Blue Stockings, under the direction of Libby Drake, is superbly performed by a talented and experienced cast.
The play written by Jessica Swale was first performed in 2015 and reflects on an important era in social history when women strived for equal recognition and the right to graduate from tertiary education. Set in Cambridge and Girton College in 1896-97 it is inspired by real events and features two historical figures: Dr Henry Maudesley, a pioneering English psychiatrist and Miss Elizabeth Welsh, head of Girton College at that time.
It is a true ensemble piece with every member contributing at a uniformly high level throughout the play. The story is engrossing. It is told through multiple scenes and scene changes and the transition between each scene is so well choreographed that it becomes the rhythm of the production. A very effective sound track, simple visual effects and authentic costumes evoke the atmosphere of the era.
Brant Eustice as Dr Maudsley is a commanding chauvinistic presence. He sets the tone of the play when he delivers his opening statement that women are not physiologically or psychologically suited to the rigours of academic life. The arguments of the time seem ludicrous now – however the humour throughout this play is ironic rather than delivered for comic effect.
Kate Anolak gives a polished, authoritative performance as Elizabeth Welsh who runs Girton College and walks an impossibly fine line between ensuring higher education for women without causing any major upset to the status quo. Kate van der Horst (Tess), Jasmine Leech (Maeve), Laura Antoniazzi (Celia), and Rosie Wiliams (Carolyn) give engaging and sensitive performances as the new intake of intelligent and enthusiastic students. Their individual stories illustrate the various challenges faced by young women. Bart Csorba as university academic Mr Banks is excellent as is his Girton counterpart Rebecca Kemp as Miss Blake. The male university students played by Matt Chapman (Lloyd), Sebastien Skubala (Edwards), Jackson Barnard (Holmes), James Fazzalari (Ralph) and Tom Tassone (Will) are well cast and represent the range of male viewpoints of the era. Kyla Booth, David Lockwood, Lucy Johnson, and Tony Sampson provide essential support in multiple roles.
This play is well written, moving, and entertaining and there are moments that generate outrage, empathy and, above all, admiration for the generations that had the courage to make a difference.
Everyone should see this and Blue Stockings deserves to have a sell out season.