.’
The Finborough continues to champion long-forgotten gems with this revival of Jeannie, first performed in 1940. Playwright Aimee Stuart was a prolific playwright and screenwriter and the programme notes remind us that she was quite a girl who lived a film-worthy life herself so it’s exciting to see her work brought back to the stage again.
Set between the wars when life in the British Isles was particularly depressed and grey, titular character Jeannie is a bright spark of a young woman enslaved by housework and a demanding father who keeps a tight hold on the purse strings. Living in a pokey little Scottish town she dreams of the seeing the wider world but knows that she probably never will…until her Scrooge of a dad goes to meet his maker and leaves Jeannie with a small inheritance to spend as she will. Beguiled by the romance of her favourite tune, the Blue Danube, Jeannie sets off to Vienna to find adventure and to begin to live a little.
Mairi Hawthorn is perfect as wide-eyed but spirited Jeannie who revels in every new experience but clearly has no real clue about how the world works. Matthew Mellalieu is charming as plain-talking Yorshireman Stanley Smith who has come to Vienna to sell washing machines but ends up taking Jeannie under his wing (when he’s not flirting with glamourous blonde types). Patrick Pearson is the charming count with greedy eyes on Jeannie’s fortune and the trio are ably supported by the rest of the cast playing a range of characters from bellhops to femmes fatales. Kim Durham is particularly good as Jeannie’s dour old dad who quotes from the bible and keeps his daughter on the straight and narrow and there are lovely moments for all the cast members to get their teeth into.
Jeannie is a light-hearted romance that has you rooting for the heroine and while the story jogs along nicely under Nicolette Kay’s deft direction, there’s no great moral or message in the script making for an enjoyable and light couple of hours.
The set and costumes from James Helps are immaculate but given the small space of the Finborough the scene changes can feel a little overlong and this sometimes slows things down a little.
It’s unsurprising that playwright Stuart was also a screenwriter as Jeannie feels like a classic Sunday afternoon black and white film with a mug of hot cocoa- just the thing for chilly winter evening.
Jeannie by Aimée Stuart
Directed by Nicolette Kay
Presented by New Shoes Theatre in association with Neil McPherson
Finborough Theatre 27th November – 22nd December 2018
Siân Rowland is a playwright and comedy writer represented by Kitson Press.