(L-R) John Ramage, Nicola Roy, Grant O'Rourke, Helen Mackay, Richard Conlon, John Kielty in The Belle's Stratagem. Photo credit Mihaela

The Belle’s Stratagem

Oh, this is a gem. A pure, brilliant sparkling gem! This is glorious and hugely enjoyable.

The Lyceum has restored a toweringly funny and important comedy to the stage, and it is something you must witness. The term 'restoration comedy' has been rewritten here to cement the reputation of along-neglected playwright Hannah Cowley and that of the Lyceum Theatre.

From the very first moment, the peacock-like, astonishing costumes, hairstyles and wigs grab you, and contrast with, but enhance the classical, understated sets and simple yet flattering lighting effects.

What next excites is the dialogue - rapier-like wit, lightning fast banter and a slew of delicious insider jokes placing the action firmly in Edinburgh when the New Town was still new, and the Assembly Rooms became the centre for social intrigue and entertainment - where everyone wants to see and be seen.

The only slight downside was that, on occasion, the timing of ripostes was theatrically and dramatically perfect, but were drowned out by the long and raucous hotting and belly-laughter of the audience. We laughed over, and over, and over again, and the buzz and excitement during the interval was palpable as the audience prepared itself for yet more fun. This is a truly spectacularly enjoyable night at the theatre.

This text is the 1780 riposte by Hannah Cowley to George Farquhar's The Beaux' Stratagem - and it is a delightful update adapted and directed by Tony Cownie that is all about Georgian girl power.

(L-R) Richard Conlon, Pauline Knowles, Angela Hardie, Helen Mackay, Nicola Roy and Angus Miller. Photo credit Mihaela Bodlovic

(L-R) Richard Conlon, Pauline Knowles, Angela Hardie, Helen Mackay, Nicola Roy and Angus Miller. Photo credit Mihaela Bodlovic

Letitia Hardy, betrothed since birth to the world-weary Doricourt, whose recent European trips have left him finding Scottish lassies dull in comparison to their continental contemporaries. She sets about winning his respect by hatching a stratagem to alienate him and wake him from his marked indifference to her through odd behaviour, but then win him over at a masked ball with her wit, and independence of mind and spirit.

With cameo appearances by Deacon Brodie, a bit of cross-dressing, a gorgeous interlude of harp-playing, and with some actors jumping fleetly and convincingly into two or three different roles, there is plenty to divert and amuse, and the casting and the performances of this crack ensemble are truly memorable, and all quite outstanding.

I am quite sure that the cast could have had another two curtain calls at the end had they been in the mood for milking the applause, but I fancy they were all rather too knackered, and gasping to get into the bar and sink a cold one after two and a half hours of fine, hard work.

The programme is definitely worth inspection, with a fascinating and informative article about Cowley's life, work and times by Susan Mansfield and a scathing but factual dive into the origins of the New Town and Scottish Enlightenment, which drifts into a robust critique of contemporary planning failures and a call to action by Tom Campbell. Neil Murray's design and costume illustrations also pepper the pages, making it a document to treasure long after the footlights have faded.

(L-R) John Kielty, Steven McNicoll, and Angus Miller in The Belle's Stratagem. Photo credit Mihaela Bodlovic

(L-R) John Kielty, Steven McNicoll, and Angus Miller in The Belle's Stratagem. Photo credit Mihaela Bodlovic

Bump everything else from your diary and book tickets to see this show - you will not regret if for a second. It has wit, passion, style, and substance. The performances are all pitch-perfect comedy genius, and you wil recognise so many of the foibles of the past as being very much about issues of today.

I am working at a slight disability here - my original review was entirely swallowed in a self-inflicted digital snafu. But it's actually a pleasure to rewrite this, look through the programme and production photos again, and to try to do justice to this magnificent piece of theatre.

But only seeing it really does it justice. You now know what to do about that.

★★★★★  5 stars


15 February - 10 March 2018
The Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh

PREVIEWS, 7.30pm
15 & 16 February
£10 Preview tickets on sale from 15 January

EVENINGS, 7.30pm
Tuesday - Saturday

MATINEES from 21 February, 2pm
Wednesdays and Saturdays

Running Time
Approximately 2 hours and 30 minutes, includes one 20 minute interval



Tuesday 27 February 2018
Takes place in the Stalls after the evening's performance

  • FREE, no ticket required

The Belle's Stratagem




Plus +

  • Ravishing costumes
  • Ravishing wit
  • Ravishing acting

About David Petherick

David Petherick is the owner and publisher of edinburghfestival.org and was born in, and lives, in Edinburgh. He is a writer, marketer and tweeter and is also a LinkedIn Profile Doctor. Follow @edinburghfest for festival news and updates and @petherick for personal news and views.

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