Jeannie review at Finborough Theatre, London – ‘a whimsical revival’
Aimee Stuart was one of many critically and commercially successful female interwar playwrights who have since been forgotten. Her 1940 romantic comedy Jeannie is a bittersweet version of the Cinderella story that also captures the anxiety surrounding independent young women with ideas above their station.
After a lifetime of keeping house for her miserly father, Jeannie McLean decides to spend her small inheritance on a holiday to her dream city of Vienna before seeking a job in domestic service – paradise, she supposes, with a salary and days off that she never got at home.
The ever optimistic and strictly principled Jeannie is a real heroine to root for, played with pure unaffected charm by Mairi Hawthorn. Like a younger, Scottish version of Paul Gallico’s Cockney charlady Mrs Harris, she has a knack for making friends and the innocence of the early scenes with Yorkshire washing machine inventor Stanley Smith (Matthew Mellalieu, perfectly cast) are the play’s highlight.
Nicolette Kay’s production clearly communicates the poignancy of Jeannie’s situation, but the staging and design are executed with mixed success. The foldable set is well suited to the scenes of drudgery and travelling but for the smart hotel, it feels more evocative of a provincial bed and breakfast.
The set changes are on the fussy side, and Jeannie’s evening gown and tiara feels like a heavy-handed homage to Audrey Hepburn. Nevertheless, there is enough warmth throughout to make one sigh with nostalgia for the far-off days of restaurant cars on trains.