Written by Liz Rothschild and Directed by Sue Mayo
Performed by Liz Rothschild and Syreeta Kumar
The John Innes Centre is celebrating its Centenary and 100 Years of Genetics. William Bateson was the first Director of the institute and in researching the history we came across the remarkable story of Bateson’s Ladies, unsung heroes in the development of the new science of genetics. As we delved deeper and the characters came to life, we felt that the story just had to be told and what better way than in a play where we could recreate their personalities and also explore the development of contemporary women scientists.
Blooming Snapdragons is the story of a group of women scientists, working at the turn of the last century at a time when women could study at Cambridge, but not receive a degree, and only a few scientists would allow women into their laboratories or lectures. William Bateson was an exception. He was a radical thinker working at the cutting edge of science, developing what was to become the field of genetics. Many significant women scientists worked with him in Cambridge and London. This is their story, told through the eyes of Adi, a young molecular biologist working at a contemporary research institute, whose opportunities have been very different and who faces other challenges in her own life.
Written for a sixth form audience this piece examines the story of Bateson and his team of female colleagues through the eyes of two contemporary scientists. Two performers and at least 10 characters, sometimes talking directly to the audience, exploring the past and imagining the future in a thought-provoking and entertaining play.
When I was asked to write this piece about the women who worked with William Bateson I had never heard of either Bateson or his colleagues. It has been a fascinating journey into this period of scientific history so relevant to the work being done today and a rare privilege to be invited, as a writer with no scientific background, into the everyday world of laboratories and glasshouses. It was a dramatic time in the development of scientific ideas. A time when the world had really turned upside down and there was a sense of huge new territories to explore. It was fascinating to discover that, in this country, so many women had been involved in this cutting-edge new science. There is so little documentary evidence about these women beyond the few items relating to their scientific work that it seemed important to try and explore why this was the case. Why had these women disappeared and what made them such a rarity in the first place? The work of Marsha Richmond, the scientific historian was invaluable to me and I am very grateful for her painstaking and detailed research. As a person who found science subjects difficult and even boring at school it has been fascinating to explore the beauty and bravery of the work and I hope it will kindle in those watching a curiosity in and respect for the questions and challenges facing science now. I have been very interested for some time in the way in which science can influence our approach to the arts and the other way around. The two areas are not as separate as we are educated to think and could both benefit from more crossover. I hope it will also lead them to ask questions about why women scientists at a high level in the field are still a comparative rarity even though increasing numbers of girls study science at A level and even University.