Reviewed by David Smith
The Stirling Players and director Megan Dansie made a courageous choice with Jeffrey Hatcher’s Compleat Female Stage Beauty. Set in the 17th Century world of theatre and the Court, the play is confronting on a number of levels, openly dealing as it does with sexuality, self awareness and societal power. To a large degree they succeeded.
The play traces the fall from grandeur of Edward Kynaston, a premier actor in female roles, resulting from Charles II ruling that women were to play those roles instead.
Aldo Longbardi played the massive central role with empathy and flair, most convincingly in Act 2 when Ned’s fortunes declined, then revived. There he subtly portrayed Ned’s transition to masculinity, as it were. In so doing, he lifted the intensity and sense of importance of the whole story.
He worked well with Allison Scharber as Margaret Hughes, his former acting rival. The problem here, as elsewhere, was the script. Apart from some attempted gender realignment instruction by Ned’s devoted seamstress Maria (Karen Burns) in a would-be sex scene, there was little explanation for Ned’s revival. Nonetheless, Scharber and Longbardi ably demonstrated their characters’ growth in confidence and self understanding.
Lindsay Dunn was solid as Betterton the theatre company owner, Peter Bleby purposefully held the narrative together as Samuel Pepys, Kate Vanderhorst was a coquettish Nell Gwynne, and Dirk Strachan as Villiars effectively mirrored society’s rejection of Kynaston, his erstwhile lover.
In a nice touch, the cast sang airs of the era as they made set changes.
This is not an easy production to undertake. More power to the Stirling Players for their endeavour.