Shalom Life | July 31, 2015

Shaw Festival Review: The Twelve-Pound Look

J.M Barrie's 'The Twelve-Pound Look' is a witty and poignant portrayal of marriage during the Edwardian Era.

By: Hermine Steinberg

Published: July 29th, 2015 in Culture » Stage » Reviews

Shaw Festival Review: The Twelve-Pound Look

J. M. Barrie, the author of one of the most popular children’s classics in history – Peter Pan, was considered one of the greatest dramatists of his time. A theme that has clearly run through his work is one of escapism, whether Peter wanting to escape the hardships of a rigid class society which was filled with drudgery and pain, or his female characters wanting to break free from oppressive traditions and institutions. His one act play – The Twelve-Pound Look – is a witty and poignant portrayal of marriage during the Edwardian Era. However, based on the many conversations I overheard after the play, for many people, things may have not changed all that much.

In the intimate setting of The Courthouse Theater, we are introduced to Harry Sims and his wife who are preparing for a very important occasion – Harry’s knighthood. We already have a pretty good idea of the type of relationship this man and wife have, and how most women of their era are looked upon, due to a very funny opening musical number performed by their butler and maid (Neil Barclay and Harveen Sandhu). “If Eve Had Left The Apple On the Bough” aptly explains thousands of years of womens' history in a matter of a few minutes.

Harry Simms is an ambitious, self-righteous, and arrogant man who believes his achievements reflect his superiority in all matters, and that his wife fully appreciates this fact. And she does appear to respect him, trying to support his requests and acquiesce to his beliefs. After all, he gives her everything he believes she would want and need – expensive jewellery, fancy clothes, the company of upper crust society, and a household filled with precious artefacts.

Harry has decided to hire a typist to respond to the many messages of congratulations he has received. Unexpectedly, she turns out to be his former wife, Kate, who he believed ran off with another man many years ago. Harry finally learns why Kate left, what she really thought about their privileged life, and how only twelve pounds can make the difference between living a life of quiet desperation and self-fulfillment. The play may be short, but we quickly realize that The Twelve-Pound Look is not just about marriage or money. It is about the nature of love, power, happiness, security, control, dependency, independence, freedom, and more.

Director Lezlie Wade has expertly brought Barrie’s play to the 21st century, making us see ourselves in each of the characters. Kate Besworth and Patrick Galligan walk across the road from The Royal George Theater where they are playing in Peter and The Starcatcher ( a hilarious prequel to Peter Pan), to take up the roles of Mr. and Mrs. Sims. Besworth superbly portrays the young and naive wife who is beginning to realize that her happiness may be dependent on more than pleasing her husband. Patrick Galligan is brilliant as the irritatingly narcisstic patriarch of his domain. Both convince us of their sincerity and authentic lack of awareness, making them feel genuinely tragic and all too familiar. Moya O’Connell is Kate, the woman who decides to design her own life and through her sheer ability to find joy, may be the catalyst for change in the Sims household. O’Connell masterfully portrays a woman who is exceptional in many ways; complex, courageous, virtuous, and insightful without being angry or vindictive. She is a woman we can admire, conveying tremendous strength and nobility. Ironically, the very attributes Harry Sims most appreciates and believes exist in him. The dynamics between this talented ensemble is impeccable.

The Twelve-Pound Look should not be missed and could easily be paired with a matinee or evening performance. In between plays, don’t miss out on the opportunity to visit many of the truly unique shops on Queen Street. One of my favourites is Beau Chapeau, a hat store like no other. There are over 6000 hats in stock at any given moment – both designer labels and high quality private label hats and bags that you will not be able to find anywhere else. Even the hat box they will carefully place your purchase in is very special. Men, women, and children love exploring this store, trying on hats, and coming away with a long lasting memento of their visit to Niagara-on-the-Lake.

Hermine Steinberg is a young adult/children’s author and educator living in Toronto and Niagara-on-the-Lake. Her novel, The Co-Walkers: Awakening, is now available. For more information, visit www.cowalkers.com.

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