Written by Katie Stockton and directed by Molly Farley and Magda Bird, “Daughters of England” is a stage adaptation of Virginia Woolf’s lesser-known short story “A Society”. Similarly to Woolf’s narrative, the play follows a group of female friends who aim to venture into 19th century society in order to discover how well men are fulfilling their responsibilities, especially of producing literature. One of the members, Poll – played brilliantly by Jasmine Savage – is tackling the instructions in her father’s will to read the entirety of the collection of the London library, a task which she later abandons to pursue her own career as a writer.
The Maddermarket’s Emerson Studio served the play well, providing an intimate space that gave the audience a feeling of sitting in on one of the society’s meetings and sipping tea with its members. The five actors, Tara Woodley, Jasmine Savage, Ellena Katya, Gemma Simoes Decarvahlo, and Siri Devakumar, were engaging to watch, bouncing off of each other well and showing genuine camaraderie. Felix Brown’s appearance as Poll’s patronising father was successfully infuriating, accurately representing the patriarchal attitudes that 19th century women experienced. However, the studio did have its limitations. The actors were often unlit, meaning that some moments were lost; this was a shame as Savage’s expressive reactions to her fellow actors were sometimes missed.
The play describes itself as both comedy and satire, and whilst satirical elements were clear, it was unsure throughout of its role as a comedy. Female characters multi-roled as male characters at various points throughout the play; this was done skilfully by the actors, and the inclusion of fake moustaches was a brilliant touch. Ellena Katya’s appearance as George, a pedantic moustachioed husband lecturing his weary wife, was especially enjoyable. Yet whilst the actors played the comedy with ease, the script itself needed to be more confident in its humour – the audience seemed to be unsure whether some jokes were supposed to be laughed at or not. There were also large jumps in time, which were hard to distinguish and that made the plot confusing. The occasional references to the time period, such as one character stating that the year was 1914, felt clunky and a little on the nose.
Overall the production was lively and an interesting adaptation of work from a well-known writer. It is great to see creative writing from UEA students come to life in Norwich theatres such as the Maddermarket, and it’s always refreshing to see work helmed by female writers, directors and actors. Despite its 19th century setting, “Daughters of England” also explores issues that are arguably still relevant today, when texts written by men still widely dominate academic reading lists. Whilst Stockton’s script sometimes lacked in confidence and coherence, directors Farley and Bird made good use of limited space to create a play with genuinely engaging moments.