Review – Creepie Stool

August 20, 2013 | By | 1 Reply More

✭✭✭✩✩  Resonant historical reflections

Debbie Cannon, Angela Milton and Belle Jones. The cast of Creepie Stool by Jen McGregor Photo © Jasmin Egner

Debbie Cannon, Angela Milton and Belle Jones. Photo © Jasmin Egner

Just at St John’s (Venue 127)
Fri 16 – Wed 21, Mon 26 August 2013
Review by Hugh Simpson

Creepie Stool by Jen McGregor, presented by Black Dingo Productions as part of the Just Festival at St John’s, is an intriguing new historical drama dealing with the story of Jenny Geddes.

Geddes, of course, is the cabbage-seller who is reputed to have thrown a creepie (or folding) stool at the Dean of Edinburgh when he dared to read from the dangerously Anglican-sounding Book of Common Prayer in St Giles in 1637. This action is held to have caused riots that helped to precipitate the War Of The Three Kingdoms which followed.

The first question to be asked of any play about her is how the stool-throwing will be handled. This piece avoids the issue by presenting a three-hander set the next day as Jenny seeks to explain her conduct to Marjory Erskine, the well-to-do woman who was paying her to keep a place at the front of the Kirk, and her maid Christian.

The play is one of those commissioned by Just at St John’s on the issue of sectarianism, and it approaches the issue in an original way by looking at post-Reformation tension between Protestant and Catholic. Discussion and argument between the three characters is punctuated by monologues from Geddes.

Often such a structure would see the monologues as an annoying interruption to the play; here, the monologues are the most compelling thing about it. The other characters do not lend themselves to revealing their thoughts – Mrs Erskine is too buttoned-up and concerned about how she appears, while Christian has her own reasons for keeping quiet.

Geddes, brilliantly played by Angela Milton, has no such qualms, and as the play progresses, further layers are added to the character as her background is revealed. She also has some very resonant speeches about ‘new people’ in Edinburgh, ‘people you don’t know and can’t understand’. The modern-day parallels in this, as in the treatment of people of ‘suspicious’ religions, are clear but not laboured.

Milton’s performance dominates the piece

Monologues by Geddes open and close the play, and the fates of the other characters are simply left hanging. It would be instructive to know if any consideration was ever given to making this a one-woman play – the other characters do not seem to have sparked the writer’s interest in the same way. A dilemma for them is presented but then does not seem to go anywhere, and they seem one-dimensional in comparison to the superbly drawn Geddes.

Debbie Cannon (Mrs Erskine) presents a suitably self-obsessed, self-pitying figure whose sympathy is always subservient to what the neighbours might think, and Belle Jones switches from pride to fear effectively as Christian, but their characters still seem relatively unimportant.

They are not helped by some curiously static staging by director Jasmin Egner. The monologues are signalled by some obtrusive lighting effects, and Jones in particular is asked to hold some very uncomfortable expressions for far too long. The lack of onstage movement may be intended to increase tension but this is not wholly successful; at one point Mrs Erskine and Christian sit side by side in the inglenook, partially obscured from many of the audience, for several minutes.

This lack of action only serves to highlight the energy and subtlety in Angela Milton’s performance, which dominates the piece. If this makes it a little unbalanced, that is only fitting for a story which has always been difficult to put into perspective. After all, there is no proof that Jenny Geddes even existed, let alone chucked the stool, but that has never diminished her significance for some.

The problems of intolerance (which traditionally have affected Edinburgh just as much as other parts of Scotland, despite what the Mrs Erskines of this world would have us believe) are often rooted in ‘remembering’ a history that never actually took place.

Running time 45 minutes
Run ends Mon 26 August 2013
Daily until Wed 21, then Mon 26 at 8.30 pm
Venue 127, Just at St John’s , St John’s Church, Princes St, EH2 4BJ
Tickets from www.edfringe.com

ENDS

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  1. Creepie Stool – Review « Æ: All Edinburgh Theatre | March 4, 2014

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