Forgotten by history and passed over in favour of men, 10 women are finally given the remembrance and respect they deserve in Lizzie Milton's latest play. Daniel Perks reviews:

“What should we learn”? asks Brenda Procter (Rebecca Crankshaw), as she emotionally recollects her role in the miners’ strike of the 1980s.

We should learn much from her actions, from Lizzie Milton’s powerful depiction of 10 women forgotten to history.

We should remember the atrocities of war that the likes of Æthelflæd (Pamela Jikiemi) or Constance Markievicz (Naomi Knox) endured for their nations.

We should honour these people, not because they were women, but because they were brave enough to stand up and effect change.

And yet it appears we are bound to repeat the same mistakes over and over again, Brenda.

10 VAULT Festival 2019

Rebecca Crankshaw (image courtesy of Ali Wright)

At least we have the likes of Milton’s 10 to remind us that these women were all but wiped from the annals. Over the course of sixty minutes, we go through their stories like the chapters of a live theatrical book, a retelling of what they have done to forever shape society for the better.

Ada Lovelace (Crankshaw) invented the first computer programme.

Mary Prince (Jikiemi) escaped slavery in the UK and was the second black woman to publish her autobiography, a feat that accelerated the abolitionist movement in the 19th century.

Noor Inayat Khan (Lydia Bakelmun) was a British WWII heroine, a member of Special Operations before being captured, tortured and executed by the Gestapo.

These women were extraordinary. And Milton’s script bestows the justice that the male gaze of history never afforded them.

10 VAULT Festival 2019

Pamela Jikiemi (image courtesy of Ali Wright)

Nastazja Somers’ direction does 10 the honour of placing each character centre stage too. With a varied use of space, concept and vision, she accentuates every performance without ever detracting from Milton’s story. Somers enhances each tale, lifting up these stories from a female playwright without ever attempting to steal the spotlight.

But like many well-written, easy to read novels, 10 has a structure that too often allows for breaks in the narrative. Milton fills each excerpt, each chapter, with detail and intrigue and emotion. But the individual dies away once their story is told, confined again to the forgotten past rather than remembered throughout the production. The characters, and therefore the actors, lack connection and as such, 10 remains disjointed.

10 VAULT Festival 2019

Lydia Bakelmun, Pamela Jikiemi & Rebecca Crankshaw (image courtesy of Ali Wright)

Certain portrayals stand out – Bakelmun wears her Princess Caraboo comfortably, and Knox’s Mary Seacole is exuberant in her delivery. And slowly but surely, 10 builds tension and atmosphere to a final statement by Markievicz, a revolutionary who fought for Irish independence,

“You have got to want, live and breathe it”

These women wanted, live and breathed both their craft and their cause. They fought to be noticed. And 10 has the potential to be equally as powerful.

The show starts with uncertainty and confusion – each woman is afraid to speak up and make herself heard. But by the end, the 10 women are uncertain no longer. They have a voice full of passion and fire. With more of this in the writing, in the deliveries of these women, Milton’s script has the power to burn patriarchal history to the ground and give way for a feminist narrative to rise out of the ashes.

★★★☆☆

10 plays as part of the VAULT Festival 2019 until 17 March 2019. For more information or to buy tickets, please visit the venue website.