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Did Globe's Blue Stockings charm the critics?

Jessica Swale's new play about the first college to allow women to graduate in England, opened at the Globe last week, where it runs until 11 October

Tala Gouveia (Carolyn) , Ellie Piercy (Tess), Olivia Ross (Celia)
© Manuel Harlan

Michael Coveney

Jessica Swale's entertaining and well organised first play… The only minor problem is that no-one could possibly be surprised by the play, or the fact that Swale has written it. It speaks for itself… Swale's tactic is to make the arguments about love and humanity, the value of the arts in society, count for the drama and there's one blistering speech by a male academic that triggers all the dutiful responses… The gallery of rogues - trapped in their late Victorian period rather than brimming with misogyny - is dotted with neat, well-skewered performances by Edward Peel, Christopher Logan, Matthew Tennyson and Luke Thompson… In the end, the play is, perhaps, more surprising than we bargained for.

Henry Hitchings
Evening Standard

…It's a meaty subject, and Swale brings wit and intelligence to it… the play, which is feminist and political yet hardly tub-thumping, still has the power to absorb as it probes issues that remain pertinent. Director John Dove does a good job of investing the piece with energy. Ellie Piercy imparts some nice detail to the central role of scientifically minded Tess, who is a model of intellectual curiosity. Among those playing her fellow female students Tala Gouveia shines, while Sarah MacRae gives austere lecturer Miss Blake a steely rigidity… This is a promising playwriting debut for Swale… Exposition bulks large, and several characters we're clearly meant to care about don't feel defined enough. This show has charm, yet doesn't seem an ideal fit for the Globe.

Laura Barnett

…Swale is an accomplished director, especially of 18th-century comedy, and her experience shows: this is an assured Globe debut, neatly directed by John Dove, with many fine performances (as Maudsley, Edward Peel exudes all the boo-hiss nastiness of a pantomime villain). Swale's exposition feels a little clumsy at times, and the action occasionally veers close to soap opera, but she deserves credit for tackling this vital period of British educational history… But you certainly don't need to have been to Cambridge, or indeed any university, to engage with the theme of education as a cornerstone of freedom…

Tim Walker
Daily Telegraph

…I have a high regard for Jessica Swale's debut play – it is an intelligent, thought-provoking work… but I do wonder if the Globe is really the venue for it… William Lyons's music, too, is jaunty one moment and ponderous the next, and there is room even for a rousing rendition of the can-can. This inevitably makes it all feel schizophrenic… It is a pity because the performances are uniformly great… On a warm evening, just about any production is enjoyable at the Globe, but I hope if this one is to be restaged indoors – and it ought to be, because it has a story that is well worth telling – it will need to adjust to its surroundings…

Kate Bassett

…This is an engaging new play… One of the pleasures of this production is that its heroines are intellectuals yet it's a Globe crowd-pleaser too. On the night I attended, Peel and Lloyd instantly sparked playful boos and cheers from the audience who, by the end were audibly rooting, en masse, for Ellie Piercy's Tess and her (fictional) fellow undergrads. Piercy is particularly winning… For sure, being Swale's first play, Blue Stockings isn't absolutely top grade. More finessing is required… With well over a dozen characters milling around, some are barely differentiated and developed. At points, the storyline jerks. Given time, however, you come to appreciate Swales's almost novelistic sweep, and many scenes – whether argumentative or amorous – contrive to be both emotionally and politically charged…