Writer: Rachel Barnett-Jones
Composer: Jenny Gould
Director: Clare Whistler
There are certain women with who (hopefully) most of us are familiar; Marie Curie, Ada Lovelace, and Mae Jemison, to name but a few. But not enough. In the world of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM), it is, like so many other industries, a man’s world. Daunting, distressing, and outdated, the numerous names and lives of sensational history-defining women are buried under a weight of history written by men.
Jina encounters histories of prominent female STEM figures as she traverses the forest in which she has become lost within in an attempt to make it home. This leads to the wonderment of conversations and musical numbers throughout Jina and The STEM Sisters. Following each interaction, gradually a gift of sorts is bestowed upon Jina but reading into Rachel Barnett-Jone’s narrative, there’s a clever concept these unfathomably marvellous women unlock a sense of ‘self’ within Jina to recognise her persistence and creativity.
The artistry and craft reach the outer pinnacles of brilliance as they ascend into Sophia Lovell Smith’s creative designs of puppetry, animation and set aesthetics. Rod puppets are utilised most often, with a myriad of costume switched, sizes and choreography to give each woman a distinct personality – whether this is the stilted, automated movements of Lovelace or the peacocking stance of actor, inventor, and communications expert Hedy Lamarr.
And despite their differences, the arts and sciences have tremendous similarities, and benefit from one another. The intricate illustrations of naturalist Maria Sibylla Merian wouldn’t be possible without an illustrative foreknowledge, and the production’s sumptuous compositions by Jenny Gould might find difficulties without an understanding of sound. Bringing the past to life to drive forward a better future, Jina and The STEM Sisters utilises musical theatre to communicate the scientific jargon and make it easily digestible for younger audiences (and plenty of grown-ups). However, lyrically most songs feel rushed and over-bloated, save for Marie Currie’s rather macabre but humorous, ironic song surrounding her fame and death.
Initially, the dual-voice control for Jina is distracting as performers Ruth Calkin and Nix Wood share both the movement of Jina and speaking voice, but gradually it opens up the duality of her mindset and personality. It draws Jina into a far more human and identifiable character as her head battles off fast-paced competitive actions and ideas. Calkin and Wood manage the tricky task of infusing the puppets with a sense of purpose and life with relative ease, drawing out unique movements and song styles to demonstrate their adept ability to entertain, educate, and yes, even rap.
And yet, with all this discussion of positivity and encouragement for young women to question things, to be curious and explore and challenge the status quo – there’s a minor blip to Barnett-Jones writing. A throwaway line, inconsequential for some, but will perhaps stick in the heads of youngsters. The opening lines display Jina’s displeasure at receiving a nail-painting kit, berating its place as ‘science’ and coming over as a weak set-up for Jina running into the forest, and a touch insensitive for young girls for who cosmetics is a scientific process. The recovery at lampooning how it is “for girls” correctly eye-rolls the ludicrous gender-stereotypes in children’s products, but the opening comes across as blunt and unlike the remainder of the script. It demonstrates Jina and The Stem Sister’s only major drawback – pacing.
Jina and The STEM Sisters seeks not solely to promote creativity in an education setting but opens arms to young girls, advocating them to be courageous in the face of oppression, be proud in the curiosity they demonstrate and be weird, be clever, and driven to explore the world. And perhaps, more than anything, remember the path forged for young women by those who stood against the suited face of patriarchal adversary.
Runs here until 11 April 2021