Theatre review: The GB Project

Edinburgh Fringe Scotsman review: The GB Project at Northern Stage at St Stephen’s (Venue 73), reviewed by Joyce McMillan

The title carries a deliberate double meaning. On one hand, Kate Craddock’s rich and interesting new solo show tells the astonishing story of the life of Gertrude Bell, a remarkable Victorian woman, born in County Durham in 1868, who rose to become a senior diplomat, spy and kingmaker across the Middle East.

And on the other, it also offers an undercurrent of reflection on Great Britain’s imperial history, and the role in it of a woman who broke all the rules – both positive and negative – about women’s supposed conduct and attitudes.

There are moments when Craddock seems like something of a fashion victim of contemporary performance, surrounding herself with every available current cliché, from the obligatory reflections on her own family history to the tea in china cups handed out to the audience.

Despite all this self-conscious detail, though, the sheer strength of the story Craddock has to tell – and of its implications for contemporary global politics, since it was Bell who actually drew the borders of modern Iraq – helps propel this show to a higher level of narrative intensity and political questioning; both about the arrogance of imperial Britain in its pomp, and about what exceptional women like Bell mean to the development of feminism, given their dangerous determination to prove that they can be as tough as any man.

Originally published in The Scotsman

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