Seven Against Edinburgh: the ‘gig theatre’ show with rock anthems inspired by Victorian college pioneers

Mya Gray, Ella Williams, Iona Kellock and Orla Bayne in Seven Against Edinburgh, directed by Becky Hope-Palmer and Sophie Howell. Photo: Mihaela Bodlovic

Today the pioneering efforts of the Edinburgh Seven, the young women who joined forces to demand the right to study medicine in the city, have inspired new rock anthems and a ‘gig theatre’ performance.

A pop-up location has been created at the Royal Lyceum’s rehearsal studio for the premiere of a new production aimed at teenage audiences, which runs until Saturday.

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It not only recalls the fierce opposition the Edinburgh Seven faced more than 150 years ago, but explains why activists have been virtually ignored in a city that still has more animal statues than women.

Seven Against Edinburgh takes place at the Lyceum’s rehearsal studio until Saturday. Photo: Mihaela Bodlovic

Sophia Jex-Blake, Isabel Thorne, Edith Pechey, Matilda Chaplin, Helen Evans, Mary Anderson and Emily Bovell made history when they became the first women to be admitted to a degree program in Edinburgh in 1869 after a campaign backed by The Scotsman. advertisement.

They faced repeated hostility, abuse, and prejudice, culminating in a riot outside of an anatomy exam, and were unable to graduate. But the wave of support and publicity they garnered led to the passing of a law allowing women to attend college in 1877.

The new show, set in modern Edinburgh, sees the group ‘Patriarchy Slayers’ team up with feminist activists ‘Raging Birds’ to tell the story of 19th century student activists.

Seven Against Edinburgh also explores modern prejudices and barriers faced by young women, as well as the gender health gap, which still sees women receive worse healthcare in the UK than men.

Isla Campbell stars in Seven Against Edinburgh. Photo: Mihaela Bodlovic

Seven Against Edinburgh is the first production to be staged by the Lyceum Young Company, a new talent development arm launched by the theatre, which launched an open call for performers last year.The show, which features nine actors, was started by Edinburgh-based theater maker Becky Hope-Palmer, who read the story of Sophia Jex-Blake in a book by longtime Radio Woman’s Hour presenter Jenni Murray 4.

Hope-Palmer, screenwriter and co-director of Edinburgh Against Seven, said: “I hadn’t heard of the Edinburgh Seven at all until then. I started to dig a little to try to find the rest of the story.

“I realized that a plaque had recently been put up at the Surgeons’ Hall, but that was basically all there was about them, despite everything that had happened around the campaign, which is something that we really focus on on the show.

“I felt it was such a crazy story that it needed to be told another way.

Seven Against Edinburgh takes place at the Lyceum’s rehearsal studio until Saturday. Photo: Mihaela Bodlovic

“I started writing the play properly towards the end of 2019, although it has taken many forms since then.

“I wrote the play without having anywhere to go with it initially. I had development time with (feminist theater company) Stellar Quines and the amazing playwright Nicola McCartney, because I had never wrote my own play, although I’d directed a lot.

“We tore it up and put it back together, and Caitlin Skinner (Art Director of Stellar Quines) then suggested we do it with young people, so it was changed again to have them tell the story. At that point , I took it to the Lyceum and it seemed like such a perfect fit.

Hope-Palmer created the show with co-director Sophie Howell and musical director Sofia Kherroubi-Garcia, who wrote the new songs for the production, which sees all of the performers act, sing and play instruments while playing several modern and historical music. roles, including members of the Edinburgh Seven and their fiercest opponents.

Orla Bayne plays in Seven Against Edinburgh. Photo: Mihaela Bodlovic

Howell said: “We weren’t able to run our usual summer vacation courses last summer, but we had the chance to research and develop with young people.

“As soon as they walked into the room with the script, they loved it – they were so enthralled by the story and it really spoke to them, even though it was from the Victoria era, because of its relevance.

“I knew this was to be our first Lyceum Young Company production. I couldn’t think of a better story to tell than one that no one really knows yet.”

A call for actress-musicians between the ages of 16 and 21 emphasized that they did not need to have previous stage experience to get involved in the show.

Howell said, “We have incredible up-and-coming artists and a very diverse cast from different backgrounds.

“They really lived in the whole world of Patriarchy Slayers and Raging Birds.

Mya Gray plays in Seven Against Edinburgh. Photo: Mihaela Bodlovic

“They took on an identity of young women who want to be part of this badass feminist society who go on these missions and quests, and fell in love with their characters.”

Hope-Palmer said, “We’ve always viewed the show as concert theater – there’s a concert set up and the band is on stage the whole time.” To present this show as a play with lots of music to young people who have never been professionally trained before is a big request.

“They’re all playing music as they play, which I hope is a show in itself, and a lot of the characters have been rewritten due to the influence of the cast.

“It was an incredible journey and experience for all of us during what is still a very difficult time for theatre.”

Fiza Owais, who plays Sophia and Sascha, said, “The series tells an important forgotten feminist story that changed the future of women’s education. To be part of a cast and crew that brings this special story is a joy.”

Isla Campbell, who plays Mary and Nell, added: “Telling this story is an absolute honor, highlighting the work women have had to do throughout history to be treated the same as their counterparts and recognize how these imbalances still persist.