Payne: The Stars Are Afire by Ross McGregor. The Brockley Jack Studio, Brockley Road, London SE 4. In repertory with Holst to 19 February 2022. 4****. William Russell.

Arrow and Traps are on top form again in this companion piece to Holst. The Music in the Spheres which they are performing in repertory. It is a bold undertaking and their versatility as a company is again on display. The link between the two plays is that Gustav Holst taught at St Paul’s School and Ceclia Payne, the astronomer, was one of his pupils although she resisted his desire she take up music, went to Cambridge and against all the odds studied chemistry and opted for astronomy.Just as Toby Wynn-Davis gets a monster role as Holst in one play Laurel Marks gets her chance to shine even brighter in this one.
She did not get a degree as when she went there women did not receive them, but left with qualifications and got a job at Harvard where she did get the opportunities to work but still came up against the anti women bias of the times.
As usual there is music, scenes in which the cast display their physical agility – quite for no reason, but it does not matter, there is a hilarious section in which Cecilia has a driving lesson. It is, of course, a story about how a woman fought the prejudices of her time and eventually ended up as a Harvard Professor known for her work and not her sex. She survived a world in which the thinking was left to men, women did the cataloguing, the donkey work, made the tea and provided the biscuits and allowed themselves to be patronised. Cecilia was no push over and Laurel Marks creates a person with a core of steel in spite of the surface of diffidence society wanted her to have for her behaviour imposed on her. It all gets a bit chaotic at times, as indeed did the Holst play, but the story is worth telling and the plays make a fine tandem – it does not matter which order you see them in although it probably is best to see Holst first. The performances are all striking with Cornelia Baumann in particular doing a deliciously funny turn as one of the pillars of the institution who does recognise what Payne had to offer when the men see it as something they can use.

Cornelia Baumann. Anne Jump Cannon.
Lucy Ioannou: Adelaide Ames.
Laurel Marks: Cecila Payne.
Edward Spence: Donald Menzel.
Alex Stevens: Harlow Shapley.
Toby Wynn-Davies: Gustav Holst & Henry Russell.

Director: Ross McGregor.
Set & Costume: Odin Corie.
Lighting Design: Jonathan Simpson.
Sound Design: Alistair Lax.
Videograohy: Douglas Baker.
Vocal Coach: Sarah Case.
Poroduction Photograhs: Davor @ The Ocular Creative.

ReviewsGate Copyright Protection