No Belles

Edinburgh Festival Fringe Scotsman review (theatre): No Belles at Sweet Grassmarket (Venue 18). Reviewed by Fiona Shepherd

Of the 566 scientists who have been awarded Nobel Prizes for their work in the last century or so, only 15 have been women. This shortfall statistic is the starting point for this interesting, informative and inspiring new show by Oregon’s Portal Theatre.

Most of these women, barring the “radioactive and attractive” Marie Curie and possibly Rosalind Franklin, remain largely unknown outside of their field despite their key scientific contributions and courageous campaigning work. No Belles sets out to tell some of their stories.

It’s a simple premise given a shot in the arm by the three peachy keen and passionate actresses – Kimberly Wilson, Jade Hobbs and Melissa Schenter – who curate and relate these potted biographies using different dramatic styles, with unobtrusive musical backing from an acoustic guitarist.

Sometimes a story, such as that of Italian Jew Rita Levi-Montalcini, who built a home lab when she was ousted from university and didn’t stop working until her death at the age of 103, is so fascinating that it requires no embellishment.

Elsewhere, the travails of Rosalind Franklin – the dark lady of DNA – are told through the medium of sock puppetry; Gertrude Elion’s far-ranging, life-saving work in drug research and development is related through the letters of thanks she received from relieved relatives of those who had benefitted from the many treatments she pioneered, and Rosalyn Yalow’s inspirational Nobel speech from 1977 is turned into a hymn of encouragement to all women.

What could have become a twee tribute or hectoring lecture in less sensitive hands instead emerges as a witty, captivating and positively feminist show, thanks to the infectious, disarming and ultimately very moving enthusiasm of the three performers for their subject matter.

Until 24 August. Today 2:35pm, more info

Originally published in The Scotsman

Going to the Edinburgh Festival?

• Unsure what to see? Read all The Scotsman reviews
• What’s hot (or not): Browse the reviews by star rating
• Don’t miss a thing. Sign up to our daily email newsletter
• Join the conversation with #WOWFEST and follow it live