Blue Stockings

Jessica Swale

Storyhouse Company

Storyhouse, Chester

5–25 March, 2020; 2hr 25min.

Louise Wilson, Esther Johnson, Rebecca Pegasiou and Neve Kelman in Blue Stockings at Storyhouse, Chester. All pics: Mark McNulty

The scene is Cambridge in 1896. Four women, aspiring students, arrive at Girton College to study for a degree. No big deal, you may think - except in 1896 it was a big deal.

Women’s education at degree level was generally thought to be not only unnecessary for their assumed primary roles as wives and mothers, but positively dangerous to their mental health, and resisted by male-dominated institutions, including universities.

Campaigns for women’s suffrage by Millicent Fawcett and Mrs Pankhurst were gathering momentum at this time, and this is the cultural and political backdrop to Jessica Swale's play - another in the Storyhouse Originals season.

Our four wannabe students – Tess (Esther Johnson), Carolyn (Neve Kelman), Maeve (Rebecca Pegasiou) and Celia (Louise Wilson) encounter prejudice, ridicule and potential violence from both teaching staff and male students in their pursuit of a university degree.

Inevitably, youthful passion occasionally gets in the way of academic study. Male students initially treat the women as a joke, then as an opportunity, then with grudging respect – with one exception, Lloyd (Macaulay Cooper) who epitomises the arrogance and swagger of an entitled elite.

All the young actors in the production are from Storyhouse’s Young Company and for many, this is their professional debut. From the established repertory company, there are strong performances from Natasha Bain as Miss Blake, Polly Lister as Mrs Welsh and Tom Davey as Mr Banks as Girton's academic staff, committed to the success of their students.

Writer Jessica Swale and director Elle While have achieved a fast-moving and engaging storyline with a predominantly young and relatively unexperienced cast. This is a big, if sadly familiar, story about one episode in the continuing progress towards gender equality. Go see.

#StoryhouseOriginals #JessicaSwale #Bluestockings


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