1896. Girton College, Cambridge, the first college in Britain to admit women. The Girton girls study ferociously and match their male peers grade for grade. Yet, 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 unmarriable.
In Jessica Swale’s play, Blue Stockings, 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, the cruelty of the class divide or the strength of the opposition, who will do anything to stop them. The play follows them over one tumultuous academic year, in their fight to change the future of education.
Blue Stockings received its professional premiere at Shakespeare’s Globe, London, in August 2013.
Age Guidance: 12+
Production shots taken by Martin Ogden
5 STAR REVIEW – Rick Bowen at Stagestruck
IT’S hard to believe it nowadays, but it wasn’t until 1948 that Cambridge University
finally allowed female students to graduate.
And this in a country that likes to set itself up as a bastion of decency and fair play.
This compelling subject forms the basis of Jessica Swale’s brilliant piece of work –
the best production to grace the Garrick stage in 2022.
I really liked the way Swale tells the compelling story of four women, academically as
able as their male peers, battle against the dismissive attitudes of their male peers
and academics who wield all the power at the famous university.
An evening of man bashing this most definitely is not but there were occasions when
I felt ashamed of my gender.
Blue Stockings is set in 1896, more than a century before terms like ‘sexism’ had
become part of the vernacular and I really like the way in which Pippa Lane, Bronte
James, Madeleine Healey and Olivia Brindley bring their characters so vividly and
engagingly to life.
You’ll find yourself quietly rooting for their characters, Tess, Celia, Carolyn and
Maeve, a tribute to their considerable acting ability and the skills of Sue Mowat, who
makes her debut at Altrincham Garrick as director of a production packed with
performances of a professional standard.
It feels wrong to single out individual performances because there aren’t any weak
links in this cast. But I did really enjoy Nick Sample as Banks and Sam Evans as the
disarmingly decent Ralph Mayhew.
Add some gentle and captivating original music by Mark Goggins and you have a
perfect evening’s theatre that’s simply far too good too miss.
As for me. I would quite willingly, watch this again. Highly recommended.
Until October 8. Star rating – *****
North West End Uk Review – Paul Wilcox
very year, during the first week of October, thousands of fresh-faced young people flock to our major cities marking the start of the university year. That this annual migration forms a rite of passage for both men AND women, is largely due to the efforts of ‘Blue Stockings’, pioneers in the rights for women’s education and equality of opportunity during the nineteenth century. In this 2013 play, writer Jessica Swale focuses on the 1896 fight by women at Girton College, Cambridge to gain the right to graduate alongside their male peers in the face of hostile opposition from faculty, fellow students and society at large.
We see the prejudice and misogyny that women in education faced through the eyes of four new ‘Girton Girls’, Tess (Pippa Lane), Celia (Bronte James), Carolyn (Madeleine Healey) and Maeve (Olivia Brindley), an early encounter with renowned psychiatrist Dr Maudsley (Sean Duvall) setting the tone for the universities dismissive and patronising disapproval of their presence. They are supported in their endeavours by Mistress of Girton College, Elizabeth Welsh (Ros Greenwood) and Miss Blake (Kathryn Worthington) whilst being adamantly opposed by the rest of the University and the wider (male) student body. The battle lines are drawn, with a vote on whether to confer degree status on the women forming the dramatic climax of the plot.
The Garrick always manages to unearth young talent to bring its productions to life and this one is no exception, with consistently high levels of performance across the piece. Lane brings out the frustrated curiosity of Tess well, her curious mind extending well beyond the boundaries of the limited syllabus set by her hidebound male examiners, whilst Healey finds the humour and light in bohemian Carolyn with precision and dextrous physicality. James acts as the glue for the group in both character and performance, and we feel the pain of Maeve when she is forced to give up her studies due to events beyond her control. Brindley is excellently understated as the shy Maeve, a character I would like to have seen developed more and a timely reminder that class and money were as impenetrable a barrier to progress as sex.
Miss Welsh and Miss Blake provide the embodiment of the wildly varying attitudes to female emancipation during the period, even amongst women themselves. The evolutionary approach of Welsh juxtaposed with the more strident and revolutionary suffragette beliefs of Blake, reflecting the differences as to how best to progress the cause. Worthington is particularly noteworthy as Blake, prepared to sacrifice her entire career to ensure future women could benefit from graduation and the clever ending subverts the expectations of the audience for a happy resolution.
The writing was strongest when dealing with the politics and issues of nascent feminism and the second act descended into a more prosaic romantic drama involving a love triangle of Tess, Ralph (Sam Evans) and Will (Callum Johnson) which, though well performed, did not hold my interest. It was left to Lloyd (Tom Broughton) to provide a clear distillation of the prevailing misogynistic attitude, his cruel argument dismissing the hopes and future ambitions of Tess, being the second half highlight.
Overall, a strong production with excellent central performances, shedding light on an inspirational group of women who stood up to prevailing orthodoxy and eventually triumphed.
Playing until Saturday 8th October, https://www.altrinchamgarrick.co.uk/shows/blue-stockings/
Reviewer: Paul Wilcox
Reviewed: 3rd October 2022
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