Review – Boston Marriage

Apr 24 2013 | By More

✭✭✩✩✩  Fair attempt

Kari Ann Shiff (Anna), Sian Fiddimore (Maid) and Lorraine McCann (Claire) on the set of Arkle's 2013 production of Boston Marriage. Photo © Jon Davey

Kari Ann Shiff (Anna), Sian Fiddimore (Maid) and Lorraine McCann (Claire) on the set of Arkle’s 2013 production of Boston Marriage. Photo © Jon Davey at

St Mark’s Unitarian Church, Castle Terrace
Tue 23-Sat 27 April, 2013 (not Thurs)
Review by Thom Dibdin

A crackling script that spits venom and articulate references with equal force and has a casual regard for accuracy – at least on the part of the characters – shines through Arkle’s somewhat under firing production at St Marks until Saturday.

Written by David Mamet, allegedly as a riposte to the barb that he couldn’t write female characters, Boston Marriage is a three hander of exclusively female casting.

The title is a late 19th century euphemism for two women of independent means sharing a home.

Anna (Kari Ann Shiff), a woman of fashion in New England during the late Victorian era, is discovered in the drawing room in which the whole play is set. She is excited to be receiving her long-term friend Claire (Lorraine McCann) after an extended absence.

Both women have secrets to tell. Anna, that she has taken a male lover who has not only showered her with jewels, but has  provided her with an income so that she is now rich enough to keep both her and Claire.

The younger Claire has the shattering news that she has fallen in love. To add injury to insult, she has invited her young and unsuspecting new friend to meet in Anna’s parlour in the hope that Anna will engage the girl’s mother and chaperone in conversations while Claire initiates a seduction.

As the pair strike out at each other with the kind of wit that Wilde would have been happy to utilise, going off into great cycles of expansive eloquence just to make the flimsiest of points, their archly highbrow banter is tempered by fits of earthy, modern vernacular.

Bawdy and vulgar elements

These are women who use language to hide behind and clever point scoring as a substitute for emotion. Unlike Anna’s plain speaking, put-upon Orcadian maid (Sian Fiddimore). Whose name and nationality Anna consistently mistakes and who provides the catalyst for the most bawdy and vulgar elements of the comedy.

Buy the script:

Fiddimore, although vocally succumbing on occasion to Anna’s insistence  that she is Irish, provides a solid presence. She has some of the play’s most difficult lines to deliver with a straight face, which she does while implying all the necessary double-entendres.

Shiff and McCann do an excellent job in conveying the depth of feeling between the two ladies of fashion as Anna’s unbridled joy is brought into reign. And then, as the somewhat convoluted twists of plot turn, when they seek to battle their way out of the desperate situation in which they find themselves.

A rather less satisfying job has been done by director Phil Barnes. He has not drawn out the performances from his actresses that the script deserves and lets them meander around, when the movement could be used to underpin the lines.

This is barbed writing of a kind that needs arch delivery and clear articulation. McCann, particularly but not exclusively, has a tendency to deliver her lines towards the furniture – or let them drift away from her without emphasis.

For every time she delivers them with force and a sense of her character’s intellectual guile, there are several where their meaning and delivery do not correlate. Although the acoustics of St Marks are not to her advantage.

With such a wordy script, and one that twists and dazzles with such deception, the actors need to be right on top of it and let it fall out with natural vigour. Shiff and McCann do, however, find the naturalism in their characters’ relations, once the verbiage is stripped away.

Jane Purves staging is basic and intelligent. The script describes a room recently refurbished, from wallpaper to cushions, in chintz. A black box, with chintz cushions is simple enough to suggest it.

It is an entertaining enough evening, but the production deserves crisper delivery than it is afforded.

Running time 2 hours 10 mins
Tue 23, Wed 24, Fri 26, Sat 27 April 2013, 7.30pm.
St Mark’s Unitarian Church, Castle Terrace, Edinburgh.
Further details on the Arkle website:


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