From a new young company of actors comes Seven Against Edinburgh – the story of the first female students to be matriculated in any British university. In present-day Edinburgh, young band The Patriarchy Slayers and feminist activists The Raging Birds join forces to raise the profile of this ‘Edinburgh Seven’. Through a mix of flashbacks and scenes set in the present day we learn the story of these pioneering medical students, as well as that of the young women telling it.
Writer Becky Hope-Palmer draws clear parallels between the discrimination faced by the Edinburgh Seven in the 1860s and the inequalities still suffered by women and girls today, from routine belittlement and the lack of women (particularly Black women) in STEM to the regular misdiagnosis of women-specific health issues and homophobia. If some of the writing is a little earnest and on-the-nose, this can be forgiven when the subject at hand is so worthy of attention.
The action rattles along at a healthy pace, and the Lyceum’s intimate Rehearsal Studio space is the perfect place to experience the energetic, occasionally raw performance. The multi-talented cast turn their hands to acting, singing and playing musical instruments, all with great skill and aplomb. Standout is Mia Haden, whose confusion and fear when confronted with what appears to be a mystery illness (although actually one experienced by one in ten women) is wholly convincing.
Each actor plays a range of characters, becoming at a stroke an apoplectic Victorian gentleman or a modern schoolgirl coming to terms with the death of her mother. This flexibility extends to the set and props, with courtrooms and cathedrals, rioting crowds and gig-going throngs conjured through little more than a few crates.
It took until 2015 for a plaque to be erected in memory of the Edinburgh Seven. Edinburgh should be proud of their achievements, although not the shameful way they were treated by much of society at the time. Seven Against Edinburgh provides a passionate corrective to history’s neglect.