This December, Nicolette Kay revives Aimée Stuart’s quick-witted play for its first run since 1940. Jeannie, currently underway at the Finborough Theatre, tells the story of a fiery and funny young Scotswoman who finds herself, for the first time, with independence and a small fortune in 1936. The theatre compares the play to a 1930’s Cinderella, but that seems like a disservice. There’s no fairy godmother waiting to save Jeannie from herself, instead there’s hard graft, life’s brutal lessons and lots of mistakes.
Mairi Hawthorn, who does a brilliant job at bringing this complicated character to life, plays Jeannie. She creates the perfect concoction of childish naivety, dated principles and unwavering trust in her rendition of the character. Hawthorn’s chemistry with Matthew Mellalieu, who plays Stanley Smith, is perfect, as they bounce off of each other’s banter with snappy ease. The pair are joined on stage by a gifted cast, including Max Alexander-Taylor, who certainly earns his tips playing all manner of British, French and Austrian waiters, bellboys and attendants – he’s a consistent point of reference as the rest of the play jumps across time and from country to country.
The use of languages in Jeannie is hugely important for noticing where in the world you are, as when Jeannie realises she has a big budget, we follow her on her adventure from Scotland to Vienna, where she falls under the charm of a rather creepy count, played by Patrick Pearson. The transitions between countries might be hard to follow without the languages, though the set design does its best to tell you. Unfortunately, the scene transitions are a bit clunky and distracting, though they’re accompanied by period music, like from Anything Goes, which makes up for the clumsiness elsewhere. Meanwhile, Madeleine Hutchins plays a more dated character, known as The Blonde, but she plays the role with all the 2018 irony it needs. Her character also boasts a spectacular wardrobe, which highlights James Helps’ transformative costume design.
Jeannie is a hearty play, full of flawed characters who are all trying to navigate their way in and out of various situations, predictable and otherwise. It’s a story about a woman who’s had her whole life dictated to her by a cruel father, but who proves that life can begin at any age. At the heart of it though, I think, is Jeannie’s message that travelling alone is better than not travelling at all.
Jeannie is playing Finborough Theatre until 22 December 2018. For more information and tickets, click here.