From the footnote to the Footlights, Jessica Swale’s Blue Stockings highlights the astonishing prejudice against women’s fight for the right to graduate at Girton College, Cambridge in 1896. As we still see enduring patriarchal attitudes and an ingrained prejudice against women, this play lays bare such views as ludicrous and illogical. Sexist opinions that are incredulous to a modern audience are jokes that write themselves.
Georgie Rodgers’ production at the Edinburgh University Theatre Company’s Bedlam Theatre has both merits and flaws. She succeeds in drawing out the comedy and vivacity of each scene and does not shy away from more tender moments that provide an effective balance in a play that could be in danger of rushing the tragic elements for the sake of the comedy. Rodger’s has assembled a strong cast that overcomes some distracting technical incongruities including a few almost cartoon-ish sound effects.
Meredith Mack gives a thoughtful performance as Tess, employing remarkable subtlety and variation throughout. She only falls short in her final scene with Will, played by Michael Zwiauer, in which both seem anxious to leave the stage, forsaking what could be a more poignant ending. Zwiauer’s nuanced, brooding depth as the emotionally torn Will is a captivating antidote to the other exuberant male students.
The comic quartet of Xavi Bird, Joshua Zitser, Aidan Bushnell and Ed Campbell have a wonderful chemistry; each one appearing as ludicrous as the sexist, public school attitudes they purport. However, in one particular scene involving a card game – arguably a high point of the audacious comedy that they bring to the production – the latter three are over demonstrative, distracting from a poignant and important plot moment between Zwiauer and Bird.
The strongest performances appropriately come from the rest of the show’s women. Domi Ucar’s excellent comic timing breathes life and likeability to Carolyn. Hannah Churchill thrives in the second act with a sensitive and convincing performance which is true of Lizzie Lewis, however, she sadly fails to project some of her most poignant lines and so introversion falls into anonymity. However, it is Laurie Beckoff as Mrs Welch who has the most commanding stage presence with the nuance and conviction of her performance giving the performance genuine weight.
The cast works well in the space they are given, however, the actors are let down by factors out of their control. Clunky scene changes are made tedious by incessant blackouts, musical bombardments and a pointless projection of scene titles which offer nothing to the production. This undermines what is a mostly well-paced production. A failure to plan and execute these elements of staging sours the generally pleasurable taste Rodgers’ production leaves.
Despite these frustrations, it is a largely enjoyable marrying of comedy and pathos to celebrate pioneers of women’s education.
Run ends 11th November
Photo Credit: the Edinburgh University Theatre Company