Georgiana Vicary, known to all as Georgie, wants to get married—not out of love, but to alleviate the burden on her relations. The man she has in mind, Adam Lankester, is an amiable, financially stable option. So what’s the problem? Cicely Hamilton’s feminist comedy, Just to Get Married, presented by the Shaw Festival in a handsome and moving production, explores turn-of-the-century social mores that complicate matrimonial bliss.
Time is of the essence and all of Georgie’s relations are pestering her for news of Mr Lankester’s proposal. Will the reticent, obviously smitten man step up? After a fraught scene that hilariously prolongs the tension, he finally does. His demonstrative enthusiasm, though, concerns Georgie and she begins to feel guilty promising herself to a man she doesn’t actually love. Or does she?
Severn Thompson’s stylish production is a blend of artifice and messy humanity. The set, designed by Michael Gianfrancesco, is a neutral facade of pale wainscotting and decorative busts. Ming Wong’s elegant period costumes seem to pop gloriously out from this plain background.
The cast, throughout, inhabit the space with genuine warmth. This is melodrama, of course, delivered with such absolute sincerity you can’t help but swoon. I cared for these people. I laughed at their silly antics and cringed as hearts were broken.
The play addresses the lack of options for women of the time, but without any heavy-handedness. Hamilton has provided us a happy ending too, but it feels earned. Though there are some painful moments leading up to it, Hamilton eventually allows Georgie to articulate her position to Adam. He, an empathetic and reasonable man, listens and comes to understand.
From their deliriously awkward first attempts at conversation straight through to their courtship and conflict, Katherine Gauthier (filling in for Kristi Frank) and Kristopher Bowman are intensely endearing. Gauthier captures Georgie’s erratic behaviour and invites us into her fraught psyche. Bowman conveys the quiet dignity in Adam’s patience and empathy. Together, they are a compelling portrait.
The rest of the ensemble establish a tense atmosphere of aristocratic expectation, punctuated by authentically funny moments between relations and their bafflement at Georgie’s neurotic whims.
I was drawn to Claire Jullien’s Lady Catherine Grayle, Georgie’s wealthy aunt. Without raising her voice or breaking regal posture, she is an intimidating presence. Nobody wants to disappoint this woman whose authority is firmly established and maintained.
Just to Get Married is a sweet, intelligent story that holds up nicely more than a century after its initial release. It is heartwarming yet never mawkish. The finale hit with an emotional force that quite blindsided me.