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A play about women, their men and astronomy by Siobhán Nicholas

In ancient civilisations, temple priestesses meticulously mapped the heavens, seeking to understand their gods. And so Astronomy was born.

This is a story of Curiosity and Passion: two women astronomers from different times reside for six days in the same house in Bath. Jessica Bell James, a radio astronomer, based at UCL, has been invited to write a paper on her favourite astronomer from the past. Having chosen Caroline Herschel, she arranges a research visit to the Herschel Museum in Bath {this small private museum was the house where the Herschels actually lived} Jess’ husband, Bill, a professional violinist will be leaving London in a few days to take up a long contract in Hamburg. Meanwhile, their daughter, Eve, is on her gap year, working as an intern at the Bibliotheca Alexandrina in Egypt. Jess’ family life seems to be falling apart.

This is a story of Time and Space: one narrative plays out in Georgian times between 1770 until 1821 and the other runs for six momentous days between 18th and 23rd November 2011.  Each woman can precisely map her position in the universe yet she struggles to find her place in the world.  

Initially inspired by Jocelyn Bell’s children of star stuff analogy, we saw a fundamental link to the Herschels’ interest in stellar astronomy and their study of cosmology.  Setting out to “measure” Deep Space, they came to understand that the destruction of a star “ is perhaps the very means by which the whole is preserved and renewed”  They also understood that through a powerful telescope, the astronomer peers not just into deep space but into the past itself. The Herschels were arguably as prescient as Robert Hooke {1635 to 1703] who himself plotted Uranus in his study of the Universe but through his C17th Gregorian telescope, Hooke assumed the planet was a star.

Cast:  Chris Barnes as Bill James and William Herschel; Kathryn Pogson as Jess in 2013; Sian Webber as Jess in 2015; Siobhán Nicholas as Caroline Herschel and Penelope the Curator
Direction: The Company with Polly Irvin
Design: Gus Munro with the Company
Production Mentor: Judith Hibberd
Production Manager: Neal Mcbride

STELLA is funded by Arts Council England, Science and Technology and Facilities Council and The Institute of Physics