STELLA, Greenwich Theatre 11 July



…or STELLA, a story of women and astronomy by Siobhan Nicholas, who also played Caroline Herschel.  So this was the story of how William Herschel, musician and astronomer, made his sister into a singer and astronomical assistant so that at the end she became an important astronomer in her own right, at the expense of any possibility of a personal life.  On top of that was overlaid the story of a modern-day radio astronomer (not quite called Jocelyn Bell Burnell)  who is writing an article about Caroline and resents the implication that she will follow her musician husband to Germany.

Some parts of this were very nice:  the pictures of stars projected on the backdrop of course and the further use of projections as Jessica communicated with her husband and daughter in distant parts.  And the circular carpet and circular table around which Caroline and William orbited and argued while Jessica followed along like a satellite; also the refusal to glamorise or prettify Caroline.

But there was also a certain amount of extraneous matter forced into the eighty-minute running time:  Caroline was permitted to foresee radio astronomy and the  Herschels between them adumbrated relativity, though it would be hard to say whether it was the Special or the General theory that was referred to.  Then there was the subplot of Jessica’s daughter Eve going to Alexandria on her gap year to form a human chain round the new Bibliotheca Alexandrina (which is in my recollection built like a bunker–a wise precaution in Alexandria) and drag Hypatia into the proceedings.

Then there were some bizarre errors:  Caroline calling her brother ‘Sie’ in German, and Jessica’s student allegedly being engaged in the hunt for the Higgs boson.  Not as mad as the idea of the gap year daughter in Alexandria IMHO, assuming her parents ever wanted to see her again…

This is not just pedantry:  one of the points made was Caroline’s records were detailed and accurate (and so useful) while William’s weren’t.

But as ever the main point for me was that you need to get what you want to say into your characters and their relationships and the actions that spring from their relationships, not paste it on in the form of a lecture.

Stella is funded by Arts Council England, Science and Technology and Facilities Council and The Institute of Physics–some of those excellent bodies may have wanted a lecture of course.  As far as I can see, if you have £ 700 (or negotiable) to spare, Take the Space will also come and do this show for you…

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