Following the lives of a group of young women in the post-war era of austerity, Muriel Spark’s novel is set in a period of thrift, mending, making do and getting by. Contrasting the earthly pragmatism – even cynicism – of characters like Selina Redwood, with the pious distance of Joanna, a clergyman’s daughter, Spark depicted a Britain pregnant with the seeds of social and political change.
Written in 1963, the book also has hints of the oncoming tide of women’s social emancipation. Sex, anarchism as well as religion and attire are all points of discussion. Not simply slender on financial means, the girls also continue to express only slight ambition in their future lives. Most of them, despite their youthful vivacity and independence, are destined to be married off.
Judith Adams’ adaptation juxtaposes the competing characters of the novel, often through staging multiple conversations on stage. This can often be more distracting than revealing however. The deeply personal and spiritual Joanna also translates poorly onto stage, with Selina not surprisingly stealing much of the audience’s attention. The chronological flipping is also in danger of muddling the plot.
Nonetheless the zeitgeist of the period is acutely realised not only through music, sound and clothing, but also accent, mannerisms and human interaction. The occasional snippets of Churchill’s speeches also add to the overall impression.
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