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Theatre Review: Georgina Lock's The Lady in the Veil at West Bridgford Library

22 March 19 words: Bea Udeh

The lesser known tale of a Nottingham-born aristocrat and her quest to bring Smallpox innoculations into general medical practise in the 1700s has been adapted for the stage in a one-woman play. Bea Udeh attended the East Midlands premiere of The Lady in the Veil at West Bridgford Library to out more about this fine lass of Nottingham heritage and her vast appetite for certain experiences underneath the yashmak.

The Ottoman Tales of an 17th Century Female Aristocrat

Lady Mary Wortley Montagu. Quite a mouthful, yet I as well as half of the audience were sure that we had never come across this name before. Not that one should know every eighteenth-century female travel writer hailing from Holme Pierrepont Hall.

Lady Mary had a penchant for penning in great detail, all of her exploits, plus those of the indigenous people she spent time with, on her travels across Europe and the Ottoman Empire - which included South-Eastern Europe, Western Asia and North Africa and is the link to the Ottoman style of upholstered seating.

Another remarkable thing is that this one-woman play had been written by researcher, actress and lecturer, Dr Georgina Lock, whose links to Nottingham include having designed Nottingham Trent University’s MA in script writing.

Despite being called The Lady in the Veil there was not much unveiling being staged amongst the bookshelves of the bright and modernly updated West Bridgford Library which forms part of the Inspire: Culture, Learning and Libraries group.

The set was a simple black box set on a raised stage with an armchair set centrally upstage, beside which was placed, right of downstage, a projection of Jean Baptiste Vanmour’s famous portrait of Lady Mary, her attendants and her son, Ned, who she put forward to successfully test an early form smallpox innoculation as borrowed from Turkish practise.

As the lights dimmed, out flounced Lady Mary wearing a version of an eighteenth-century gown in a shiny magenta fabric built upon panniers (side hoops) at the waist. This was obviously a nod to Lady Mary’s character and her bright entrance opened the play on an imagined Turin landscape in 1741, the year that Lady Mary purports to have been waiting for her current fascination (and lover) Francesco Algorotti to visit her after a few years' hiatus.

The play is revealing as Lady Mary recounts tales that moves across her life in broken chronological order, mentioning her self-taught childhood in Thoresby Hall with her father; eloping with her husband, Edward, to escape an arranged marriage; avoiding scandal by travelling with her political ambassador husband to Constantinople (Instanbul) and the her female insight into the life of Islamic nobles.

With Lady Mary’s status, she was often able to wear a yashmak (veil), observe the behaviours and enjoy the (fringe) benefits occuring in Turkish Baths and Harems - a privilege often biased by the perspective of male travel writers.

Despite forgetting a portion of the play which meant that it finished two-thirds into the stated running time, the relaxed atmosphere of the venue masked any confusion. Moreover, during the post-show discussion, Georgina explained that this was only the second time that the play had been performed with another being scheduled in the summer. Her ability to answer questions from an audience eager to know about Lady Mary’s relevance, thus completed the gaps that jarred the overall rhythm of the production.

Georgina’s embodiment of this creative adventurer did include references to the infamous book, The Turkish Embassy Letters, and other correspondence, giving us a visual context to this epistolary style by conversing directly to the audience, or letter recipients.

Indeed, there was a clear sense of satirical wit and wisdom about Lady Mary, something that she was never shy to declare, from her knowledge of finances, politics, peerage and relationships.

Today, Lady Mary would be successful in versing her tales in the gossip columns of national press or in her LeftLion articles, gaining many followers on social media.

The Lady in the Veil by Georgina Lock was performed at West Bridgford Library on Thursday 21 March 2019

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