Last Updated on 29 June 2021 by Showcall Editorial Team
Mark Ludmon reviews the revival of JM Barrie’s The Twelve-Pound Look at Exmoor Studios from theatre companies Pleasure Dome and Betwixt-and-Between
The Twelve-Pound Look
Exmoor Studios, Somerset, online
Best known for creating Peter Pan, JM Barrie was once a theatre hit machine. Plays such as Dear Brutus, Mary Rose and The Admirable Crichton enjoyed long West End runs thanks to a crowd-pleasing mix of whimsy and social satire. His 1901 comedy Quality Street was so popular that it inspired a confectionery brand. But tastes change and, despite occasional revivals such as Northern Broadsides’ Covid-curtailed tour of Quality Street last year, many of his works are forgotten. However, theatre companies Pleasure Dome and Betwixt-and-Between have rescued one of Barrie’s neglected short plays, The Twelve-Pound Look, and adapted it into an amusing social comedy that still sparkles after 111 years. Staged at the new Exmoor Studios in Dulverton in Somerset a few weeks ago, it has been captured on film and is now available on demand via streamtheatrenow.com.
Originally staged in 1910, The Twelve-Pound Look is a surprisingly modern examination of women’s identity and place in society, challenging traditional patriarchal ideas with a light touch. Still set in the Edwardian period, the story focuses on Harry Sims who is excitedly looking forward to his impending knighthood for services rendered, supported by his wife, Emmy. He is full of preening self-importance until the arrival of a freelance typist to write up his correspondence. She turns out to be his first wife, Kate, who suddenly and mysteriously “bolted” years before. As the truth of her departure emerges, Harry’s sense of his own superiority and his belief that he understands women is steadily crushed. Kate’s independent life throws into question Harry’s, and society’s, concepts of success and how we judge human worth.
Under the adroit direction of Scott Le Crass, The Twelve-Pound Look has been given extra substance through Charlotte Ellen’s adaptation. Barrie’s playfully detailed stage directions, recorded by Susan George, become the narrator’s voiceover, underlining some of the ideas behind the play as well as highlighting the performativity of high society roles. The play also acquires added theatricality through a new framing story of another husband seeking a gift for his wife in a nick-nack store presided over by a slightly sinister shopkeeper, played by Le Crass himself.
Daniel Arbon remains perfectly pitched as Harry, amusingly pompous without becoming a caricature, while Charlotte Ellen is excellent as Kate, calmly deconstructing her ex-husband. Helena Payne plays Emmy as a kind and dutiful wife who has hidden depths that Harry – once again – has failed to spot. While Barrie playfully positions The Twelve-Pound Look as a warning to husbands to watch their wives, it continues to be a delightful social comedy that questions where we find value in our lives and each other.
Running online to 2 July 2021 at streamtheatrenow.com