Victorian Cambridge: at the first women's college, a group of brilliant young women are fighting for the right to an equal education, and for the chance to determine their own futures.
Although women are allowed to attend the same lectures and sit the same exams as men, they are denied the right to graduate. Traditional bastions in academia resent them, while in the outside world they are viewed as "blue-stockings": unnatural and unmarriageable. But over the course of one turbulent year, a group of extraordinary men and women will fight to change the face of education forever.
In this vibrant and big-hearted play, the young women of Girton College find friendship, love, and the dizzying rush of intellectual freedom. But as opposition gathers pace, their personal and academic lives collide and they face painful choices. Fulfillment or family, acceptance or ostracism, love or knowledge... which would you choose?
By Jessica Swale
Old Fire Station, George Street, Oxford
September 22 - 26 2015
7.30pm daily, (2.30pm Saturday matinee)
Tickets: £15 / £12 (£12 all matinee seats)
Carolyn Addison / Lady
Maeve Sullivan / Waitress
Ralph Mayhew / Billy Sullivan
Lloyd / Professor Collins
Edwards / Professor Radleigh
Holmes / Professor Anderson
Mr Banks / Librarian
Dr Maudsley / Mr Peck
Minnie / Mrs Lindley
Before I read Blue Stockings, I'd been under the hazy impression that the admission of women into universities in the 19th century had been an uncomplicated step forward for progress, an equality milestone. I'd had no idea that for years women were essentially second-class citizens in their own education: allowed in to do the same work as men, but then denied the right to graduate at the end of it. The men went home with qualifications and recognition, the women with nothing but the label of being "blue stockings" – unnatural and undesirable rebels. The injustice of it was so outrageous that I assumed at first it must be fiction. I was shocked to find out that this was how bright and ambitious young women were treated for so long.
Having always been a bookish, academia-loving kind of girl, this was probably always going to be a story that would strike a deep chord with me. But, more than that, it made me realise that when I'd arrived at university, I just took for granted that I was able to come and study on the same footing as a man. Reading the play made me appreciate how lucky I'd been to benefit from the hard work, courage and sacrifice of the remarkable people who took on this unfair system, and who fought for women to have an equal place in education.
In addition to the chance to explore a pivotal moment in the history of women's rights, I was drawn to the play by the great roles it offered for women. So often, even modern plays retain the same gender balance as the dramas of Shakespeare's day – and the female roles are frequently defined in relation to the men in the story: the love-interest, the wife, the mother. I was excited by the prospect of staging a play where women were at the centre of the action in their own right – pursuing their dreams and fighting for what they believe in, right alongside their male counterparts.
But Blue Stockings is more than an exercise in balanced casting, or the earnest recreation of an injustice now corrected. It's a vibrant and funny play, centred on compelling characters – both male and female. It's been a joy to work on, providing so much for both me and the cast to explore. I've been privileged to work on the show with a fantastically talented cast, who've effortlessly handled comedy and conflict, romance and drama, can-can dancing and riding a bike round the stage, all with skill, enthusiasm and dedication. I hope you enjoy the show we've created together.
— Cate Nunn, Director