Jessica Swales’ Blue Stockings (Storyhouse) combines history, drama and economical storytelling to great effect; actual historical fact is used well in order to draw out similarities to our contemporary period while also suggesting how far society has come.
It focuses on the efforts of the first women to attend Cambridge University and their efforts to secure the same rights to graduate that their (often odious) male peers had. The story of the first women to graduate from Cambridge is inherently dramatic, and well suited to a theatrical performance. The play is very densely packed thematically, as ideas of education, love, equality and justice are all added into the mix. While at times the action on stage appeared to be more of a history lesson, it was nevertheless still fascinating. Maudsleys examination of the actual scientific belief that hysteria in women was caused by the uterus roaming around the body was simultaneously ridiculous while also suggesting the restrictions that women faced in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
The staging of the piece was dynamic and engaging; the stage was transformed from a railway station to a university classroom to an apple orchard with minimal scenery changes. However, thanks to the dynamism of the cast in rearranging the stage dressing, and the excellent sound design, the effect was almost always convincing.
The leading quartet’s performances as the Girtonites were excellent; while particular praise should also be reserved for both Natasha Bain who extols the value of niche knowledge as Miss Blake and Tim Frances as the imposing Dr Maudsley. Both actors provided very differing ideas of women’s education and the power of knowledge, yet each with a great presence on stage.
Blue Stockings is a timeless yet timely tale of the power of femininity, and a reminder that although this individual fight may be won, the battle for equality still rages on.
Until 15 March . Tickets: https://www.storyhouse.com/event/blue-stockings