This play may be short, but it sure has bite.
Written by J.M. Barrie, the famously talented author of Peter Pan, The Twelve-Pound Look is further proof of his versatility and timelessness, as it manages to transition perfectly into our contemporary theatre repertoire, with saucy one-liners that have certainly retained their boldness.
First produced in London in 1910, this classic feminist drama shines a judgmental spotlight on the patriarchal middle-class man of the latter half of the 19th Century and the early 20th Century, through the loathsome character of Sir Harry Sims (Patrick Galligan) – a man whose success is so abundant he has not much else to give.
Barrie introduces his audience to two opposing female characters who are unsurprisingly very similar at their core.
Sims’ first wife, Kate (Moya O’Connell) leaves him to pursue a less wealthy, yet more fulfilling life as a typist. Sims’ current wife, Lady Sims (Kate Besworth), is, unbeknownst to him, on the brink of losing all patience with his misogynistic degradation.
Barrie’s play served (and in some ways continues to serve) as a red light to those Harry Sims types out there. Watch yourselves, he says, or your wife might leave you for a typewriter.
Directed by Lezlie Wade, these Shaw Festival actors are successful at bringing on the laughs, the gasps, and the scorn as we watch a perfectly self-centered and ignorant Harry ride his train of stubbornness, while his seemingly complacent wife itches to get off at the next stop.
Besworth does a fabulous job at slowly shedding her sheep’s clothing to reveal her hidden desire for ambition and a sense of self-sufficiency. While O’Connell’s Kate steps onto the stage as bold and brazen as ever, we slowly see Besworth’s character itching to get a taste of that life.
The set design by William Schmuck has the inevitable Shaw Festival charm and the early 20th Century bourgeois character, with its perfectly placed ornate furniture and upholstered couch cushions.
This 35-minute play is a Shaw Festival gem that still manages to shed light on today’s gender inequality with cheeky, well-written text and actors with the fangs to channel the message.
The Twelve-Pound Look plays at Shaw Festival’s Court House Theatre until Sept. 12. For more information visit www.shawfest.com.
photo credit: David Cooper