Theatre Babel’s backdrop is an oil painting of a reclining, cherubic nude. Her classically-styled juvenile body is admired by the determined eyes of a sophisticated older man. This sets the tone for the night. Liz Lochhead has adapted Moliere’s The School for Wives into braw Glaswegian vernacular, producing a vibrant tale that remains faithful to the original French comedy.
Anneika Rose as Agnes shows much truthfulness as the heroine, personifying the fluidity of the bright young ingénue in her every move. Of the well-studied period costumes worn by this tight-knit cast Agnes wears the finest, a peacock blue raw silk gown shot with a burnt amber. She dons a pillar-box red velvet cape with gold fastening when a secret lover ushers her away from the grip of her overbearing Uncle into what is wrongly assumed to be a safe pair of hands. With all the twists and turns of the plot, it is hard to know whom the characters can truly depend on. The central hinge of the plot is that Agnes’ Uncle Alphonse despairs of female fidelity to such a degree that he has vowed to marry young, innocent Agnes - his ward since a child - before she can be corrupted. He endeavours to train her to be the perfect wife, whilst shielding her from the realities of the outside world.
John Kielty plays Agnes’ dashing young beau Horace, the spanner in the works who endlessly tries to gain access to Arnolphe and Agnes' household via the helpful domestic staff - such as Tesco bag-toting Alain (Lewis Howden). The humourous lines are distributed evenly across the seven characters, and Lochhead chooses to rhyme where Moliere does in her version (unlike many other translations), which ups the energy and pace of the piece.
Arnolphe isn't forced to surrender to suffering until the final few moments, which makes it even more heartbreaking to be faced with a man who has fallen deeply in love with a woman who does not love him in return. Suddenly, Arnolphe is set to lose everything whilst Agnes has everything to gain. Kevin McMonagle expresses Arnolphe's tortuous pain at this moment beautifully.
Braw Glasgae accents illuminate this French classic. Reading the play's text after the show, the words retain the gritty, urban and modern tone they have in performance. Even without the Glaswegian intonation, Lochhead's adaptation would result a formidable show by virtue of the rhythm of the fruity comic language - though in this case, the rich vibrant tones of Maureen Carr are irresistable, as housemaid Georgette ends the show with the lines: ‘What is that Arnolphe like, eh? Men!’
It is obvious that this premiere of ‘Educating Agnes’ has set the bench mark for a new modern classic - so, if yi’ couldnae catch up wi’ it this time, mibbe catch it on tour!