This production began with a very simple premise: to use words of the past in order to bring us together in the present. As cheesy as that sounds, it felt so important to me, sat in my bedroom at home in Norfolk, surrounded by nothing but fields and country lanes, to try and ensure that my final year in Oxford was not going to be entirely overwhelmed by this pandemic. Like many others, I had watched helplessly as theatre after theatre, artist after artist, voiced their fears concerning the future of their industry, an industry I desperately want to be a part of, and which now has a terrifyingly uncertain future. What are the answers to overcoming such issues in a time of global struggle? What never failed to surprise and delight me was the innovative ways individuals refused to be stifled, and continued to create new art, new ways of creative expression, despite all the odds set against them. Efforts I particularly enjoyed were watching David Tennant and Michael Sheen bounce off one another in the wonderful ‘Staged’ (it’s on Netflix and BBC, please give it a watch, it is just so incredibly wholesome AND has some insane cameos) and the Old Vic’s series of filmed shows, with Andrew Scott’s ‘Three Kings’ and yet more Michael Sheen in the form of ‘Faith Healer’ providing some phenomenal live theatre and much needed escapism.
I knew I needed to have some form of drama going on this term, it has become such an integral part of my life here in Oxford, as it has for many others, and I didn’t have to try very hard to find enthusiastic individuals also ready and raring to go on some new projects. And so ‘And the walls spoke’ was born, with Georgie and I brainstorming from our bedrooms, keen to use this moment in time to really put our English Literature degrees to a good use, and shed some light on the wonderful legacy of women’s narratives.
This show has been an absolute delight to be a part of, everyone has been so enthusiastic and committed to their role, balancing not only the usual Oxford degree with extra curriculars, but also throwing into the mix a global pandemic, subsequent lockdowns and less than ideal restrictions. For a few weeks in the middle of term, yes, it felt like every decision we made came undone as soon as we had set it down, rules were constantly in fluctuation, actors went into isolation, props were ordered and never showed up (looking at you there Bezos) and several shoots were consistently postponed due to the glory of the English weather, but we made it through!
It has been a joy to see the different ways in which everyone has navigated these exceptional circumstances, I am so excited for you all to see this show, I’m so proud to have brought these amazing people together and I can’t wait to see all the wonderful things they continue to do in the future. In order to shed some light on everyone in our team, here are their takes on what the show means to them, and the importance of exploring women’s narratives.
Working with such a bunch of creative and talented people has been a real joy of this project. Even though it’s been strange having rehearsals and meetings over Zoom, it’s been so fun being able to collaborate with actors and crew to create something we are all proud of. Learning how to translate rehearsal exercises to an online platform has been really interesting- thinking about how to move around a space you cannot be in as a director for example.
As producer, my role has been to support the creative team. It has been incredibly fulfilling helping the directors’ vision come to life, and to be a piece in process of their endeavour. As a female English student, I find this project is particularly close to my heart. We have grown up hearing these poetic voices, and our team has brought them to life anew, merged the worlds of past and present, and added our own voices to the chorus.
I’m Izzy and I am head of marketing for ‘And the walls spoke’. Especially as a history student, I am distinctly aware of how women’s voices have been drowned out by men’s for centuries, often due to their confinement to the private sphere. The concept of ‘And the walls spoke’, as it reclaims these women’s voices, makes it not only very interesting but also an incredibly important production – and I am so grateful to be involved in it! As head of marketing, I have enjoyed being able to bring in this historical perspective and explore the lives of other women of past centuries on the instagram. The difficulty of accessing each of these women’s own voices is always striking. They often have to be learned about through the reports of others, and to me this demonstrates even further the significance of the efforts made by ‘And the walls spoke’ to bring light to women’s own experiences.
Being part of the team, especially collaborating on posts with Tabi, who has done some incredible artwork for me to work with in the marketing, has been so enjoyable. I’m excited for everyone – including myself – to get to see the show very soon !
I’m Rosie, and I was part of the camera team for ‘and the walls spoke’! Although my involvement was unfortunately diminished by lockdown, I loved shooting the monologues we were able to do – Reya and Georgie’s text choices are so powerful, and translate really well onto film. It was so much fun to work together around the city, and I feel very lucky to have met such lovely, talented people through the project!
I’ve been doing the promotional artwork for And the walls spoke. I’ve enjoyed reading the monologues and creating artwork inspired by them. Izzy has also brought some amazing women to my attention, and I had fun making portraits of them for the Instagram page. It feels like an achievement to be involved in a drama production at this time, particularly one that is focused on women’s creativity.
I’m Sam, a third year philosophy/physics student, and co-editor along with Freya. We’re lucky enough to have a role that’s basically the same as normal – our job begins after the production team and cast have already dealt with lockdown’s biggest challenges! There are still unique puzzles we face in the editing room, especially from times when COVID meant the crew couldn’t access equipment, but solving those has been an engaging and rewarding part of this amazing project.
I’ve loved working on ‘And the walls spoke.’ It was so cool to work on something centred around women and I found a new poet to obsess over in the process. For my part I got to perform a monologue by Gertrudis Gomez de Avellaneda, a 19th century Cuban poet called ‘To Him’. It is such a beautiful sweet poem and with Reya’s direction, I think we took it to a different place which is so interesting!
I was really excited to be working on a piece from Spoon River Anthology by Edgar Lee Masters: I hadn’t heard of it before but it is a much appreciated collection of short poems that narrate the epitaphs of the residents of a fictional town called Spoon River. I found my piece beautiful from the start, and it was actually the one I read in the auditions, but the directors in the show really helped me flip it on its head and find newer and newer ways to play with it.
I’m Maggie, and I am playing Jane Eyre from the Charlotte Brontë novel. It’s been a really exciting and rewarding process, working with a wonderfully talented group of women to bring to life the voices of those who have not always been heard. The themes and narratives explored are also relevant to female experiences today, especially in times of isolation and solitude, which has added another layer to the whole process. With this, came the overcoming of obstacles presented by not being able to share a rehearsal space and the logistics of filming. But overall, I believe we were able to take these obstacles in our stride to create a unique project, that speaks to things of both past and present, covering so many different female experiences that I hope the audience are able to enjoy and be drawn into.
I am Elise. I play Jinny in the extract from Virginia Woolf’s ‘The Waves’. My favourite part of working on this show has been the fun and laughter at the ingenious ways we have overcome the challenges faced during the production – from Zoom connection mishaps to filming outside in the freezing cold. But we have prevailed! And thankfully so, because the show has such relevance today. We have proudly reclaimed the voices of women whose power of speech was so often drowned out. Not all the pieces are glamourous or comfortable to perform and watch, but I hope everyone in the audience values their honesty and truth. In particular, I hope women watching can recognise aspects of themselves in the pieces and feel spoken for.
I am a cast member of this show, performing an extract of Rhoda’a consciousness in Virginia Woolf’s ‘The Waves’. What I love about this piece is how, even though we’ve made it into a performed monologue, it is, in fact, an internal one which explores the depths of Rhoda’s anxieties and frustrations. Unpicking Rhoda’s ‘stream of consciousness’ with Reya and bringing it to life was a part of the rehearsal process that I really enjoyed. This monologue has a more unique nature within the show because it is, in a sense, a ‘sister’ piece to Elise’s Jinny. Exploring a relationship between the two monologues with Reya and Elise was really interesting. Ultimately, the show’s importance lies in bringing such an array of female voices to life.
I take the ‘everywoman’ role at the end of the collection. It’s a strange, lucid piece – very non-naturalistic – and I’ve really enjoyed how it holistically encompasses some of the aims of the project. What is a woman’s story? How are their voices unique? It’s a unanswerable question in a lot of ways – but one that always felt quite intuitive for me. The story I’m telling is half-mine, just as it would be for any woman, I think.
Being involved in ‘And the walls spoke’ has been the perfect antidote to a term that looked like it was initially going to be very short on theatre. Although the cast haven’t had a chance to socialise all together yet, it has been lovely to work over Zoom with some old and new faces in Oxford drama. A massive shout-out should also go to Georgie, Reya, and the rest of the crew for adapting so well to some very quickly-changing restrictions!
My monologue comes from ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’ by Charlotte Perkins Gilman. I initially chose it because I thought that the themes of confinement and introspection chimed well with current experiences in the pandemic – little did I know that I would end up going full ‘method acting’ and learning the piece while in 2 weeks of COVID isolation! I’m so excited to see the other pieces that people have been working on when the project comes out as a whole, and I would urge everyone to tune in in 8th week if diverse female historical narratives float your boat (which they definitely should).
Artist: Tabitha Underhill