Stella – a new play about time, space and two women astronomers – is at the Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough, on Friday June 21 at 7.30pm.
It is inspired by the real-life story of Caroline Herschel (1750 to 1848) who discovered eight comets and 11 nebulae and received the Royal Astronomical Society’s Gold Medal; a genius who, with her brother William, could be said to have laid the foundations of modern astronomy. But Caroline also passionately longed for a family of her own.
The play, through Jess, the modern character, positions this 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’.
Playwright Siobhán Nicholas said: “I became interested in astronomy when I stumbled across a quote from an astrophysicist called Jocelyn Bell Burnell: ‘We are all made of star stuff.’ Those beautiful, simple words inspired me to find out more. Jocelyn discovered the Pulsar Star, an achievement that should have earned her the Nobel Prize. An amazing woman! Following this slight, instead of wallowing in bitterness, she has spent her life nurturing young astrophysicists and encouraging women into science.
“I began thinking about the modern female astronomer with so much technology at her fingertips, witnessing the wonders of the universe expanding before her eyes – and all the while sustaining a very earth-based juggling act of loved ones and work. Is she in a better position now than her past counterparts? Do brilliant female minds have to renounce ‘love’ in order to discover the wonders of the universe? Even Marie Curie, perhaps the most famous female scientist from the past, said: ‘I have frequently been questioned, especially by women, of how I could reconcile family life with a scientific career. Well, it has not been easy.’”