The GB Project
3 stars ***
Northern Stage at St. Stephen’s (Venue 73)
THE TITLE carries a deliberate double meaning. On one hand, Kate Craddock’s rich and interesting new solo show tells the astonishing story of the life of Gertrude Bell, a remarkable Victorian woman, born in Co. Durham in 1868, who rose to become a senior diplomat, spy and kingmaker across the Middle East. And on the other, it also offers an undercurrent of reflection on Great Britain’s imperial history, and the role in it of a woman who broke all the rules – both positive and negative – about women’s supposed conduct and attitudes.
There are moments when Craddock seems like something of a fashion-victim of contemporary performance, surrounding herself with every available current cliche, from the obligatory reflections on her own family history, to the tea in china cups handed out to the audience. Despite all this self-conscious detail, though, the sheer strength of the story Craddock has to tell – and of its implication for contemporary global politics, since it was Gertrude Bell who actually drew the borders of modern Iraq – helps propel this show to a higher level of narrative intensity and political questioning; both about the arrogance of imperial Britain in its pomp, and about what exceptional women like Gertrude mean to the development of feminism, given their dangerous determination to prove that they can be as tough as any man.