Image:/ Cate Nunn

Bluestockings: the struggle of women in science

“The only thing a woman can own is knowledge.”

“I wish I was content to spend a whole afternoon sewing a ribbon on a bonnet…”

“A woman on a bicycle? With one leg on either side?!”

“These women will never be wives!”

Girton College, Cambridge circa 1898: the fight for women’s education is only just beginning. It is still believed that women’s physiological limitations mean that their education endangers not only themselves, but the future of our society. Outspoken female students are a phenomenon that would strike a male undergraduate dumb.

The company of ElevenOne’s production of “Blue Stockings” put on a brilliant performance for us at the Old Fire Station on Saturday. As a feminist and a female scientist, the issues touched upon in this play hit very deep. It explores time and time again the difficult choice between love and knowledge that all intelligent women in the 19th century faced.

The main theme of the play is the women’s quest for their right to graduate while attempting to remain timid, feminine and unthreatening. Unlike today, future female scientists were discouraged from pursuing their passions by being ignored, put down, banned from lectures and often referred to as hysterical. Well-incorporated too are contemporary issues of classism, sexism, consent and mental health issues within the university.

Although at first the stage appears minimalistic, with only decorated shelving and drapes, swift set changes with large pieces of furniture allowed a very smooth transition between scenes that kept the audience very engaged. Rare but effective use of spotlights permitted division of the small stage and a greater emphasis on important monologues. My only complaint would be that, as I was sitting on one side of the thrust stage, there were times when I was unable to properly see the actors’ faces and connect with their performance. However, the period costumes were beautiful and accurate. I’d love to borrow the pink stripey dress from Celia’s character!

The actors were all excellent and their characters were very relatable and realistic. The performance by Alistair Nunn (Lloyd) was so visceral that I was ready to climb up on the stage and slap him on the face. Tracey Rimell (Tess) who played the protagonist did a wonderful job of portraying the struggle between the desire to be in love and her love of her subject. Judith Fantozzi (Miss Bott), the undergraduettes’ chaperone, brought comic interludes throughout the play, whispering to the audience: “They must think I was born yesterday” as the girls sneaked out to meet their paramores.

“Blue Stockings” was moving and made me appreciate the opportunities afforded to me as a female science undergraduate in this day and age. This professional company’s performance sets an incredibly high standard for student productions that will be following throughout the academic year.