Cambridge, 1896, and Girton College, home to the country’s first female students, is an object of annoyance and derision to the rest of the university. The year’s intake of new women face economic difficulty, the distractions of men, radical politics, and the jaw-dropping prejudice that blights their being in Cambridge—that fine old establishment FOR MEN ONLY. At a time when women pursuing an education was thought of as unacceptable, “Bluestockings” became a pejorative term used to describe these women and the educational movement. The story follows a group of young women trying to gain the right to graduate from college.
Playwright Jessica Swale said, “I began researching the play just before Pakastani schoolgirl Malala Yousafzai was shot for standing up for her right to an education. When I started researching the history of women’s education for my play, I quickly found myself knee-deep in records of incidents which I had to read twice to believe. If women were allowed into lectures (they had to buy tickets and were sometimes refused entry at the door), the men often took pleasure in kicking their chairs and pelting them with paper bullets. Ladies had to carry chamber pots, as universities refused to build toilet facilities for them. They even found themselves relegated to eat lunch surrounded by cadavers in the biology lab, banned from the dining room for fear that they might distract the men.
Though the girls studied the same degree courses as the men and matched them grade for grade, when the gents donned their gowns for degree day, the women were left with nothing but a tarnished reputation to show for their troubles. They were simply denied the right to graduate. In 1897, the girls of Girton rallied together to ask the university for the right to be formally recognized for their achievements. They made it their mission to convince the Senate to instigate a vote. Little did they know, though, just how far the opposition would go to stop them.” (Swale, 2013)
The young women, Tess (Kate Miksell), Maeve (Heather Grogan), Celia (September McKinnon) and Carolyn (Taylor Kirch) are studying science and all excel in academics to the point that they surpass most of the men. The girls fight for their education with the support of Mr. Banks (Taylor Smith), and Mrs. Welsh (Catherine Ostler Bearden) who play their roles with heart and passion.
The young men, Edwards (Cody Thompson), Lloyd (Michael Johnson), Holmes (Christian Maestas), and Will (Mike Brown) torment the girls in class and put down their decision to pursue an education, telling them that no man will ever want them.
Tess meets a young man, Ralph (Steven Jones), at the library who is not intimidated by her intelligence, and with the help of the other girls she manages to sneak out and meet him in an orchard a few times, much to the dismay of Will, who has told Tess’s father that he will keep an eye on her.
Many of the cast members play multiple roles in the show. Cody Thompson does an amazing job transitioning between Dr. Maudsley, a British psychiatrist, and Edwards, a thumb-sucking college student who seemed intimidated by women. One of the most touching moments of the play was a scene with Maeve and her brother Billy (Michael Johnson) as he pleads for her to return home following the death of their mother. I was nearly in tears as he begged his sister to come home to help take care of their younger siblings.
The play left me feeling an array of emotions. It was funny, had many touching moments, and was very thought provoking. I’d like to give particular mention to Taylor Kirch, who kept me laughing with her crazy antics and wit. Though director James Bonas had to leave while still in rehearsal, he clearly did his job. The show is luminous.
The production team did a top notch job. The costume design by Brenda Van Der Weil was fabulous. She definitely did her research to make sure that everything fit into that time period and remained consistent between characters. All of the women’s costumes were stunning.
The set, lighting and projection designs were incredible. Jessica Dudley (set), Jesse Portillo (lights) and Joseph Wallace (projection) did an amazing job of working together to create the setting for the show. I loved the use of curtains and screens along with the projections to create the scenery and transitions between each scene during scene changes. I was delighted with how the scene could change from a classroom to a library to a starry night to a city skyline just with the use of a projector. Great job to all involved in bringing such an inspiring story to the U of U stage.
I highly recommend that anyone who has the chance to see this show, do yourself a favor and go. But get your tickets early as opening night was nearly sold out–the rest of the run is sure to be as well. For those who are unfamiliar with the University of Utah and don’t know where the Babcock Theatre is located, it is downstairs in the Pioneer Theatre building.
The cast will have two talkback sessions following their performances Friday, September 26, and Saturday, September 27. These talkbacks should be particularly informative and entertaining.
The show runs through Sunday, September 28 with the following performance schedule:
September 20-21, 25, 26 7:30 PM
September 27-28 2:00 PM & 7:30 PM
Tickets are available at Kingsbury Hall or at the door.
Facebook Event: http://on.fb.me/1wT97V7
Swale, J. (2013, August). College girls go wild: Jessica Swale on her new Globe play Blue Stockings. Retrieved from London Evening Examiner: http://www.standard.co.uk/goingout/theatre/college-girls-go-wild-jessica-swale-on-her-new-globe-play-blue-stockings-8747701.html