UnderConstruction at the Bodleian Libray’s Sappho to Suffrage DIY Open Day

UnderConstruction at the Bodleian Libray’s Sappho to Suffrage DIY Open Day

Back in March 2018, UnderConstruction Theatre were invited to help celebrate the opening of the Bodleian’s new Sappho to Suffrage exhibition, by visiting the Weston Library and taking part in sharing the stories of women who dared to do the unexpected.

We set up camp in the atrium of the library and interviewed hundreds of female visitors to the exhibition, asking them questions that we have used to start conversations with so many women over the last two years.

Below are some photos from the event, taken by John Cairns. © The Bodleian Libraries, University of Oxford.



Gathering props and costumes for our staged reading

Gathering props and costumes for our staged reading

Who knew scrubs came in so many colours? Cloud, Peacock, Metro, Pewter, Hunter, Bugatti, Nimbus, Orchid, Smokeberry… Seems they’re quite the fashion item!

Awkward moment at B&Q: “Where will I find electrical wires? No, I’m not rewiring my house, I’m going to stick it to someone’s arm.”

Filling up our characters’ regulation “personal items” boxes. If I were going on a weekend scientific study, my top pick would probably be a good book – and second a pair of decent bedsocks!

Browsing medical monitor videos on Youtube and wondering what it’s going to do to their advertising algorithms.

Suzanne, Designer

Pre-production planning

Pre-production planning

It’s boiling hot here in Oxford and my week is filled with pre-production planning which I love; all the final discussions with fellow creative team members before we get in to the rehearsal space.

Had a fun meeting with Emma, on a picnic bench, eating ice cream, talking about music for the show. In particular a track for a Sleep Dance. Looking for something simultaneously soothing and frantic.

Do you fall asleep listening to music at all? If so, what?

Lizzy, Director

Meeting the women

Meeting the women

I wonder if anyone’s life ever goes as planned? Everyone looks into their own crystal ball from time to time and hazards a guess at what might happen to them and what they might do in the future, but no one can ever predict with complete accuracy what will happen tomorrow – let alone years or decades from now.

The women we have interviewed all had hopes, dreams and expectations. When they were young children it might have been marrying a prince or being a cowgirl-astronaut-dancer. On the cusp of adulthood they might have had humbler aspirations of finding a compatible life partner or finding work in their chosen area of interest. But life always does its own thing.

The women we have interviewed come from all sorts of places and times and social backgrounds. You won’t find them in the newspapers or the history books. But in the course of their ordinary lives they have done and are doing extraordinary things.

One of my hobbies is reading about inter-war history – and the history of everyday life, rather than of the great and the powerful. A theme which has come up constantly there is coping. Getting on with it. Keeping calm and carrying on. Women serving tea with a smile through the air raids. Women keeping their families afloat while their husbands were unemployed for years as heavy industry closed down. Women carrying heavy buckets of water from a pump in the street every day just to have some to cook and wash with.

But sometimes we think that we have lost the ability to just get on with life without complaining – that it is relegated to something called the “Blitz spirit” which our mothers and grandmothers had but we somehow failed to inherit.

The stories we have gathered have shown that is absolutely not the case. Women today, no matter what their circumstances, are getting on with it in spades. They are getting on with it in the face of severe mental health issues, marriage breakdowns, unsupported single motherhood – you name it, there women are coping with it. And not shouting about it either. This is why this project is so fascinating: because if you don’t ask these questions, you never find out about the quiet, everyday actions of women in the face of everything life can throw at them.

If there is anything that I hope people get out of the stories we have gathered, it is that they can cope too. You don’t have to be especially brave or clever or strong. You certainly don’t have to be rich or famous. Ordinary women have struggled, are struggling and will struggle. Life will not be what you want it to be, but that does not mean that it will be bad.

We asked the women in our initial survey what their life’s motto is. I don’t know if I could pin one down quite yet, but one candidate that I keep coming back to embodies the relentlessly resilient spirit that we have discovered in our interviews. It comes from Margaret Atwood’s ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’, an insight into women coping if ever there was one.

Nolite te bastardes carborundorum. Don’t let the bastards grind you down.

Suzie Burlton, Designer

Writing the 6 Women Script

Writing the 6 Women Script

“As I begin to write 6Women I am reminded of learning to knit at school. I  loved the experience of seeing a woollen scarf unravel (literally) in my hands. I never did quite master not casting off as quickly as I casted on, and so my own woollen scarf, apart from being of wiggly widths, had a very many holes! Currently I am trying to weave the very many responses to our questionnaires, the resultant 12 interviews of 12 very different women and my own imaginings into a whole piece, that might do justice to the generosity and sheer extraordinariness of all these women’s lives thus far. As soon as I try and encapsulate one story another has to be cast off or I have a hole where I wished I had been even nosier than we were during this process! However whatever wiggly script results I hope the warmth of their characters reaches out to our audiences….which is very soon…gulp..back to writing!”

Gaye Poole, writer

And so we begin work on 6 Women!

And so we begin work on 6 Women!

“I am excited to finally reach this point, as this project has been gestating for several years since I originally had the idea to stage a play using real women’s stories that we would collect from our local community.

There was so much in the media at the time about the new wave of feminism that I got wondering what women in their seventies and eighties thought about this “new” female project, and whether they felt that deep down anything had changed at all for women since they observed or took part in earlier feminist waves. At the same time I wanted to hear from younger women what their hopes and dreams were for their futures and the rest of womanity.

Some of the most rewarding work I have been lucky enough to be involved in over the years has been intergenerational projects, working with a variety of age groups all mucking in together; there is so much a young person can learn from an old person, and vice versa. Wouldn’t it be great to see a 20 year old onstage with an 80 year old, alongside all the ages in between as they tell their life story – something I don’t believe I’ve ever witnessed in the theatre. And what are the similarities in values, attitudes, hopes and fears between a 20, 30, 40, 50, 60, and 70 year old, and where do they disagree? I look forward to finding out!”

Lizzy McBain, Director