Creepie Stool – Review

Mar 4 2014 | By More

✭✭✭✩✩  Provocative re-staging

St Giles’ Cathedral
Mon 3 – Fri 7 Mar 2014 (not Thurs)

Intriguing and doubly pertinent thanks to its re-staging in a dark corner of St Giles’, Jen McGregor’s tale behind the tale of Jenny Geddes is a moving and provocative piece of theatre.

Belle Jones and Angela Milton. Photo © Susie Cavill

Belle Jones and Angela Milton. Photo © Susie Cavill

According to folk legend, Geddes was the market trader who, incensed at the words of the Collect at the first public use of the book of Common Prayer, threw a folding – or “creepie” – stool at the Minister of St Giles’ Cathedral.

It was the supposed Catholic-bias of the words of the new prayers that caused Geddes’ disapproval. The prayer book was imposed on the Scottish congregations by King Charles, much to popular disapproval.

Whether Geddes existed is not actually known. The incident or some variant on it certainly occurred – and three days of rioting around Edinburgh ensued.

McGregor’s clever play provides a thoroughly believable telling of the events of that day – and why Geddes might have been in a position to do what she did. But her main focus is not to recreate the event itself, rather to make sense of the climate of the times in which it took place.

To this end, the whole event is seen through the eyes of the well-to-do Marjory Erskine, who was paying Jenny Geddes as a “waiting woman” to keep her a place in a pew at the front of the Kirk.

Marjory has called Jenny to her rooms on the High Street the day following the incident to give her the sack. Marjory’s maid Christian witnessed the scene at St Giles and is with her, to give both moral support and a true account of events.

Yet this is very much Geddes’ piece, thanks to a pugnacious and battling performance from Angela Milton. While Debbie Cannon as Marjory whines on about her inability to control her own household, Milton displays all the classic signs of a bully, utterly convinced in the moral rightness of her cause.

“a superstitious age”

And it is this which is the heart of the matter here, the root cause of sectarianism. For all her faults, Milton does not create Geddes as a truly bad woman, but one who is caught up with those around her. She lives in a superstitious age where the North Berwick witch trials are still strong in the folk memory.

Belle Jones provides a bit of balance to the conflict as Christian. She seems to be more than a maid and something of a confidante – which just makes Jenny despise her more. There is nothing half-hearted about the way that their differences explode into physical violence.

Against these two strongly opinionated characters, Debbie Cannon has a very difficult time of it. While there are dimensions to the two servants, Cannon never really gets the opportunity to lift Marjory up as a rounded character. The shadow of her domineering husband does something to help, but she needs to get beyond being just shrill.

This is a re-staging of the production reviewed at the Just Festival at St Johns last summer. Ironically, although Jen McGregor wrote the piece in such a manner that it didn’t need to be performed in St Giles, it makes great sense to stage it there. And McGregor, who also directs, has made strong use of its echo and open spaces, while the actual staging takes place in a small area in front of the Thistle Chapel.

An intriguing piece of theatre which, in looking at sectarianism in Edinburgh some 377 years ago, exposes prejudices which prevail even today.

Running time 50 mins.
Monday 3- Friday 7 March 2014 (not Thursday 6).
Daily 6pm.
St Giles’ Cathedral, 2-4 High Street, EH1 1RE
Tickets £5 on the door or bookable in advance from:

Hugh Simpson’s review of the fringe 2013 production at the Just Festival is here:


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