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Let Wives Tak Tent

By Robert Kemp


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In 1947 Louis Jouvet brought L'Ecole des Femmes to the Edinburgh Festival and inspired Robert Kemp to write his classic " free version'' of Moliere's comedy. Kemp replaced Moliere's rhymed couplets with strong, idiomatic Scots prose and transported the action to the Canongate in Edinburgh in the late seventeenth century. The result is one of those rare translations that achieve a life of their own. The play was written for Duncan Macrae, who found in the central character of Oliphant, the Laird of Stumpie, one of his greatest roles. It was first performed at the Gateway Theatre in Edinburgh in 1948, at the Citizens in Glasgow later the same year, and at the Embassy Theatre in London the following year. Since then there have been many revivals, notably by the Sherek Company in 1956 and by the Gateway Company at the 1961 Edinburgh Festival. Rikki Fulton gave a memorable performance as Oliphant when the play was chosen by the new Scottish Theatre Company for their debut in 1981. Oliphant sets out to create for himself the perfect wife by bringing up a young girl (Agnes) in seclusion, far from the distractions and corruptions of the town. But Oliphant is to discover that he cannot manipulate human nature, and his plans go astray when a younger suitor awakens Agnes's love. The part of Oliphant allows an actor to play in all keys -- sardonic humour, overconfidence, dismay, cunning, tenderness and over-mastering passion. There are many rich minor parts, including a couple of comic servants.