Edinburgh Fringe 2013
An epic tale told on an intimate scale, inspired by maverick British adventurer Gertrude Bell. A witty and rousing look at the impact of Western women on the shaping of the modern day Middle East. The GB Project fuses fragments of text gathered from diaries, letters and biographies, alongside contemporary voices, speeches and iconic footage to raise questions about history, legacy, loyalty and love.
When Kate Craddock begins her show I am at first struck by her sense of politeness bordering on meek. She is dressed in a white petticoat and in the background is a tea trolley laid out with cups. Kate speaks in a soft, hard to place accent, and at first does not exude a sense of ease in her performance. Yet, it is from this unassuming start that she carefully unpacks the story of Gertrude Bell, an anachronistic woman who excelled in the male dominated fields of archaeology and exploration, with an unrivaled expertise in the Middle East. Craddock’s sense of discovery in academic research impacts on her own life, and this is paralleled onstage as you see Craddock become increasingly emboldened and inhabit numerous characters with ease. The simple use of projection and sound feels integral – adding context and atmosphere and all elements blend to create an engaging and varied tone.
What could easily be the conventional hagiography often found in biographical shows is twisted and confused by Craddock’s self- reflexive writing and supple performance style. Craddick reveals that nothing is black and white as Bell, who at the start she assumes to be a heroine of the North East is revealed as a far more complicated and troubled individual.
Watching her discover connections and parallels between Bell’s actions back in the early 1900s and the current state of the Middle East, drawing on speeches from Condoleezza Rice and Hillary Clinton, is illuminating, occasionally drawing gasps of disbelief from the audience.
One of the few missteps in the work is a too familiar dip into Hollywood’s two dimensional depiction of women and an easy pop at the apparent glossiness of Angelina Jolie who apparently is set to play Bell in a film biopic (she has actually made very few commercial films, and could, I feel be an interesting choice). Also the piece has a few repetitive linguistic tropes that become a little jarring on the ear.
Kate Craddock’s show is quiet, but it speaks about the double standards applied to women, Britain’s colonial legacy and western culture’s lack of empathy with more volume than some of the most noisy political works on the fringe. I highly recommend you join her for this voyage of discovery.