Presented by Red Phoenix Theatre
Reviewed 20 May2021
Even those of us who are aware sometimes forget how long and how hard the fight for women’s right to education was. Promising playwright Jessica Swale’s excellent script is set in Cambridge and Girton College in 1896-7, when girls were meant to marry and become domesticated and not use their clearly inferior brains.
Under the expert hand of director Libby Drake this large cast and critical subject are handled with precision. The attention to detail is prodigious, from the chalk script on the blackboard to the carefully in-period costumes by Sharon Malujlo. Well-choreographed changes on the simple, effective set, handled by the cast were complimented by Richard Parkhill’s perfectly timed lighting changes. Impressively the entire cast managed to write the scene titles on the large blackboard – in cursive! The ensemble cast was well rehearsed with no weak links, but some performances were worthy of a special mention.
Kate Anolak was well cast as the wise, passionate Mrs Welsh, the real leader, at the forefront of the fight for the right of women to earn a degree. In the role of Tess, Kate van der Horst brought depth and heart to her character attempting to choose between love and learning. Laura Antoniazzi, Rose Williams and Jasmine Leech as the other young ladies gave well-crafted performances, showing us the situation that faced girls at that time. Playing Dr Maudsley, the psychiatrist who felt that educating women would hinder their ability to produce children (their main duty) was played wonderfully misogynistically by Brant Eustice while Bart Csorba, as Mr Banks portrayed an earnest but careful character well.
Matt Chapman gave a balanced portrayal of Lloyd, the love interest and Sebastian Skubala impressed with both roles he played, as Edwards (a student) and Billy (the brother of one of the girls – complete with regional accent). Jackson Barnard, James Fazzalari and Tom Tassone (students), Rebecca Kemp (Miss Blake) all gave strong support, as did Kyla Booth, David Lockwood, Lucy Johnson and Tony Sampson in all the minor roles.
This play focuses on the fight for equal opportunities in education and the women (and men) who fought to give girls a chance, a process that in Cambridge took almost 50 year. We should remember that the struggle continues, many victories have been achieved although equality is an elusive thing. Though not so focused on education, the fight continues in many areas.
Red Phoenix have produced another winner:- excellent theatre that makes you think.
Reviewed by Fran Edwards
Venue: Holden Street Theatres
Season: 20 -29 May
Duration: 3 hr
Tickets: $19 – $25
Photo Credit: Richard Parkhill