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10 presented by Snatchback at the Vault Festival

1010 could have been a considerably longer show, marking the lives and achievements of ten women from the tenth to twenty-first centuries as it does. The creatives haven’t gone for the names that tend to make the lists of the most influential women through the ages – Catherine the Great, Queen Elizabeth I, Queen Elizabeth II, Marie Curie, Emmeline Pankhurst, Rosa Parks, Jane Austen, Queen Victoria, and so on. Æthelflæd’s (c. 870-918) story involved a rise to power by way of her husband’s death in 911, after which she fought “like a queen”. Whatever that precisely meant isn’t made clear in this production, but she says it so insistently and repeatedly that I began to wonder whether ‘fight like a queen’ has its modern equivalent in ‘strong and stable’. Then commences a rather un-magisterial moan about how she has been largely forgotten and how her rule of the Kingdom of Mercia (the approximate contemporary equivalent of which would be the Midlands) was the best ever and no man has ever bettered it.

Not all of the women take such a hardline view – one of them even categorically says that she is not a crusading feminist, as though she had to face down calls to become someone she had no desire to be. The main problem here is that in a one-hour show, each woman is given a mean average of six minutes of the audience’s attention. Contrast that with the two hours and forty-five minute running time of Tina: The Musical. There are many characters in that show, as you know, but it is essentially mainly about one successful woman who triumphed over adversity. Here, there isn’t enough depth provided in the narratives, because there isn’t the time to say very much; just when a storyline gets going, it’s time for that same storyline to get going, as it were. Scene change, jolly good, move along, next key figure, please.

This production may well encourage some in the audience to read up more about each of the women, or at least the ones they were most drawn to and/or inspired by – suggested books are supplied in the show’s programme for most of the women involved. But that seems a little like homework to me. The women are, taken collectively, an eclectic bunch. Gwen John (1876-1939) liked to paint portraits, but could only apparently do so in silence, which made life drawings quite impossible if the subject kept trying to strike up a conversation. Joan Clarke (19176-1996), by contrast, was one of the mathematical and scientific brains behind the cracking of the Enigma code at Bletchley Park.

An assertive and confident cast of five (Pamela Jikiemi, Rebecca Crankshaw, Lydia Bakelmun, Beth Eyre and Naomi Knox) take on the ten characters with considerable relish. “Dress suitably in short skirts and strong boots, leave your jewels in the bank, and buy a revolver,” Constance Markievicz (1868-1927) once admonished other women. The literal call to arms startled me, until I later read that Markievicz was talking about marshalling support for the 1916 Easter Rising in Ireland. I take the point that the likes of James Connolly and Patrick Pearse (not explicitly named in the play) are still given far more prominence than any of the key women.

This play is a whirlwind introduction to these clearly exceptional women, though I couldn’t help noticing something quite, well, masculine in their fire and passion. Perhaps that is a deliberate assertion: key traits of those who succeed are the same, whoever you are. For instance, a rallying call to “keep counting” in the final moments, after it’s made clear that 10 might as well have been called 100, is encouraging. And in the end, leaving the audience wanting more is a good thing for this quick-paced and ambitious production. There aren’t enough plays of this genre (at least, not ones that have been produced), so well done to all those involved for bringing these stories to light.

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

10 stories. 5 performers. 1 riotous celebration of History’s Heroines.
Pick up your average history textbook and you’d be forgiven for thinking the only people who did anything up to the 20th century were white men. We’re setting out to redress the balance.

Written by Lizzie Milton and directed by Nastazja Somers, 10 celebrates the all too often unacknowledged achievements of ten extraordinary and influential women. 10 explores the unique prejudices and obstacles women face.

Including the stories of Æthelflæd, Mary Prince, Princess Caraboo, Mary Seacole, Ada Lovelace, Constance Markievicz, Gwen John, Noor Inayat Khan, Joan Clarke and Brenda Procter.

CREDITS
Writer: Lizzie Milton
Director: Nastazja Somers
Producers: Beth Eyre & Joe Eyre & Richard Welbirg
Sound design: Nicola Chang
Lighting designer: Rajiv Pattani
Cast: Pamela Jikiemi, Beth Eyre, Naomi Knox, Rebecca Crankshaw, Lydia Bakelmun

13th – 17th March 2019
https://vaultfestival.com

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