Saturday, 13 May 2017

“Blue Stockings” by Jessica Swale
Lakeside, Djanogly Theatre
“Blue Stockings” follows the story of four young women fighting for education and self-determination against the backdrop of women’s suffrage.
The year is 1896. The location is Girton College, Cambridge, the first college in Britain to admit women. The Girton girls study hard and match their male peers grade for grade. So why then, when the men graduate, the women leave with nothing but the stigma of being a ‘blue stocking’ – an unnatural, educated woman. They are denied degrees and go home unqualified and unmarriageable.
In Swale’s play, Tess Moffat and her fellow first years are determined to win the right to graduate. But little do they anticipate the hurdles in their way: the distractions of love, class divide or the strength of the male opposition, who will do anything to stop them. The play follows them over one eventful academic year, in their fight to change the future of education.
Presented in collaboration with the Nottingham New Theatre, this is the fifth collaboration and manages to balance the scales of laughter and historical drama with political correctness and frustration. It just goes to show how much we, today, take our education for granted.
Being a frequent visitor to the New Theatre, I knew the quality of the actors so knew that I was in for a cracking performance.
Entering the theatre space the first thing that hits you is the brilliant set designed by Jessica Kyndt
The set was a feast for the eye, placing you at the centre of, what I imagine Cambridge college may have looked like in 1896. It had an air of Harry Potter with a stream if flapping books migrating from the book case captured in freeze frame.
The set changes are accompanied by some lovely, evocative piano music by Rob Upton which also captured the era wonderfully.but simplistically. Even these changes were choreographed.
Libby Boyd plays Miss Blake and with Arnaud Lacey as Mr Banks played the two main tutors, both stand out performances for their incredible enthusiasm for teaching the Girton girls.
Daniella Finch was wonderful as Miss Bott, keeping a beady eye on the girls and making sure that there was someone to watch over them when in the company of a boy.
Kate O Gorman played Tess, the tour de force of the play with every actor giving immaculate performances. Louise Harris (Elizabeth Welsh), Natalie Henderson (Maeve), Chloe Schlitter (Minnie), Alice Simmons (Celia), and Emma Pallett (Carolyn)
Jamie Watt (Ralph), Cameron Walker (Maudsley) - this was Cameron's last performance at University and I'm pleased to have seen him in sime wonderful productions, Luke Slater (Will), Miguel Barrulas (Holmes), Louis Djalili ( Lloyd) - the real bad guy in this play; when he threw Elizabeth to the floor near the end, you could hear a crack, which made my jaw drop a bit, and Edward Marriott (Edwards), never disappointing with his comedy. Another actor I've seen in several productions at NNT.
Directed by Martin Berry, he always sets himself a high bar, and always manages to reach that bar, which while being a wonderful experience for the New Theatre drama students, also makes for theatre with class for the audience member.
The lighting design (Richard Statham) created a wonderfully evocative feel, from the bright lights of the school, to the stained glass window to the orchard at midnight. Programmed by Chris Flux.
An equally evocative soundscape painted aural pictures in your mind.
I must mention the costumes as well because they were wonderfully apt for the period, designed by Annie McKee.
I don't know if it was accident or intentional but with this play being about putting women down as secondary to the male species, the programme listed the women first.
This play has a brilliant message to deliver and this production was faultless in delivering the message, thanks to the immense talent at NNT and Lakeside.
The rousing and enthusiastic applause at the end gave affirmation of my enjoyment of this production.

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