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Review: A Monstrous Regiment of Women at the Garioch Theatre Festival

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Mitchell School of Drama has a well earned reputation for presenting first class theatre each year as part of the Garioch Theatre Festival. Furthermore it often seeks out local stories, generally unknown but which deserve to be told.

This year, supported by Visit Scotland’s Year of Stories and in conjunction with Garidge Theatre and the Garioch Heritage Centre, they have

created “A Monstrous Regiment of Women”, with a text by Alan Bisset.

This play tells the true story of Caroline Phillips, the first female journalist in Aberdeen, who became interested in women’s emancipation and rose to become secretary of the Aberdeen branch. Born and bred in Kintore, she was an inspirational figure although largely unknown - until now.

This production got off to a lively start with some stirring speeches delivered from soap boxes outside the Heritage Centre.

Alternate men and women celebrated or denounced the cause of “Votes for Women”.

Thus energised, the audience were marched into the Centre, amidst banners and placards, and straight into the home of the Phillips family, c 1900. We followed Caroline’s journey from being an unfulfilled young woman whose talents were unrecognised to becoming the first woman journalist on the Aberdeen Daily Journal.

She is employed initially to cover “women’s issues” - her first task is to interview “the knitting group” - but later she meets Agnes Ramsay, a suffragette who tells Caroline that collecting quotes is not enough - “Get involved!”

Caroline becomes Hon. Secretary of the Aberdeen branch of the Women’s Social and Political Union.

She hosts the Pankhursts in the city and organises a rally but becomes disillusioned when violent action is deemed necessary.

When Sylvia Pankhurst wants to change Aberdeen’s constitution to accept violence, Caroline steps back from her political role.

She subsequently takes over management of the Station Hotel in Banchory.

The play ended on a powerful, poignant note, as the cast spoke of countries where women are still subjugated or have few rights.

But as Caroline said, ‘We do what we can.”

Members of the Monstrous Women cast
Members of the Monstrous Women cast

The young performers were excellent in their execution of this tale.

Two ebullient Masters of Ceremony, (Imogen Watt, Jordan Abberley-Nicoll), commented on the action and provided light relief between the scenes.

Their Music Hall gestures, songs and parodies were delivered with style and panache.

Emma Thomson portrayed Caroline Phillips with sincerity and honesty, revealing the girl’s predicament and her vulnerability.

The audience empathised with her dilemma of wishing for change, but not at any cost.

Emmeline Pankhurst was strongly characterised by Pamela Green, with a fine singing voice and strength of character.

Freya Wilson shone as daughter Sylvia Pankhurst, delivering her speech “for the cause” with great aplomb.

The Phillips family were well portrayed: sympathetic yet pragmatic mother (Alison Sandison), blustering father (Stephen Henderson) and especially brother James (Mikey Nicoll) who admires his sister’s talents, even secretly penning an editorial denouncing violence - the article

that Caroline wants to write but cannot bring herself to do.

Andrew Saunders was convincing as the paper’s editor, blustering but not unsympathetic, while Callie Birnie gave Agnes Ramsay quiet power and authority.

Songs from all periods were incorporated into the show, from Music Hall to Abba, skilfully arranged by Alisdair Sneddon and his band; the harmonised singing was a delight.

Design by Irene Flint and costumes by Liz Cork contributed much to the show’s success.

Under Rhona Mitchell’s expert direction, this production had all the hallmarks we associate with MSD - the discipline, enjoyment, commitment and belief that each member of the ensemble brings to every production. “The Monstrous Regiment of Women” continued these fine qualities and the company fully deserved their sell out performances.

Reviewed by Margaret Hearne.

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