Youth Action Theatre
Michael Frayn Theatre - 27 July 2018
by Jessica Swale
Youth Action Theatre at the Michael Frayn Theatre, Kingston until 27th July
Review by John O’Brien
Books or looks? That is the dilemma facing a pioneering group of young women in Cambridge in 1896. Like Jane Eyre these women risked social oblivion. Neither marriage material nor real graduates, they occupied a precarious no-woman’s land betwixt and between. Jessica Swale’s accomplished debut play, acted with brio and verve by The Youth Action Theatre, brings vividly to life the struggle of these remarkable heroines.
The set is minimal but apt. Three bookcases give just the right feel of a Cambridge College – Girton, the first college in the university to admit women. The direction is pacey, short scenes move briskly to hold our attention, and keeps us wanting to know more.
We follow four young undergraduates over the course of one academic year as they try to study and be taken seriously. Jennie Hilliard is superb as Tess Moffat. She gets the balance between determined scholar and vulnerable young woman spot on. She deftly navigates the often absurd double binds the bluestockings find themselves in.
The Mistress of Girton College, Elizabeth Welsh (Jojo Leppink) convinces as she steers the college and the girls through treacherous waters. They must study hard to match the men but they must not let the college down. They must at all times be respectable. And they must not jeopardise the reputation of Girton by any Suffragette nonsense. To enforce this code she employs the fearsome chaperone Miss Bott (brilliantly played by Emily Dixon) to accompany Tess everywhere.
Bluestockings is a complex play because it shows the almost impossible double binds the College and the girls where trying to work around. The dilemma – how to be independent within a patriarchal world – forms the heart of the dramatic drive of the play.
Will Bennett and Mr Banks are classic New Men. They too face moral dilemmas: to support the Girton Girls even if it means social pariah status? But the most implacable opposition comes from the other men. In a scene of devastating explosive force, the leader of the Trinity men, Lloyd (Gwithian Evans) mocks the girls as being a joke … …
Read the full review at www.markaspen.wordpress.com/2018/07/26/bluestockings
Photography by Jonathan Constant
Blue Stockings by Jessica Swale