The Girls of Slender Means is one of beloved Edinburgh writer Muriel Spark‘s best known works, a novella partly based on her own experiences working in intelligence and living in a boarding house in London during the Second World War. Gabriel Quigley‘s smart, sassy adaptation of the novel is currently gracing Edinburgh’s Lyceum stage, brought to life by a vivacious cast who elevate what risks being a superficial story into something grander.

Jane (Molly Vevers) is struggling to find her feet in publishing in London in the dying days of the war and is despatched to court an up-and-coming writer, Nicholas (Seamus Dillane). By night, she lives alongside four other young women on the top floor in the May Of Teck club which “exists for the Pecuniary Convenience and Social Protection of Ladies of Slender Means below the age of Thirty Years, who are obliged to reside apart from their Families in order to follow an Occupation in London”.

Joy is thin on the ground in London in 1945. The girls survive on rations among the skeletons of bombed buildings, squabbling over clothing coupons, preoccupied with finding a husband in a city occupied largely by military men. When Anne (Amy Kennedy) becomes the proud owner of a shocking pink Schiaparelli evening dress, the collective future of the flatmates looks instantly brighter. And when Jane reports back that she’s invited edgy, debonair Nicholas round for tea, excitement on the top floor reaches fever pitch.

This is a gentle, mostly frothy story, documenting a slice of life for young women trying to be independent in the aftermath of war. The predominantly female cast, rounded off by Julia BrownMolly McGrath, and Shannon Watson, do a gorgeous job of capturing the girls’ ongoing attempts to find a life that’s something like normal amidst the city’s shell-shocked rubble. Jessica Worrall‘s set sees the action skipping from the present day – Jane stately as a successful fashion editor – to the cramped boarding house with swift aplomb. All tribute to Quigley and director Roxana Silbert that the effervescent fun is counterbalanced but never swamped by the brooding menace of the calamities unfolding in the world outside the tiny window from flat to sun trap balcony.

And herein lies the magic in this production. These girls devote themselves to caring about all the trivial things that twenty-somethings should be able to care passionately about. But amidst the sublimely superficial, we see moments of the momentous context and its aftershocks. The poised and perfect Selina’s abject surrender to terror at the air raid siren. Jane’s staggered horror at the news filtering out of Germany. Spark’s story – and this production – at one level, is a time capsule. But at the same time, as we sit here worrying about what we’ll have for tea as events unfold elsewhere in the world, it’s a study of how humans control what they can – and surrender what they can’t. That story is timeless.