Long before the Suffragettes, Norwich-born social theorist Harriet Martineau became a controversial figure because she wrote from the female perspective, believing that a societal analysis was necessary to help understand why women were positioned underneath men. From 1840, the avid anti-slavery campaigner spent five years in Tynemouth after being diagnosed with a uterine tumour. It’s a small segment of that period in Martineau’s life that’s the subject of Shelagh Stephenson and Max Robert’s new play, Harriet Martineau Dreams of Dancing, which has its world premiere at Live Theatre in Newcastle from Thursday 10th November until Saturday 3rd December.
The production follows Martineau as she encounters vast inequality and racial intolerance, as well as a wealth of outdated scientific practices, which give her no escapism from the world she tried to flee from. While she attempts to tackle some of North Tyneside’s issues, Martineau also learns one or two things about herself, as do we. The show is the second in Stephenson’s trilogy of works that shed light on the modern relevance of Tyneside’s often forgotten, but utterly fascinating, political and cultural heritage. With music provided by North East folk royalty The Unthanks, and dance inspired by Northumberland traditions choreographed by Lee Proud (Billy Elliot – The Musical), it promises to be an affecting and thought-provoking production.