One of the things I love about the Glass Splinters evenings is the variety of hitherto ‘unknown’ stories that are unearthed. Far from being recent participants in world events, Glass Splinters shows women have always been at the forefront of scientific discoveries, cultural revolutions and literary milestones.
The evening opens with Deeds Not Words, a timely reminder of how the vote for women was achieved. Playing Muriel Matters – an Australian suffragette who was living in London in the early 20th century – Lamb gives a vivid account of how the ‘accidental’ acknowledgement of women in the House of Commons came to pass.
Many suffragettes who were incarcarated suffered police brutality, and if undergoing hunger strikes, were force-fed. However, when we meet Matters, she is fine spirits for in truth, she’s already ‘won the victory’ and ready to take whatever punishment the powers-that-be dish out. To find out why she’s so sanguine, we’re taken back to the days when women in the observers gallery were partitioned off from the male MPs by ‘grills’. Incensed that women were kept ‘out of sight’ and that men were making laws about women while denying them the vote, Matters chains herself to the grills.
Efforts to extricate her from the grills are unsuccessful, so locksmiths are called to remove the grills with Matters still attached. Victory! But before she’s led from the premises, Matters has the opportunity to speak to MPs and in the process becomes the first woman to address Parliament in history. All in all, a very enjoyable and informative performance from Lamb.
The daughter of Lord Byron and a contemporary of Mary Shelley, (who arguably wrote the first novel that dealt with ‘science’) Ada Lovelace could rightly be said to the first ‘computer programmer’. The inspiration behind Thomasina Coverly in Tom Stoppard’s Arcadia, Lovelace’s prestigious talent was almost a century ahead of her time. If Lovelace was the ‘mother’ of computing, then Alan Turing is undoubtedly its ‘father’…
Performed by Jodie Garnish and Geoffrey Wolfe, The Thinking Piece imagines what it would be like if they had met. Wolfe’s Turing shares characteristics with the philospher and linguist Ludwig Wittgenstein in terms of exactitude of language and an unemotional demeanour. In contrast to this, Garnish’s Lovelace tries to be accommodating and open, but feels she’s not making any headway with him. Her argument about poetry and science not being mutually exclusive is looked upon with disbelief. In some ways, this imaginary conversation in the the broadest sense, plays to the stereotypical difference between the sexes, though indirectly the subject of alienation is brought up and how both cope with the ‘right to be different’.
In many different cultures, there are cautionary tales about ‘the wrong type of women’ and often the ideas evolve until they are portayed literally as monsters or ‘not human’. Cue the women of Greek myths. Written and performed by Chloe Orrock, Of Sirens and Other Monsters looks at this conundrum from the point of view of a ‘Siren’.
Beautiful and charming, Orrock’s Siren has had her fair share of male admirers, just like her sisters. But that’s now in the past, as she’s now demonised and ‘responsible’ for ‘luring men to their destruction’. One of her sisters has given up looking attractive and the whole beauty regime, and found it liberating not being at the behest of men. However, some men say harsh things in response to this, ‘downgrading’ the ‘Sirens’ to ‘Gorgons’ and conjuring a name for a woman too ugly to behold – ‘Medusa’…
Music is obviously a universal phenomenon, but more often than not, developments in the non-English-speaking don’t get the recognition they deserve. Written and performed by Constanza Hola, Violet charts the life of Violeta Parra, a 20th century Chilean composer and songwriter. During her lifetime, she pioneered the renewal and reinvention of Chilean folk music, which would extend its sphere of influence outside its homeland. A fair portion of the play is spoken or sung in Spanish, plus there’s information about Parra’s ‘anti-poet’ brother Nicanor Parra and songs that trace her life-long emotional journey.
It wasn’t so long ago that women couldn’t publish work under their real names because ‘received wisdom’ a.k.a. ‘gender prejudice’ said that women’s writing wouldn’t sell and of no artistic value. But that didn’t stop women publishing their work… Written and performed by Beatrice Vincent, Hilda Doolittle looks at the eponymous American poet who wrote under the pseudonym ‘H.D.’… When the play opens, Hilda is in a visibly pregnant state as she sits. However, as the play progresses, it’s intriguing how her professional relationship with Ezra Pound (who credits himself with discovering her), her Sapphic poetry and her bisexuality all connect…
As Britain’s first professional female playwright and a spy for King Charles II, Aphra Behn was never conventional or boring. Last year, Claire Louise Amias toured with The Masks of Aphra Behn, bringing to life her extraordinary story. The second Glass Splinters marks a return to the character with Oranges and Ink. Along with Amias as Behn, Sarah Lawrie plays Nell Gwynn – Charles II’s mistress and the toast of the theatrical fraternity in London.
Behn asks Gwynn for permission to dedicate her latest play to her and to star in it. While thinking about this proposal, Behn reminds Gwynn of the time she helped her by slipping a powerful laxative into her rival’s food, in time for it to take effect in the King’s bed… While all the incidents referenced really did take place, Oranges and Ink proves that facts are stranger and funnier than fiction. The play’s also a timely reminder that exceptional women seldom appear in isolation, but thrive when they help each other.
While artists were previously at the beck and call of wealthy patrons, the 20th century saw a paradigm shift, with artists creating work for their own interest and having something to say about the world around them. In response to the atrocities during the Spanish Civil War, Picasso famously painted Guernica. Concurrent with this, ‘ordinary’ British people of their own volition fought alongside the Republicans against Franco’s Nationalists. Written and performed by Helena Northcote, Miss Brown focuses on the first British volunteer (and artist) to die during the Spanish Civil War.
The play begins with Felicia Browne during her days as an artist in Berlin, admiring the ‘goddess’ who sits for her during a private sitting. However, after this frank and amusing introduction, we find that Browne was in Germany when the National Socialists came to power and this experience galvanises her will to fight the spread of fascism in Europe. As a non-Spanish speaker and as a woman, Brown finds it hard to be taken seriously and participate in anything ‘meaningful’. Still, her skills as an artist are a hit with the children she meets in Spain. Alas, her days of relative safety are short-lived… Knowing what today’s political climate is like, in some ways I’m not surprised Browne’s story has been ‘airbrushed’ from history. That’s why Glass Splinters is essential for highlighting history’s ‘omissions’.
Closing the evening, Catherine Hiscock’s Catherine focuses on the fifth and youngest wife of Henry VIII, Catherine Howard. With a 33-year-age gap, Henry certainly had the best end of the deal, but while his ‘eye could wander’ with impunity, Howard’s affection for a young man by the name of Thomas Culpepper isn’t to be tolerated… In terms of the play’s tone, presentation and execution, it’s reminiscient of Milly Thomas’ Dust, in that Hiscock was dress in white and flesh-toned attire, looking back on her life and what is to come.
© Michael Davis 2018
The second Glass Splinters event ran at the Pleasance Theatre on 26th March.
Running order and creative teams
1. Deeds Not Words
Written and performed by Elise Lamb
Directed by Charmaine Parkin
2. The Thinking Piece
Written by Jodie Garnish
Performed by Jodie Garnish and Geoffrey Wolfe
Directed by Gill King
3. Of Sirens and Other Monsters
Written and performed by Chloe Orrock
Directed by Alexander Tol
Written and performed by Constanza Hola
Directed by Diego Poupin
5. Hilda Doolittle
Written and performed by Beatrice Vincent
Directed by Ami Sayers
6. Oranges and Ink
Written by Claire Louise Amias
Performed by Sarah Lawrie and Claire Louise Amias
Directed by Alex Pearson
7. Miss Browne
Written and performed by Helena Northcote
Directed by Robert Hazle
Written and performed by Catherine Hiscock