Saturday 5 October 2013

'Blue Stockings' by Jessica Swale at The Globe Theatre

The year is 1896 and the ladies of Girton College, Cambridge are pushing to be allowed to graduate. We’re introduced to the four students (Carolyn, Maeve, Tess, and Celia) who will show us the challenges they face, and the passion behind their efforts. The male students, although intrigued by the arrival of female students, are opposed to their being seen as equal students (which they most certainly aren’t), and they are even banned from lectures. Even amongst the women fighting for the right to education there are rifts – should they be supporting the suffragettes, or leave well alone to avoid controversy, and hopefully further their cause?

This is a magnificent play – humorous and moving. The male characters spouting absurd theories as to why women should not be educated, how their ‘wandering wombs’ cause hysteria, and their utter unsuitability for intellectual pursuits draws laughter from the audience, but with an awareness that it’s far from funny that this is what was thought to be truth a mere hundred years ago. The idea that women became outcasts for wanting an education is horrifying. They had to choose between love and education, and I’m so glad that there were women who had the passion and bravery to keep going (and men who were willing to make a stand and support them).

The acting was brilliant – the camaraderie and fun of the students, the passion of those fighting for women’s rights, the heartache and problems that continue to face students were all portrayed excellently. The script was well written with quips that had the whole audience laughing. This is an incredibly important story to tell, and Blue Stockings tells it in a moving, engaging fashion. A real gem of a play.

If you’ve seen the play and want to find out more, I urge you to read Jane Robinson’s book of the same name. I read it a few years ago and, although absolutely horrified by what the women had to go through to get an education, I was absolutely in awe of their determination, passion, and intelligence. I’m incredibly grateful for those who sacrificed so much for future generations to enjoy the right to an education. The book is easy to read and informative, but bound to stir up some strong emotions.  

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