“A woman who expends her energy exercising her brain does so at the expense of her vital organs, leaving her unfit for motherhood”
I’d forgotten how enjoyable Jessica Swale’s Blue Stockings was though more fool me, as we’ve long been big fans of hers chez Clowns. The play – her first – premiered at the Globe back in 2013 and since, has become deservedly beloved of GCSE syllabuses and drama groups up and down the land. So it is not an unsurprising pick for part of the National Youth Theatre of Great Britain’s East End residency at the Yard Theatre but what may surprise is just how damn good this production is.
Blue Stockings is set at the turn of the last century in the hallowed grounds of the University of Cambridge, Girton College to be precise, the first to admit women. But they’re only allowed to study, not actually graduate like their male compatriots who they are matching grade for grade, academic achievement for extracurricular exuberance, and under the tutelage of Principal Elizabeth Welsh, a quartet of students are determined to use that foot in the door to blow it right off its hinges.
Directed by Alice Knight with real imagination in its use of projections, the youthful enthusiasm of the play’s main thrust is an ideal fit for this company. Mischa Jones, Millie Boardman, Nadia Hirsi and Simran Hunjun are vibrant and varied as the four friends, each relishing the opportunity to embrace learning but finding their priorities pulling them in slightly different directions. Jones’ Tess stands out as their de facto leader, whose dilemma of head over heart is detailed the strongest.
But there’s powerfully effective work from those acting up their age too, proving that something is certainly right in the water at NYT. Amy Parker as the aforementioned Welsh and Laura Trotter’s Miss Blake both resonate beautifully as the older women having to deal with the consequences of fighting so hard for an equality that hasn’t yet been fully won, and whose approaches to the matter at hand diverge despite their common aim. A strong showcase for some real talent.