STELLA, a story of women, their men and astronomy

Writer Siobhán Nicholas
Jessica Bell James Sian Webber (2015) Kathryn Pogson (2013)
Bill James/ William Herschel Chris Barnes
Caroline Herschel/ Penelope Siobhán Nicholas
Hypatia’s Chorus Brighton sixth from students on film
Dramaturgy Chris Hannan
Our Direction The Company with Polly Irvin and David Fielder
Design Gus Munro and Julie Mcdonald

Our Mentors

STELLA had research support from Joanna Corden at The Royal Society and Marek Kukula and Rebekah Higgittat Greenwich Royal Observatory.

Our Funders

Stella was initially funded by GFTA ARTS COUNCIL ENGLAND, THE SCIENCE & TECHNOLOGY FACILITES COUNCIL and THE INSTITUTE OF PHYSICS. Our co producers were The Old Market in Hove and Greenwich Theatre in London. 

Background to the play

Siobhán first became interested in astronomy when she stumbled across an article about the astrophysicist, Dame Professor Jocelyn Bell Burnell who maintains “We are all made of star stuff”. Those beautiful simple words inspired her to find out more.

In 1967, as a PhDstudent in Cambridge, Jocelyn Bell had discovered the Pulsar Star, an achievement which, by rights,  should have earned her the Nobel Prize. An amazing woman! With no bitterness, she went on to spend her life nurturing young astrophysicists and encouraging women into science; she also became president of Institute of Physics, president of the Royal Astronomical Society and the first female president of the Royal Society in Scotland.

More research led to Caroline Herschel {1750 to 1848}; a genius who with her brother, William, could be said to have laid the foundations of modern astronomy.

For the playwright there was a fundamental link between Jocelyn Bell’s “we are all made of star stuff” analogy and the Herschels’ interest in stellar astronomy; with some prescience, they understood that the destruction of a star “ is perhaps the very means by which the whole is preserved and renewed”.

If we look through history, amidst the cosmic awe, mystery and discovery, there is a distinctly untrendy, but age old, story of women struggling to fulfill a career whilst coping with family demands. The play, through Jess, our modern character, positions this {possibly everlasting} dilemma up against the consuming need to explore the enormity of the galaxies and to understand how we came to be made of star stuff”.

The Story

William Herschel discovered Uranus. So what did his sister do?

She discovered eight comets, numerous nebulae, some double stars and was the first women to be offered honorary membership of the Royal Astronomical Society.   

Science has historically been a man’s domain; yet look closely at the archive and you’ll find a silent army of intelligent, dedicated women researching and discovering.

This is a play about Time, Space, Curiosity and Passion: two women astronomers, Jessica Bell from the C21st and Caroline Herschel from the C18th look up at the same night sky and find themselves colliding in their search for understanding. Caroline longs for a family and home of her own; Jess contemplates the prospect of losing both.  Each woman can precisely map her position in the universe yet she struggles to find her place in the world


What people have said about STELLA, a story of women, their men and astronomy

The Guardian - A play about astronomer Caroline Herschel sets the record straight, performed reading at Paines Plough 2012
Reviewer: John Vidal

One of the least expected successes in London's West End last week was STELLA by Take the Space. The three actors wore their own clothes, hadn't learned any lines, and there were only about 20 people in the invited audience who met in a circular room high above the Aldwych.

Read more of John Vidal's review of STELLA 

The Guardian - Wednesday 18 September 2013 at Mill Studio, Guildford
Reviewer: Lyn Gardner

Siobhan Nicholas looks to the stars in an exploration of the role played by women as thinkers and scientists throughout history.

You have probably heard of William Herschel, the 18th-century astronomer credited with discovering Uranus. But what about his sister, Caroline?

Read more of Lyn Gardner's review of STELLA 

The Public Review  – Minerva, Chichester 20/02/2015
Reviewer : Steve Turner

Drawing directly from the journals of Caroline Hershel, Siobhan Nicholas has created a thought provoking work exploring the world of 18th century astronomy and its parallels with the present day.

Jessica, a modern day astronomer, has taken a commission to write a magazine article about Hershel, one of the earliest female scientists and an astronomer like herself.  

Read more of Steve Turner's review of STELLA - We Review  STELLA - Theatre Royal Bury St Edmunds
Reviewer: Jen O’Reilly

“There is nothing that makes our differences so insignificant as the infinite starry sky above our heads.”  

Read more of Jen O'Reilly's review of STELLA

Traverse - Edinburgh, 20th November 2013
The Scotsman
Reviewer: Joyce McMillan

.....In the end, as Jessica begins to guess at the crisis in Caroline’s life caused by her brother’s late marriage, and as her own conflicted life as astronomer, wife and mother reaches a frightening crisis of its own – the play begins to develop a powerful poetic momentum. 

Read more of Joyce McMillan's review of STELLA

The Argus - Brighton Fringe Festival
May 2013; The Old Market

An elegant, accomplished piece of theatre that showed the people at the end of the telescope to be as fascinating and complex as the universe they gaze on”. The Argus, Brighton Fringe Festival; May 2013; The Old Market. 

Oxford Daily Info
Reviewer: Rosa

A gripping, complex narrative that is beautifully acted by the cast of three….A gem.

The Fringe Review - Strat  Mastoris, Brighton Fringe 2013
Reviewer: Strat Mastoris

The staging was masterly ………Combined with the classic star maps behind, the effect was - ravishing………a great production

Waterloo Press -The Old Market, Brighton, May 30th 2013
Reviewer: Simon Jenner

Anyone acquainted with Siobhan Nicholas's Hanging Hooke will know something of the exhilarating intellectual and human passion unleashed in her plays.....   

Read more about Simon Jenner's review of STELLA

The staging was masterly ... Combined with the classic star maps behind, the effect was - ravishing ... a great production
— The Fringe Review
Kathy Pogson in STELLA

Kathy Pogson in STELLA

STELLA has played at

(The Old Market, Hove)

Rose Theatre

(Chichester Festival Theatre)

Traverse Theatre

Ustinov Studio
(Theatre Royal Bath)

Theatre Royal
(Bury St Edmunds)

Unity Theatre

Stephen Joseph Theatre

Burton Taylor Studio
Oxford Playhouse

Greenwich Theatre
The Mill Studio
(At Guildford’s Yvonne Arnaud Theatre)

Devonshire Park Theatre

The Stahl Theatre
(Oundle School)

Roedean School Theatre

Christs Hospital School Theatre

Norden Farm Centre for the Arts


Derby Theatre Studio

Guildhall Arts Centre


The Marlowe Theatre Studio

Chris Barnes in STELLA

Tour Package for
STELLA, a story of women, their men and astronomy

This production has been devised to accommodate the small scale, midscale and proscenium arch.

Marketing Support: A5 card fliers, A4, and A1 Posters

Flexible Staging: Set comprises a back cloth (for projected planetary images), circular floor cloth, 3 chairs, 1 small table plus various props.

Equipment: we tour a projector and radio mic.

Tech Deck: Lx, sound and AV are operated by one person from a single position. Sound on laptop.

Get In on the day of the first performance
Get Out Time – no more than 40 mins.

Performance Fee: £1,000 negotiable and dependant on distance travelled and if over night stays are necessary.

Outreach Work Available: Workshops and Post Show Discussions with a female astronomer whenever possible (Fee Negotiable)