In reviving GB Stern’s 1931 play ‘The Man Who Pays the Piper’, the Orange Tree Theatre offers Carrie Bradshaw fans a history lesson in female liberation.
In the heady pre-First World War days of 1913, suffragette Daryll Fairley is fighting with her Victorian father over her wish to work. Jump to 1926 and she’s the head of both a fashion house and her domestic one. But is she happy?
Though over 80 years old, Stern’s play feels thoroughly modern. Here gender hierarchies are decided not by sex but by money, with economic powers superseding patriarchal ones – a tension felt by many affluent women today. ‘The Man Who Pays the Piper’ may not advance the feminist cause, but by examining these tensions and probing the idea of a woman who has it all, it is a prescient dissection of a contemporary issue.
It’s also great fun and in Helen Leblique’s vibrant production the jokes come as fast as the jibes. Infused with the glamour and rapier wit that defined Evelyn Waugh’s Bright Young Things, Stern presents a delightfully landscaped battlefield for her heroine. Sam Dowson’s design is traditional but luxurious, with costumes that wouldn’t look amiss in ‘Downton Abbey’.
Within a classy cast, Emily Tucker as the headstrong Faye glitters with devil-may-care joie de vivre, while Deirdre Mullins is superb as Daryll delivering a complex performance that both celebrates and resents this modern woman’s newfound freedom. Honour Bayes