Performing Arts
© Mike Keenan

The Twelve-Pound Look

Moya O'Connell - Photo by David Cooper

The typewriter, an instrument of liberation?

J. M. Barrie's Twelve-Pound Look is a brief, 35-minute vignette or character sketch of British male-female relations in the early 1900s, appropriately produced by Shaw at the Court House Theatre, in its last season in Niagara on the Lake. The male dominance that is skewered by Barrie seems to be in its last season also as the play opens with Harry Sims (Patrick Galligan) and his wife, Lady Sims (Kate Besworth) rehearsing Harry's upcoming ceremonial knighthood.

Galligan is superb as Harry, a classic old order male dinosaur who is obsessed about appearance to the extent that both he and his wife practise repeatedly in their muscularly furnished home, featuring manly busts and black leather couches - thanks to designer William Schmuck. Everything must look just so, particularly the amusing apprentice ballet-like steps that Galligan employs in the ceremony. When Besworth tries to suggest that maybe Galligan is practicing a tad too much, he haughtily rebukes her and tells her to wait until her opinion is asked for. Clearly, Harry is in charge of this relationship as with Archie and Edith Bunker.

Well, not for long. Enter Kate (Moya O'Connell) - a conservatively and plainly dressed typist whom Harry has unwittingly hired to type his anticipated letters of reply to the estimated innumerable wishes of congratulations that he rightfully expects. O'Connell has merely answered an ad in the newspaper, not knowing that her employer will be Harry, the ex-husband that she abruptly left once she had earned twelve pounds to purchase a typewriter and thereby earn her freedom in the male dominant world.

Barrie's description of Kate is ironic and to the point: "She is a mere typist, dressed in uncommonly good taste, but at contemptibly small expense, and she is carrying her typewriter in a friendly way rather than as a badge of slavery, as of course it is." In contrast, Lady Sims is layered in jewels and pricey clothing, but it is she, upon meeting Kate, who seems unsure of herself. O'Connell relishes her part as much as Galligan, and it's neat to see her in a role that is not that of a femme fatale. It's also nice to see the full stage employed at the Court House as compared to The Lady From The Sea when O'Connell's naked body rested atop an enormous rock set mid-stage.

The long exchange between Galligan and O'Connell is humorous in that the former expects the latter to be envious of his achievements, wealth and possessions, including his new be-jewelled wife, while the latter relishes something far more important and priceless, her freedom. Galligan is particularly funny when he feverishly demands to know just which one of his friends it was who cuckolded him, as suggested in Kate's terse goodbye letter.

The entire play sets up the wonderful punch-line delivered by Lady Sims at the end, indicating that she too, just might be looking to make a change in her life - at the mere cost of twelve pounds. It drew the biggest laugh from the audience. Barrie, best known as the writer of Peter Pan, is clearly on the feminist side, and as Artistic Director, Jackie Maxwell observes, "I liked the idea of having the writer of the original Peter Pan in the same season as its putative prequel, Peter and the Starcatcher!" Maxwell's career at Shaw ends this season, and she has excelled in her own right at casting and developing strong female actors and roles during her tenure. Neil Barclay as Tombes, the butler and Harveen Sandhu as the Maid round out the cast and offer us an amusing ditty at the beginning which blames the world's troubles on the first female, Eve, with her nasty trick of offering an apple to Adam thereby expelling them both from paradise.

Patrick Galligan as Sir Harry Sims and Moya OConnell as Kate in The Twelve Pound Look. Photo by David Cooper   Kate Besworth as Lady Sims and Moya OConnell as Kate in The Twelve Pound Look. Photo by David Cooper   Neil Barclay as Tombes and Harveen Sandhu as Maid in The Twelve Pound Look. Photo by David Cooper   Kate Besworth as Lady Sims and Moya OConnell as Kate in The Twelve Pound Look. Photo by David Cooper    Harveen Sandhu, Photo by David Cooper    Kate Besworth and Patrick Galligan, Photo by David Cooper    More Pics

Director's Notes
By Lezlie Wade

In 1910, when The Twelve-Pound Look was first produced, the suffrage movement was in full swing. Only two years earlier, the Women's Sunday March had failed to move Prime Minister Asquith to introduce a suffrage bill into Parliament even though 250,000 people shouted "Votes for women!" Tensions were rising. The popular view of those opposing seemed to be that women's major contribution to society was as wives and mothers. This contribution, they argued, was too important to sacrifice to anything that would lure them from the home.

Ironically, this fear was introduced in 1889 when Ibsen's play A Doll's House had its first public performance and was further popularized by men like Bernard Shaw who talked about it so much. The idea that a woman could and would leave the home for something else, something better, was met with shock and awe. Men ruled society and as such felt compelled to make it clear that marriage must be preserved. The Church, in full support of this doctrine, would not sanction divorce under any circumstances except adultery. Any woman who committed adultery was cast out of society bereft of her children and all of her belongings. To leave a life of wealth, respectability and privilege behind in exchange for the ability to make a life from her wits and talents, independent of a man, was inconceivable.

When J.M Barrie wrote The Twelve-Pound Look, he posited that perhaps what a woman wants in a marriage isn't to be admired like an objet d'art but to be seen and heard as an individual, an equal in the matrimonial partnership. Anything less - well that brings us to where our story begins.

Music Notes

"If Eve Had Left The Apple On The Bough" is a song from the comic opera Eileen, composed by Victor Herbert with book and lyrics by Henry Blossom, and is loosely based on the 1835 novel Rory O'Moore about an Irish revolutionary arrested by the British for treason. Eileen, his nobly born sweetheart, helps him to escape by disguising him as a servant. In 1917 it received two performances at the Colonial Theatre in Cleveland under the title Hearts of Erin and then moved to Boston where the name was changed to Eileen. It opened at the Shubert Theatre on March 19, 1917 and ran for 64 performances.
In 1910, both The Twelve-Pound Look and Victor Herbert's musical Naughty Marietta premiered. Naughty Marietta (Shaw Festival 1985) opened on Broadway playing for 136 performances at the New York Theatre.

J. M. Barrie's Twelve-Pound Look directed by Lezlie Wade at the Court House Theatre runs to September 12.

J M Barrie's Kirriemuir

The Suffragettes

The Twelve-Pound Look

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