Review: 10, VAULT Festival

Theatre continues to lead the way in the feminist recasting of history as Lizzie Milton’s 10 introduces more forgotten heroines at the VAULT Festival

“Does that count for nothing?
Do I count for nothing”

Stuck at Six? Try 10. The truth is, sadly, that there are endless women whose histories have been misrepresented, or not even told but thankfully, there does seem to be a desire to tell those stories right now, accompanied by an appetite for them to be seen. Six is nominated for five Oliviers, Emilia has transferred into the West End and other shows at the VAULT such as The Limit have also got in on the act.

And why wouldn’t this be the case. Pretty much half of history has gone untold, unexplored, under-represented in our textbooks and in our culture, so it stands to reason that there’s acres of potential here. Lizzie Milton’s 10 identifies ten such women from across the centuries and across many disciplines, from medieval Mercian queens to Second World War heroines, abolitionists to painters, this is our real history.

In the sparse, elongated space of the Cavern, Nastazja Somers’ production is high on atmosphere, Nicola Chang’s almost hypnotic sound design moulding the mood, Rajiv Pattani’s lighting eyecatchingly supple in spotlighting the ever-shifting ensemble. And just as there are ten women, there’s ten different styles of telling a story, direct audience contact sits next to expressive movement sequences, choral support contrasts with the solo voice, all five actors deeply impress in their many ways.

Commonalities emerge, not least the all-too-predictable ways in which men disappoint, husbands, brothers, colleagues. And there’s something deeply moving about their different response to how they’re remembered (or not).To give them their due, they are Æthelflæd and Mary Prince (Pamela Jikiemi), Princess Caraboo and Noor Inayat Khan (Lydia Bakelmun), Constance Markievicz and Mary Seacole (Naomi Knox), Joan Clarke and Gwen John (Beth Eyre) and Ada Lovelace and Brenda Procter (Rebecca Crankshaw).

10’s format mitigates against too much detail being fleshed out in the stories here but in some ways, its purpose is to highlight that these stories exist in their multitudes and to pass on the baton. Handouts on the seats provide more information to allow for our own further investigation and the final command to ‘keep counting’ places that responsibility firmly with us. Book for this, book for Emilia, book for Six, let’s keep this change happening.

Running time: 1 hour (without interval)
Photo: Ali Wright
10 is booking at the VAULT Festival until 17th March

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