Sunday 04th December

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Blue Stockings at The Globe Theatre

| Theatre | 09/09/2013

Blue Stockings
Manuel Harlan

As an individual of the (ahem) ‘fairer’ sex, I think I take it for granted that I was able to graduate and put a couple of sneaky letters after my name without incurring ridicule. Although, according to certain fellows in the Nineteenth Century, ridicule would have been the least of my worries. Eminent British psychiatrist Dr Henry Maudsley was certain that ‘mental taxation in a woman can lead to atrophy, mania, or worse – leave her incapacitated as a mother’. Are you laughing? Yes, the rest of the audience was too (some a tad hysterically which, I am sure, Maudsley would take as a sign of mania and shout ‘ah-ha! I told you so’). It is this issue of women and education that is at the centre of Jessica Swale’s new play, Blue Stockings.

The action follows four young women just starting out at Girton College, Cambridge. In the Nineteenth Century women could attend university and study (although it was a ‘passport to spinsterhood’) but graduating was entirely out of the question. In 1896 the women of Girton fought for the right for their academic achievements to be formally recognised and it was eventually put to a vote…

This play was funny and that surprised me. For some reason I was not expecting it to be a comedy and whilst I do not strictly think it is, there were some very amusing sections. The majority of the comedy came from male characters (including a Dr Henry Maudsley) voicing their various opinions regarding woman’s ability to learn. These ridiculous views about women were a source of much hilarity but it is almost an uncomfortable hilarity because these opinions completely permeated Nineteenth Century society. We can laugh at them now but imagine being a woman living through it. That’d be tough. Nonetheless, Blue Stockings has everything: it is funny, educational and makes you want to start championing women’s rights.

The audience reactions completely sum up the energy of the play. They (and I) did not hold back from booing men (and women) who spout sexist views and neither did they hold back from cheering and whooping those who fight against the people with those views. There was a general air of despondency when events did not go to plan and there was an overwhelming sense of joy when things went right. It is a powerful play that is able to totally suck in the entire audience in a such a way that it is noticeable. Put together the exuberance of the audience with the comedy and you have one rather entertaining theatre experience.

At the end of the play all the characters threw aside their various squabbles and views on women’s education to get together for a lighthearted song and dance, an activity which seems customary at The Globe. It seemed a particularly apt way to end a night of science, women’s rights, romance and unruly male students. If you fancy an evening of being reminded that women are awesome (and not, in fact, hysterical) with a cheeky bit of romance thrown in for good measure then I would highly recommend a trip to The Globe to see Blue Stockings.

Blue Stockings is running until 11th October. For more information and tickets: www.shakespearesglobe.com

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