The National Youth Theatre’s production of Blue Stockings, as part of their current East End Season at The Yard Theatre is a deeply frustrating biopic accounting the struggle against the patriarchal education system in Girton College, Cambridge, 1896. A group of four young women passionately set out to quench their thirst for education and equality, despite fervent prejudice from their male counterparts and lecturers. Maeve, Celia, Tess and Carolyn remain resilient and resist against the, what now seems very juvenile, jibes from men whom have far more opportunity. The play highlights a gross injustice in the history of gender equality. This is particularly menacing in the opening in which Dr Maudsley makes clear his opinions on woman's 'neglect for the maternity' as an act against nature, whilst only addressing the gentlemen in the audience. This sets a hostile tone for the piece, foreshadowing a bitter exchange between Maudsley and the more outspoken Tess - actors Dajay Brown and Mischa Jones capture the utter frustration felt by Tess not being able to challenge the horrendously sexist lecturer.
The other male undergraduates Lloyd, Edwards and Holmes consistently patronise and belittle the new female students, which for men of such high thinking paints a childish and resentful image. However, despite the hostility they faced, the girls unbridled joy for learning and furthering their minds is immensely empowering. The actors speak with an honest passion for their learning (a notable trope of the Youth Theatre) and expertly showcase the youthful resilience and hope, even when facing such viscious adversity. Simran Hunjun as Maeve brings a vibrancy to her character, whilst Amy Parker and Laura Trosser bring notable gravitas and wisdom, superseding their years as performers. Leo Flanagan playing Mr Banks portrays the eccentric professor who offers a welcoming warm male presence within a torrent of patriarchal injustice.
The pacing of the piece, at times, sags due to detail within the writing which on occasion gets the better of the actors. However there is never a lack of enthusiasm and the text is well understood by the youthful cast. The hostility faced by these girls is truly haunting when considering the state of equality in education that is expected in 21st century Britain. As noted by Director Alice Knight, there is a danger these inequalities are still close to the surface of contemporary Britain. Knight’s production very skilfully shows the macro political reforms of the time and the domestic micro struggles faced by these women daily. This extenuates the unjust struggles these brave women push through, and makes for an empowering theatrical lesson. - Patrick Riley