Cambridge, Equality and Graduation: Interview with Martin Berry

Impact Arts spoke to director Martin Berry of the Lakeside and New Theatre’s new collaboration, Blue Stockings.

Summarise briefly what Blue Stockings is about.

Blue Stockings is a story set in 1896, at Cambridge University, at a time where men would graduate as we know today; and the few women who were studying there could not graduate. The story of the play is the start of the women of Girton College’s fights for equal graduation rights and we follow one young woman, Tess during her first year as this is taking place.

How have you found doing this play with modern day university students looking at an 1890s university experience?

It’s certainly been a complete joy to be able to work on a play which is about the world in which the cast members live because universities in some ways have not changed a lot; and Nottingham is (in its nature and design) quite a classical university. It has been great for us all to realise in a way how far we have come (concerning gender equality) but also still how far we have to go, which is why this play remains relevant.

What is your favourite part about working with students from the New Theatre? What value do you think the partnership provides to both you as a professional and to members of a student theatre?

I really enjoy the seriousness with which New Theatre students look at making theatre. There is really little difference in how I rehearse plays professionally. The students I work with often come in very eager to learn and become better actors and if I can help with that then that is great.

“I enjoy the whole play. It’s full of rather funny yet also tender moments”

How did you discover the play? Why did you choose, after directing generally classical plays (with productions in past years having including Oedipus the King and A Midsummer Night’s Dream) before, to direct this play as part of the Lakeside/NNT partnership?

I think it is partly out of becoming more of a militant equalist, and wanting to help contribute to ongoing fights for gender equality. The play itself was actually suggested to me by one of the cast members of last year’s production of Oedipus when I was asking them for ideas for this year. I hadn’t heard of it before and immediately went away, read it and fell in love with it.

I also felt that we’d gone a long way with classical texts, and there is the obvious language barrier involved in doing classical texts; and so doing those productions you don’t really get the chance of going into doing as much detailed character work, and that is something which doing a modern play allows you to do much more easily.

Also I’d done four classics is a row so why not do something else? Maybe next year I’ll go back to the classics.

Do you have a favourite character or moment in the play?

On the strength of the characters, the writing and the performances (by this year’s cast) I would struggle to pick one particular moment. I enjoy the whole play. It’s full of rather funny yet also tender moments.

Who (outside of the student audience) do you want to come and see Blue Stockings? Why do you think they should? What do you hope they get from it?

I think it is a play which appeals to an extremely broad range of people. It’s a play for anyone who believes in equality and quality of opportunity. Anyone who believes we all have a chance to have an education and a chance to grow and to shine will find this play very moving.

“There is something unique about the play being acted out by students following students in a university environment”

You said yourself in the trailer that the play is apparently the second most performed amateur play in the UK. Why do you think that is? What do you think makes your production different to any other production that has come before? Can there be too many productions of Blue Stockings?

I don’t think there can be. It’s a good play. It’s entertaining. I think companies have been doing it so much because not only on a practical level, it has a very good gender balance, but as I have often said throughout this interview, the message of the play is still very relevant in the issues it covers.

In terms of our production being different, I don’t think it is in the sense that we haven’t chosen to set it on a spaceship or anything. I do feel however there is something unique about the play being acted out by students following students in a university environment. I think there’s something wonderful about that.

In three words, summarise the play.

Moving, comical and important.

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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