Theatre review: The Remarkable Deliverances of Alice Thornton, Scottish Storytelling Centre, Edinburgh

Debbie Cannon in The Remarkable Deliverances of Alice Thornton PIC: Jane Hobson
Debbie Cannon in The Remarkable Deliverances of Alice Thornton PIC: Jane Hobson
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Alice Thornton was a Yorkshirewoman, born into an eminent northern family, who lived through all the mighty political and religious upheavals of 17th-century England; and she seems to have been quite a character. Born in 1626, she wrote four manuscript books of autobiography, of which Edinburgh University researcher Cordelia Beattie tracked down two missing volumes, one in a private collection, the other in Durham Cathedral Library.

The Remarkable Deliverances of Alice Thornton, Scottish Storytelling Centre, Edinburgh

Presented at the Scottish Storytelling Centre as part of the Being Human Festival, which celebrates academic study in the humanities, Debbie Cannon’s solo play – which she delivers herself, with Flavia D’Avila directing – takes the form of a one-hour monologue spoken by Alice to God, as she prepares, at the age of 42, to attend the funeral of her husband. As drama, The Remarkable Deliverances of Alice Thornton has its flaws.  It might have been better addressed to the audience than to the deity with whom Alice enjoys such a fervent relationship; and it takes far too long to get to the dramatic nub of the reasons for her extreme anxiety on this occasion.


As a human and very funny character-sketch, though, it is thoroughly enjoyable, as the indomitable Alice determinedly interprets every crisis of her life – from civil war and fire risk to the deaths of her children, and a scandalous assault on her reputation by an ungrateful relative – as a sign of God’s grace in not finishing her off completely.  


Cannon’s performance is vivid and engaging; and Alice emerges as a kind of Mrs Pooter of the 17th century, strong in faith if not in self-awareness, and absolutely determined that her story should be told. Joyce McMillan