When I first found out about Gertrude Bell, I was completely fascinated by her story, and I couldn’t believe that I hadn’t heard of her before, considering I’ve lived in the North East for most of my life. Despite her being born in Washington, and coming from a hugely influential industrial family, I was surprised that she wasn’t generally very well known in the region, and I began to wonder and question why that was. This then led me on quite a journey, and the more I found out about her, the more important I thought it was that people should know her story. She was an incredible, yet very contradictory and complex person in many ways, who achieved so much that it is hard to comprehend how a woman at her time was able to achieve the things that she did. This is essentially the premise for the show.
I became especially fascinated by what drove her, and I wanted to better understand how somebody’s actions over 100 years ago can still have contemporary relevance and resonance today, and in Gertrude’s case, not just resonance in the North East, but in particular in the Middle East. Indeed the show intends to conflate concepts of time, and unearth how history is so important for how we can better understand and make sense of the world we live in today. For example, the show really explores how complex Great Britain’s relationship with Iraq is, and uses Gertrude Bell and her story as a vehicle through which to expose and explore the fact that we have had huge influence on Iraq over a much longer period of time than many people are aware. Our relationship with Iraq didn’t begin with the invasion in 2003, but long beforehand, and Gertrude’s legacy is very much part of that story.
I was struck by the role/s that Gertrude adopted, and the ways in which she writes in her letters about the need to ‘become a person’ and I grew increasingly fascinated with the roles that women (especially women who are public figures) are expected to take on, often having to be ‘everything to everybody’. There was something about Gertrude and her ability to operate so successfully in a predominantly ‘man’s world’ that I found totally fascinating, and this led me to also look at more contemporary, successful female figures in international politics, like Hillary Clinton, and the ways in which they operate today.
Many of the biographies about Gertrude Bell tend to focus in quite a great amount of detail on her love life, and in many ways, the tragedy of this aspect of her life. There are Hollywood movies being made about Gertrude at the moment, and I am in no doubt that this aspect of her life will feature quite heavily there too! Gertrude never married, although she did have something of a love life, which is revealed in the performance in the format of a gossip laden tea party, with me sharing tea and biscuits, and extracts from letters to and from Gertrude and her lover.
Tickets cost £8 full price and £6 concessions and can be booked on Live Theatre’s website.