Mrs Morphett’s Macaroons by Patsy Trench
Edwardian London in 1905 has many theatres – as well as music halls and other places of entertainment. This is a funny and effective historical novel which features the secrets of the theatres as well as suffragettes, women’s employment and divorce law. It uses comedy and some melodrama to discuss the lack of choices for women, the importance of fashion and reputation, as well as the behind the scenes drama of the theatre. Violet Graham is a young woman who has some experience working for a well known producer, but it is mainly because she is known to and appreciated by the journalist and new playwright Robbie Robinson that she gets involved with the putting on of his play, “Mrs Morphett’s Macaroons”. It is an unusual play for the time, partly written to showcase a certain resourceful actress called Lolly, who is to play the part of a young maid who takes up the suffragette cause. Meanwhile, Miss Meredith Martin and Miss Gaye Worth are two struggling actors known as Merry and Gay who have some history with Violet. Against a background of theatrical people and women who support various causes, Violet and Robbie and Merry and Gaye all hope to be involved in a play which brings in the crowds, as well as commenting on the hopes of British women for more independence. With well drawn characters in a fascinating setting of theatres, houses and rooms there is much to enjoy in this book, which forms part of a series but can be easily enjoyed as a standalone which is how I read it. I was very pleased to have the opportunity to read and review this entertaining book.
The first ection of this book is aptly called the Overture, and recalls how Merry and Gay acted in unison to overwhelm a much less experienced Violet. Jumping forward, Robbie and Violet are shown as engaged in going to the script of the play which has only been performed once. Violet is convinced of its merits, but is keen not to put off men from watching a play which is going to be dominated by actresses as opposed to the normal male led productions. As the result of much research Trench is able to convey a convincing picture of the problems of putting on any play at this time, including finding committed backers with money and interest in the production. As this is an unusual play it will need unusual backers, and may well include the memorable Miss Elizabeth Chester-Bolt who has her own motives.
Robbie is very attracted to Violet, but realises that several barriers exist to them being together, not least that she is already married. Meanwhile Merry and Gay are struggling to make ends meet in their true vocations on the stage, even though each have arrived in their current situation via different routes. They are aware that it would be possible to aim too low and have to earn their livelihoods in dubious ways. Both meet with all sorts of difficulties, partly caused by their volatile relationship. They hear of the play and are keen to audition but know that Violet will be against them. Meanwhile various women in the background suffer experiences that make it more important than ever to put on the play.
The lively dialogue in this book is often amusing, and the women reflect on the limitations of their gender in many ways. Violet in particular is a very capable and a brilliant character. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and recommend it for all those interested in women’s suffrage and theatrical life in the first part of the twentieth century.