Vanity Fair

Vanity Fair tweaks the traditional 'boy meets girl' scenario into girl meets boy, girl meets another boy, and another boy...

Feature by Shelley Blake | 06 Mar 2008

Nineteenth century literature boasts a long and vast list of classics. Endless stories of boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl back, are told in fables a-plenty. Ever-popular, ever-predictable, they create the perfect fodder for up market television adaptations, managing to be both sophisticated and conservative. The man, the hero, saves the day and gets the girl. Right?

Perhaps we should all pay some extra attention to the classic text from William Makepeace Thackeray, Vanity Fair. In the star obsessed, pill popping, status saturated, ego tripping madness of the modern age, Vanity Fair is perhaps a more relevant text than the classic boy meets girl scenario. Enthralled with devious scams, dubious persuasions and regrets, all in aid of climbing the social ladder, Vanity Fair looks at many themes that are relevant to contemporary media and society. This month Edinburgh's Lyceum theatre is home to the most recent adaptation of Thackeray's classic masterpiece, directed by Tony Cowie, who previously brought Mrs Warren's Profession and Tartuffe to robust life.

Originally written and published in 1847, Vanity Fair looks at social structures, money, greed and status. One of the narrative's star creatures is none other than infamous Becky Sharp. Orphaned from a young age, Becky attends Miss Pinkerton's Academy for Young Ladies before embarking into the world as a young woman. Often referred to as one of literature's greatest female characters, Becky is a complex and enchanting individual who has been played both on stage and in film by some of entertainment's most well known and highly regarded actors - including English rose Susan Hampshire in 1967 and Reese Witherspoon in 2004.

Sophia Linden plays Becky Sharp in this production, adapted by Declan Donnellan. When asked how one prepares to play such an iconic literary character, Linden says she tries "to ignore previous interpretations to try to allow Becky to emerge freshly through the text." Linden says she sees Becky's non-conformative attitude and individuality as her dominant features. "She (Becky) lies, cheats and manipulates with an amazingly clear conscience, pursuing her own goals (and) her charm, beauty and talents enable her to get away with it." Conceivably a satirical take on society, or perhaps a primary work of feminist literature, Vanity Fair tweaks the traditional 'boy meets girl' scenario and takes a form closer to girl meets boy, girl meets another boy, and another boy...

Linden agrees that Vanity Fair addresses issues that are still relevant in society today. She believes that the production " incredibly relevant, possibly more than ever, in our 'celebrity culture' today; where for many, money (and) physical perfection are the pinnacle of success and high status. It seems that things haven't changed so much since the 19th Century."

Vanity Fair, subtitled `a novel without a hero,' is a caustic insight into societal standings, bold opinions and human aspirations that may very well be timeless. This insightfully clever narrative highlights the notion that perhaps our 'modern day' life may not be so modern after all.

Vanity Fair opens 14 Mar at Edinburgh's Lyceum theatre
14 Mar - 12 Apr http://