Blue Stockings by Jessica Swale runs September 5-9 in the Upper Hall at Stanley Halls. We spoke with director Lily Ann Green and some of her cast about the play, its themes and staging a story that gives insight to the historic changes that were taking place in a college in Cambridge in 1896.
What are the themes explored in the play?
The play is set in 1896 and follows a group of young women and their teachers, all based loosely on actual women, fighting to gain degrees from Cambridge University. It explores the eternal struggle of women to be seen as equals to men, and cleverly touches on issues of the day, including the suffragette movement, and the tug of war on whether or not to use politics to help promote women’s education.
It also focuses on the struggle women still have with fighting old-fashioned ideals, ideologies and prejudices, and the belief that a woman can’t be both feminine and smart, or have a career and a family at the same time. The speeches by Doctor Maudsley (played by Barry Heselden) are straight from his actual writings. It also demonstrates the fact that the bicycle (as referenced in Bryon’s wonderful poster for the show) played a huge part in the emancipation of women!
What attracted you to directing it?
I loved the humour which runs through the play despite the hate and the anger, and also the slight knowing nods to the future.
I also liked that it has wonderful roles for women and presents both the historical journey that we as a society have been on, as well as the choices women still find themselves facing today – of marriage and family over education or career advancement.
What are the challenges involved in staging it?
Stanley Halls upper hall offers a real challenge, with only two entrances/exits and a long walk and several staircases between them!
I also have 17 actors playing at least 25 characters, a bicycle, a riot, corsets, hats, 25 scenes and rarely a setting used twice, one in a library, one in a tea room, another in a fabric shop – I could go on. Holiday season has also made the logistics of a rehearsal schedule very tricky, and I have new grey hairs!
There is also though the wonderful challenge of working with a lot of younger people, some of whom have limited understanding of the problems women or even men from working classes have gone through in the past for advancement of any kind. My jaw would drop at the stories my mother told me of sexual harassment and discrimination at work in the 30s to 60s, but even the things I went through in my first jobs from the 70s into the early 90s – these young people have no sense of it.
They’re also having to change the way they stand, sit, walk, speak – even those who think they already speak well – to help bring these Victorian characters to life.
But it is a joy and they are all working so hard and so well together, and making me laugh so much. Even the boys are learning to lace up corsets in order to help, though that might just be a ‘perk’!
Rosie Howard, who plays Tess Moffat, talks about her first role at SLT.
Lily Ann directs at the speed of light so my first show here has started with a bang, but I’ve really enjoyed it. The professional nature of everyone on board means rehearsals are light-hearted but proactive and really rewarding. Everyone has helped each other, and I think the audience will find the play very poignant.
My character is Tess Moffat, who’s very headstrong and with her eyes set on nothing but the best for her and her fellow Girton girls. She goes through a rollercoaster of emotions during this play, and you see her tackle some issues still relevant today. I admire Tess’ ability to stand up for what she believes in, though I can’t say I have the same passion for astronomy.
Tiffany Manning describes the transition from backstage crew to centre stage.
Since joining SLT just over a year ago, I’ve been involved in 8 shows and been backstage for 6 of them. One of the joys of working behind the scenes is being able to work on a show from the wings and watch the whole process come together. It’s enormously satisfying work, but I enjoy treading the boards as much as I enjoy scuttling around backstage.
Blue Stockings is my first show since Christmas. My character, Carolyn Addison, is a wonderful, energetic young woman described as ‘an early bohemian’ and I am having enormous fun playing her. What adds to the joy of this particular show is the involvement my father, Clive Manning, who first instilled a love of theatre in me. After a 7-year absence from SLT, he has returned to play the eccentric Mr Banks, and I’m thrilled to be doing a show with him; I am hoping it will be the first of many!
Blue Stockings opens at Stanley Halls on Tuesday, September 5 for five nights. Tickets can be bought in advance here.
The Friday evening performance of this production has already SOLD OUT.
Rehearsal photographs by Bryon Fear & Adam Crook