Impact Arts’ Tom Proffitt spoke to three more of the cast of Nottingham Lakeside Arts’ Blue Stockings to find out the behind the scenes gossip.

Can you describe which character in Blue Stockings you play and how they are/like differ from your own character and your own university experience?

Miguel: I play Holmes. Holmes is quite well off, quite rich. He’s very clever, but he’s also a bit annoying. He’s always teasing people and daring them to do annoying things and getting people drunk. He’s not a very pleasant character really. I would like to think I am hopefully a lot more sensible and less misogynistic than him!

Luke: I play Will Bennett, who’s probably Tess’s best friend despite her getting romantically involved (with Ralph). He’s quite reserved but at the same time, does get quite frustrated with Tess and quite emotional and upset with her behaviour. He’s quite different in that he is not one of the Trinity Boys (who are very anti-Blue Stocking) and thus makes himself a bit of an outsider. I don’t think he is extremely unlike me, but I think I’m probably a bit more of an extrovert than he is.

Jamie: I play Ralph, who’s Tess’s love interest throughout the play. He is the most sympathetic towards women’s education out of all the Trinity Boys. He is quite excited about meeting a woman (Tess) who is on the same intellectual scale as him. He also sacrifices his education a fair bit because he wants to impress the people he is around a lot more than he does want to stand up for what he believes in, and in that sense, he’s quite unpleasant towards Tess and the other Blue Stockings at times. I’m like him because I believe in the women’s rights to education but I have a lot more respect for girls as people than he shows while amongst the Trinity Boys.

How has working on Blue Stockings at Lakeside Arts been different to all of the other plays you have worked on in the New Theatre? Have you learnt any new skills?

Miguel: It’s been quite intense. We’ve been rehearsing every day of the week; but unlike New Theatre shows we haven’t had to do any set building or anything like that – there’s been other people to do that for us. It’s just such a good play. It’s a pleasure to be involved with. It’s a good script and such a good group to be involved with (the Lakeside production team included, who are made up of NTU design students).

Jamie: I would say that the main difference is that not having a director who you are already friends with (which is often the case in the New Theatre) or is the same age as you, that even if subconsciously, you work a lot harder and focus a lot more in rehearsals.

Luke: On top of working with Martin, we have been able to work with a very talented professional crew who have been absolutely phenomenal in creating the set, costumes and helping to create this world for us.

What do you feel the most valuable thing about being a modern day student being in a production of Blue Stockings is? Do you feel it has taught you anything about how you look at your own university experience?

Luke: Definitely – I think the message in Blue Stockings is still wholly relevant. At the front of the script, it is dedicated to Malala Yousafzai (the Nobel prize winning woman who was shot for campaigning for girls’ rights to education under the Taliban), so it has definitely put into perspective how hard women have had to fight for the rights for education throughout the world.

Jamie: I think it draws light to just how much we (living in a country where everyone regardless of gender has a right to education) take for granted and just how bad sexism can be.

Miguel: Blue Stockings explores women’s rights and class issues and things which you still see at university today. It’s just really eye opening.  All of the characters have something on the line.

What do you feel is the most attractive and least attractive qualities of your characters, and why?

Miguel: Holmes is quite a complex character. He’s a bit more of a horrible person in the first act of the play than he is in the second. However, Jennifer Swale says herself to not make the men the demons of this story. They are backwards looking and horrible to the women in the play, but I think we need to realise that the boys are all influenced by what they have been told by society, by the scientific community about how they should behave towards women, which is why I think Holmes becomes a bit nicer towards the second half when he starts to understand the women a lot more.

Luke: Will is kind of a double edged sword. He is quite empathetic, but in a sense he is quite reserved as a character in what he wants. You can see in his friendship with Tess throughout the play and how he behaves around her.

Jamie: Ralph is very sympathetic towards the girls’ education, but he never really speaks out about the right for girls to graduate. He is not really as sympathetic as Will though as he compromises his beliefs a lot of the time to impress who he wants to (his peers and his father). When it comes to the crunch, he’s a coward.

What do you feel this play has to say to New Theatre audiences/student audiences/society as a whole? What main message would you hope people come away from it with?

Miguel: I think just enlightenment because it is stuff we take for granted now. It is nice to know the struggles women went through to get the right to graduate, and that is helped by a lot of the characters in the play (such as Principal Welsh) being historical characters. It’s at the end of it, just a funny play. It’s heartful, it’s touching and heartbreaking at times.

Luke: While it does feel like a completely different world (being set in the 1890s), you can see a lot of the messages being incredibly relevant to society. Martin said in the trailer “You see the characters’ successes and their failures” and it is really visceral in that sense.

Jamie: I think everyone takes for granted how far rights for women have come. At the same time though, it does show how we can challenge norms as the characters in the play do all the pseudoscience which was promoted about women not having the right to educate. It shows why we should keep challenging what people say and think all the time.

What challenges does doing a play set in the Victorian era face? Do you think students should do more period dramas?

Jamie: In the New Theatre, we are mainly used to a lot of “modern drama” so it’s nice to have a bit of variety. One thing which has been interesting is working with Martin and how much detail he has in informing us how different Victorian behaviour was to how we behave today (even in small things, like the impact of kissing people’s hands). You have to do your best to try and humanise the characters and how they feel, even if you disagree with it. For example, the idea that these boys have been training for education their entire lives and been told they have been deserving of it and the impact that has on how they then treat the women in the play.

Miguel: Martin is a stickler for detail. He always says if we don’t know what a word means Google it. He has a map of Cambridge up so we can (as characters) have an idea of the relative distance between all of the colleges and places the characters have been travelling between. I think one of the most challenging things for me as someone who sees himself as a feminist is being able to wipe away any views I held and get into the mind set of Holmes.

Luke: As a History student, I am a huge advocate of period dramas because I feel there are a lot of lessons to be learnt from history. When it comes to the challenges of doing period dramas, you have to tap into the mind set of people in those periods and being able to connect with those views.  [There are] lessons to be learnt from history. There are challenges, but you have to tap into the mind set of people of that period. If you can’t humanise the characters then you can’t learn any lessons from the play. We want people to believe these characters so they do that.

Sum up Blue Stockings in three words.

Miguel: Humbling.

Luke: Visceral.

Jamie: Powerful.

Tom Proffitt

Image courtesy of Nottingham Lakeside Arts.

Blue Stockings is running at Nottingham Lakeside Arts until Saturday 13th May, for more information and to book tickets, see here.

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