In The Fair Intellectual Club, comedian Lucy Porter centers her first play upon a true story of Scottish Bluestockings, looking to a secret society of women founded to discuss intellectual matters at the time when such things were not intended for them.
Following the three central founders across various meetings in their calendar, the space of The Assembly Rooms is wonderfully accommodating to the intimate club in hand. We are all, in a sense, members of the collective, with some subtle yet engaging audience participation thrown in for good measure to remind us of that.
Among their group’s clique are Clio, a gifted mathematician who dreams of male opportunity and even writes to Newton; Thalia, a boisterous loveable gossip; and Polly, a poet who laments her engagement to a gout-ridden older man. Told with verve and spirit, the play touches on numerous subjects, both academic and personal, with a light skillful grace. Though all the actors are to be lauded, both for their performances and singing voices, Caroline Deyga’s Thalia really stands out. A glorious burst of personality that feels at once both from the play’s 1717 setting and our own age.
Indeed The Fair Intellectual Club isn’t afraid to make reference to the contemporary, with Fight Club, The Only Way Is Essex and even the upcoming referendum granted small allusions between the dominantly archaic dialogues. Porter seems to delight not only in the past, then, but also the universal. When the three women pose for a selfie at the conclusion, it feels logical rather than anachronistic. Also rather cutting in its suggestions of female stolidity rather than progression.
With terrific writing and three stand out portrayals, The Fair Intellectual Club is an enlightening hour of theatre that combines past and present with admirable ease.
The Fair Intellectual Club is at The Assembly Rooms (Venue 20) until 25 August. For more information and tickets visit the Edinburgh Fringe website.