Tag Archives: Britain

Love, loss and royalty star in TV drama ‘The Crown’

 

Britain’s Queen Elizabeth is known for her dedication to a demanding job. Claire Foy, who plays Elizabeth as a young ruler in Netflix’s The Crown, can claim the same.

Foy accepted the central role in Netflix’s 10-part series when she was pregnant, knowing that filming would begin just a few months after her daughter’s arrival.

“I’d never had a baby before, so I had no idea what I was getting myself into,” the actress said by phone from London. “But I’m so glad I made that decision.”

The Crown reportedly is Netflix’s costliest series to date, pegged at $100 million. The money is on the screen in lavish scenes such as Elizabeth’s coronation and location shooting in Scotland and South Africa.

A second season is already in production.

The Crown opens in the bleakness of post-World War II Britain, with a respite provided by Elizabeth’s marriage to Philip Mountbatten (played with sexy swagger by Matt Smith of Doctor Who).

The scene in which they exchange vows is a charmer, with a nervous-looking Elizabeth coaxed along by teasing smiles from Philip. There’s no film of the ceremony, Foy said, but a preserved radio broadcast inspired the scene’s direction.

“She did sound fragile and very, very little and sort of, not unsure, but she definitely didn’t belt out her vows,” Foy said. Given Elizabeth’s youth, her longtime love for Philip and “the idea of forever and everybody you know is watching you,” it was natural for her to be overwhelmed, she added.

The bride’s expectation of playing helpmate to her new husband and his naval career is ended by the death of her father, King George VI, at 56. Elizabeth was 25 when the royal responsibility she believed to be decades away passed to her.

The drama follows her early years as a monarch in a changing world, along with those in her orbit including her free-spirited sister, Princess Margaret (Vanessa Kirby), and political leaders Winston Churchill (John Lithgow) and Anthony Eden (Jeremy Northam).

Writer and executive producer Peter Morgan didn’t come to the topic cold: He wrote the 2006 film The Queen, which dramatized the battering that Elizabeth and the royal family’s image took after Princess Diana’s death. It earned an Oscar for star Helen Mirren and a nomination for Morgan. Last year, Mirren received a Tony Award for her portrayal of Elizabeth in Morgan’s play The Audience.

For The Crown, Morgan’s prose rests on the findings of researchers who spent more than two years reading archives, biographies and cabinet meeting minutes, as well as Morgan’s own conversations with people “connected to the Royal Household,” as Netflix coyly put it.

At a news conference, he acknowledged the careful dance between members of the royal family and the production.

“I think that they’re very, very aware of it,” he said, and “countless approaches” were made “through untraceable back channels.”

“And in a way that protects both sides: I want my independence and I’m sure they want their independence,” he said. He believes the family understands the project was done with “some degree of respect,” Morgan said.

“These are people who are used to slander, cartoons, satire. These are not people who are used to being taken seriously. And whilst that might be a terrifying prospect, I think it is also the only worthwhile way of looking at our recent history,” Morgan said.

For Foy, portraying someone with such a crafted public image was a challenge. But ultimately, she said, the goal was the same as with any part: striving for authenticity and humanity in depicting Elizabeth’s loss of a parent, a universal experience, as she takes on “the biggest job that anyone can do.”

“That’s all you hope for when you do a drama,” Foy said. “If you’re portraying anything that anybody has been through, you don’t want people to watch it and not recognize it or feel betrayed by the portrayal of it. That’s true if you’re a queen or not.”

World’s largest wind turbines installed in Irish Sea

Dong Energy has installed the first of the world’s largest wind turbines, which are taller and wider than the London Eye, at its Burbo Bank windfarm off the coast of Britain in the Irish Sea, it said on Thursday.

The 32 turbines, made by Vestas, will each be able to generate 8 megawatts (MW) of electricity, stand 195 meters tall from sea level and have a rotor diameter of 164 meters.

“This will be the first commercial deployment of the world’s largest wind turbines,” Benj Sykes, Dong’s UK country manager for wind power, told Reuters.

Combined, the 32 turbines will create enough electricity to power around 230,000 homes.

The largest turbines currently installed, at Dong’s Westermost Rough wind farm off the Yorkshire coast, in the North Sea, have a 6 MW capacity and are around 177 meters tall.

Britain is seeking new electricity generation to replace its aging coal and nuclear power stations and has said around 10 gigawatts of offshore wind capacity could be installed by the end of the decade.

The extension to the existing Burbo Bank wind farm, which comprises of 25 smaller 3.6 MW turbines, will likely be completed by the first half of 2017.

“Using larger turbines is a critical part of the industry’s drive in getting costs down,” Sykes said.

“Each turbine needs foundations, cables to an onshore substation and maintenance, so the more megawatts you can generate from each turbine, the lower the overall cost per MW.”

Dong has a target to drive down costs of offshore wind power to 100 euros ($112.48) per megawatt hour (MWh) by 2020.

The Burbo Bank extension has already secured a minimum price for the electricity generated through Britain’s contracts for difference (CfD) scheme of 150 pounds ($200) MWh for 15 years.

Britain’s government has said its next round of CfD renewable funding will focus on offshore wind, but the subsidies will be dependent on the wind industry’s ability to drive down its costs.

Animal rights advocates oppose expansion of badger cull

Animal rights advocates are condemning plans for a badger cull in England, which has added five kill zones, according to media reports today.

The International Fund for Animal Welfare, in a press statement, said it strongly opposes plans for the cull to be extended across new zones of South Devon, North Devon, North Cornwall, South Herefordshire and West Dorset. This is in addition to existing cull zones in Gloucestershire, Somerset and Dorset.

IFAW, in the statement, said it always has opposed the badger cull for being cruel and without scientific justification.

Leading scientists and wildlife experts also have stated opposition to the badger cull because it will not significantly reduce incidents of bovine TB.

Pilot culls in Gloucestershire and Somerset were ruled ineffective and inhumane by an Independent Expert Panel.

Jordi Casamitjana at the IFAW said, “At IFAW, along with the rest of the animal protection movement, we remain resolute in our strong opposition to this cruel, irrational and unnecessary cull.

“In preparation for this year’s continued slaughter, those of us who want to see our British wildlife protected have been ensuring we will have more volunteers than ever joining the peaceful Wounded Badger Patrols in the cull areas so they can help any injured badgers in need, as well as bearing witness to what is happening in the countryside.”

The IFAW said the solution to bovine TB is not to kill badgers but to adopt a joined-up approach to tackle the problem. This includes better control of cattle movement, an improved testing regime and increased biosecurity on farms.

Farmers in Devon have seen a reduction in the incidence of bovine TB at the same rates as their neighbors in Somerset, but without the shooting of a single badger.

“There is no reliable evidence that the inhumane and ineffective badger cull has had a significant effect on reducing bovine TB in the pilot areas,” Casamitjana said. “Vaccinating badgers can also form part of the solution, but as this is a cattle problem ultimately the answer is better cattle testing and better control of cattle movement.”

Casamitjana continued, “Countless badgers have been killed unnecessarily and the Government should be listening to the scientific evidence rather than pressing ahead with plans to kill more British badgers.”

Foraging for food on holiday in England

“This,” said our guide James Feaver, “is our main course.” We were standing in front of a dung heap in a high meadow in the English countryside.

Pushing up out of the ooze was a low-growing weed. He bent down, plucked a sprig and held it up.

“Fat hen. Humans have eaten it for thousands of years. We’re going to need a lot of it.”

After a glance among us, my family and I set about picking with an approximation of gusto. When you are foraging for your food you can’t be too squeamish about little things like cow dung beneath your fingers.

I have long been fascinated with the idea of living off the land, finding sustenance among the wild plants that teem in hedges and fields. So a week’s holiday in Dorset, in southwest England — a county bursting with picture-book countryside — gave me the chance to see how abundant nature’s larder really is.

Foraging is increasingly popular in the U.K. and there are many teachers to choose from. On a recommendation, I contacted Hedgerow Harvest and booked a half-day course for me, my partner Fon and our 7-year-old son, Jimmy.

On a classic English summer’s day — meaning we experienced all weather conditions in one afternoon — we met up with James Feaver, who gave up office work for professional foraging eight years ago. He now runs courses in south and southwest England, but mostly in Dorset, his adopted home.

We met him in the village of Toller Porcorum, donned rubber boots and light waterproof jackets, and set off in search of wild provender.

We spent the next few hours walking through lanes hedged in with soaring banks, down tracks drenched in birdsong, beside clear streams and across uncut meadows in search of ingredients for a three-course meal.

If like me you can’t tell wild sorrel from a blade of grass, this quickly becomes daunting. But Feaver has gimlet eyes and an encyclopedic knowledge of the edible.

High in a hedgerow, a spray of tiny white flowers stood proud of the foliage. He hooked it with his hazel stick, pulled it down to picking height, and inhaled.

“The smell of summer,” he said.

For centuries, country-folk have used the fragrant elderflower to add a zesty flavor to food and drink. Now it would bring its zing to our dessert. We plucked head after head. I lifted up Jimmy so he could join the harvest.

In quick order we found red currants, wild mint and tiny, sweet, wild strawberries. The wicker basket James provided — a nice touch — began to fill.

So far so idyllic, but this arcadia comes with thorns.

Of the many rules of foraging the most important is this: Don’t eat anything unless you are 100 percent certain you know what it is. Some edible plants look uncannily like ones that are deadly. For example, cow parsley goes well in salads but is easily mistaken for something you wouldn’t want near your dinner plate: hemlock.

Other rules include don’t uproot anything (it’s illegal), only take sustainably and don’t pick from ground-hugging plants near footpaths “where dogs can wee on them.” That was Jimmy’s favorite rule.

Time was getting on. From Toller Porcorum we drove down steep, narrow lanes to a nearby beach. Here you can see the stunning coastline sweep in an arc from Portland in Dorset right into neighboring east Devon. A trove of fossils has earned it the name Jurassic Coast and UNESCO World Heritage status.

But we weren’t there for beauty or geology. We were there for sea beet leaves, a close relative of garden spinach that grows in low belts along the pebbly foreshore. More free food, right at our feet.

But don’t go thinking you can kiss goodbye to supermarkets just because your eyes have been opened. That’s not the idea of the course.

“Foraging isn’t really about survival,” Feaver had said at the start. “It’s about taking the best of the wild and adding it to conventional ingredients to make great-tasting food.”

Great tasting? We’d be the judges of that.

Back at our holiday cottage, Feaver supervised the preparation of the feast. For starters, sea beet soup. For main course, fat hen pesto bake, with more fat hen as a side dish, washed down with sparkling elderflower wine. To finish, elderflower and gooseberry fool, garnished with wild strawberries.

It was a revelation, especially the sea beet soup which was one of the most delicious soups I have ever had: rich, velvety and homey, like swallowing a big bowl of contentment.

It had been a long day. We’d started at 1:30 p.m. and the last spoon didn’t scrape its empty bowl till 9 p.m.

As he packed away his stick, basket and scissors, Feaver said that after doing the course, “people look at the countryside with different eyes.”

Yes, I thought. With eyes like dinner plates.

 

If You Go…

HEDGEROW HARVEST: http://www.hedgerow-harvest.com .

Our course with James Feaver cost 150 pounds (about $198) for two adults and a child. Price varies by number of people and itinerary.

ASSOCIATION OF FORAGERS: List by region, http://www.foragers-association.org.uk

 

UK spy agency chief apologizes for old prejudice against gays

The head of Britain’s digital espionage agency has apologized for the organization’s historic prejudice against gays, saying it failed to learn from the treatment of World War II codebreaker Alan Turing.

In a rare public speech, GCHQ chief Robert Hannigan told a gathering organized by the rights group Stonewall that the agency’s ban on gay people had caused long-lasting psychological damage to many and hurt the agency because talented people were excluded from working there.

“The fact that it was common practice for decades reflected the intolerance of the times and the pressures of the Cold War, but it does not make it any less wrong and we should apologize for it,” Hannigan said Friday at the conference organized by Stonewall, which campaigns for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender equality.

The speech offered a poignant tribute to Turing, the gay computer science pioneer and architect of the effort to crack Nazi Germany’s Enigma cipher. Turing was convicted of indecency in 1952 and stripped of his security clearance. He later committed suicide.

A 2014 film about Turing, “The Imitation Game “ starring Benedict Cumberbatch, brought his story to a new generation. At GCHQ, Turing is now seen as a genius — “a problem-solver who was not afraid to think differently and radically,” Hannigan said.

It was partly to honor Turing that the agency’s headquarters was lit up during a global celebration of gender and sexual diversity last year.

“It was also kind of an act of atonement — for the lost opportunity of his early death,” Hannigan said. “Who knows what Turing would have gone on to do, where, for example, he might have taken his pioneering interest in artificial intelligence, which is the thing everyone is talking about. We will never know and should, as a society, never repeat that mistake.”

Hannigan said things are different now.

To make the point, he shared a story about an internal agency blog headlined “So it’s goodbye from him.” Hannigan said that at first he thought it was written by someone who was leaving the agency for the private sector. It turned out to be the story of a transgender employee who had finally decided to start the process of transition.

“We have a lot of courageous staff, civilian and military, straight and gay, who have deployed to Afghanistan, to Iraq, and other conflicts…,” Hannigan said. “But it takes a particular kind of courage to write what Emma wrote in front of thousands of her colleagues.”

Hannigan said he was proud the blog was the most “liked” the agency had ever had, and that the comments were genuinely supportive. But he stressed that GCHQ was still far from a utopia.

“That is the real point of diversity for me,” he said. “To do our job, which is solving some of the hardest technology problems the world faces for security reasons, we need all talents and we need people who dare to think differently and be different. … Dull uniformity would completely destroy us.”

‘Downton Abbey’ explored social change even as it stayed put

For all its six seasons, Downton Abbey has been a graciously paced time-scape through early 1900s Britain.

Home base, of course, was the grand estate that lent the series its name. There the aristocratic Crawley family and their household servants felt the world changing — however incrementally — under their feet.

Spanning from 1912 to the dawn of 1926, Downton Abbey was always about change. The Old versus the New. Time-honored values accosted by modernity. Social graces under fire.

What to make of the encroachment of a telephone, or the very idea of a lady out pursuing a career! The changes navigated by the Downton denizens provided us viewers, a century removed, with the opportunity to measure ourselves against them as we, too, cope with change that alternately gladdens and confounds us. And as we, too, cut ties with the past.

Now it takes nothing away from this glorious series to recognize that change, and a resistance to changing, has paved the way for the show’s impending end.

“The world is a different place from the way it was, my lord,” says the butler, Carson (Jim Carter), to his boss Robert Crawley, the Earl of Grantham (Hugh Bonneville). Then, with stiff-upper-lip resolve, he adds, “Downton Abbey must change with it.”

Not so with Downton Abbey the TV series, which gloried in staying put.

Airing Sunday at 8 p.m. CT on PBS’ Masterpiece, the conclusion is tender, upbeat and mostly satisfying, with no loose ends, nothing left to doubt, nothing likely to ignite water-cooler debate come Monday morning. This is no head-scratching finale as with Lost or The Sopranos.

Of course not. Throughout its run, Downton always knew what it was, as did its audience, which loved it for its steadfast clarity and sense of purpose.

It was steadfast with savory writing by series creator Julian Fellowes, who authored every script, and with its splendid cast and lush production values.

It was steadfast, too, in its posh confinement to Downton Abbey, where, even as change gradually imposed itself, the narrative refused to change, and — let’s face it — eventually began to feel repetitive. Even at that sprawling country estate (with occasional excursions to London) there was only so much fresh story to tell.

Asked a couple of years ago how long the series might run, executive producer Gareth Neame cited a familiar principle of drama in replying, “There are only seven stories, and I think the challenge with a long-running TV show is to retell those seven stories without anyone noticing. But there could come a time where we’ll be going, ‘What do we do now?'”

Downton Abbey may well have reached a what-do-we-do-now point in its told-and-retold cycle of ailments, heartache, duplicity and politesse, plus withering commentary from the Dowager Countess, as played by Maggie Smith (who in the finale weighs in on what makes the English the way they are by observing tartly, “Some say our history. But I blame the weather.”).

The show, in short, was proudly tradition-bound, and prevailed to the end as a TV tradition for the faithful fans who watched it every week and, during each offseason, eagerly sought its return.

Bonneville has said the series is “about family — both the literal family and the staff as family. It explores the minutiae of those social structures, the nuances of the system as to whether someone’s in or out.”

We saw ourselves in them all — in or out, elite or commoner, 1-percenters or the 99 percent. We were constantly reminded that now, as way back then, change is willing to spare no one. Everyone feels the hot breath of progress.

Now we are left on our own to face today’s version of progress, a world of upheaval from which we found weekly refuge on Downton. And after Sunday we can ponder the parting words from Cora, Countess of Grantham (Elizabeth McGovern) as expressed to her husband: “I think the more adaptable we are, the more chance we have of getting through.”

Part of our delight from Downton was following the struggle of “getting through” as waged by those who seemed to have it all. We feasted on how the 1-percenters of that day kept up appearances, however much they seemed to be living on borrowed time.

Downton Abbey is smart to bring its saga to a close before it lets more time pass. It has “gotten through” in magnificent fashion, albeit more and more predictably. Now it’s adapting to obligatory change on its own classy terms: by saying goodbye.

Not so secret service: LGBT group names British spy agency top employer

A UK equality organization has named Britain’s domestic spy agency its employer of the year.

Stonewall gave MI5 top marks this week among 400 employers.

The results are based in part on a confidential survey of 60,000 staff members, who are asked about workplace culture, diversity and inclusion.

The annual survey underscores the strides made by the spy agency, which failed in the past to welcome gay candidates. Critics had argued that disclosing sexual orientation would leave spies more vulnerable to blackmail.

But after the 2005 London transit attacks that killed 52 commuters, Britain’s spy agencies — both MI5 and MI6 — have led aggressive recruiting drives for candidates from diverse ethnic and sexual backgrounds.

Britain’s last coal pit closes

Coal once fueled the British Empire, employed armies of men and shook the power of governments.

Earlier this month, workers at Britain’s last operating deep coal mine finished their final shift, emerging — soot-blackened and live on television news channels — to cheers, applause and tears.

Some of the men carried lumps of coal as mementoes from the Kellingley Colliery, 200 miles north of London. The last haul of coal from the pit is destined for a mining museum as a once-mighty industry fades into history.

“There’s a few lads shedding tears, just getting all emotional,” said miner Neil Townend, 51.

Defiant to the end, the Kellingley miners sang a hit by Tom Jones — the son of a Welsh coal miner — as they headed underground for the last time.

“This is what makes us very special, the mining community,” said Nigel Kemp, who worked at the mine for more than 30 years. “The men have gone down today singing ‘My, my, my, Delilah.’ Every single man on the cage, you could hear them 400 feet down singing.”

At its peak in the 1920s, Britain’s mining industry employed more than 1 million people, as coal powered trains, fueled factories and heated homes. After World War II, the country still had 750,000 underground miners at almost 1,000 coal pits, but the industry’s days were already numbered.

With gas and nuclear power on the rise, hundreds of coal mines had closed by 1984, when a showdown between the British government and the miners cemented the industry’s central — and contested — place in Britain’s national mythology.

Thousands of miners went on strike hoping to scuttle then-Conservative Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s plan to shut down 20 pits and lose 20,000 jobs in an effort to destroy the powerful mining unions, which for years had used their economic clout to extract concessions from British governments.

The bitter, yearlong struggle brought violent picket-line clashes and ended in victory for the government. Since then, changing economic demands and cheap imported coal have all but wiped out Britain’s mining industry.

Britain still gets a fifth of its electricity from coal, although that is giving way to cleaner alternatives. Almost half the country’s power now comes from nuclear or renewable sources like wind and solar, and Britain has agreed to sharply cut its greenhouse gas emissions under an international deal to limit climate change signed in Paris last week.

And it’s not just Britain _ the world as a whole agreed to move away from using fossil fuels, including coal, that are blamed for global warming.

With coal prices lower than they have been for years, it’s cheaper to import coal from countries including Russia, Colombia and the United States than to dig it out of British soil. Critics say some of those countries have lower wages and worse safety records than Britain.

Britain still has several open-cast mines as well as a handful of idle pits that could be reopened if needed, but Kellingley was the last deep mine producing coal on a large scale. Its closure marks the end of an industry that was dirty and dangerous but brought pride and purpose to close-knit communities.

“Everything spread from the pit,” said Andy Smith, acting director of the National Coal Mining Museum, which plans to put the last ton of coal from Kellingley on display.

“Community spirit came from working in the pit. If you didn’t work in the pit, you were involved in making mine machinery, or supplying the mine canteen with bread or pork pies. (There were) sports and social clubs,” he said. “Every pit that has shut over the last 50 years, the community has suffered.”

Iron Lady is auction gold: Thatcher items fetch high prices

The Iron Lady is auction gold.

Speeches, books and outfits belonging to late British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher — including her wedding dress — have soared above their estimated prices at a London auction.

Thatcher’s red prime ministerial dispatch box sparked a bidding war and sold for $365,000.

A signed copy of the speech Thatcher made on becoming Britain’s first female prime minister in May 1979 — declaring “Where there is discord may we bring harmony” — sold for $56,460.

The blue velvet dress she wore to her 1951 wedding sold for $38,000 and her copy of the collected works of Winston Churchill fetched $49,000, 10 times its pre-sale estimate.

Branded the “Iron Lady” for her steely determination, Thatcher governed Britain between 1979 and 1990, transforming the country with her free-market policies.

She died in April 2013, aged 87, and the collection is being sold by her family — though some commentators felt the collection of power suits and iconic handbags should go to a museum.

‘Explorers Club’ explodes gender stereotypes

Phyllida Spotte-Hume is a female anthropologist of the first degree and an adventurer who has discovered a lost civilization armed with little more than her intelligence and a spoon. She now faces her greatest challenge — convincing a stodgy British scientific society that it’s OK to have a woman in the house.

But then that’s 1879 for you.

Such is the stuff of which The Explorers Club, which opens Soulstice Theatre’s 2015–16 season, is made. The farce by author Nell Benjamin (who earned a 2007 Tony Award nomination as co-author of the musical Legally Blonde) skewers Victorian-era social mores with an eye toward turning the era’s gender politics on its head. 

“Science is as science does,” the club’s members seem to say, but admitting someone from the “weaker” sex into membership simply sets the Explorers on a road to ruin. It’s the goal of Spotte-Hume (Amber Smith) and her sponsor, club president Lucius Fretway (Bryan Quinn), to set the odd lot of scientific eccentrics straight, in a most amusing fashion, according to director Jillian Smith.

“The Explorers Club is a light farce at heart, with wonderfully witty and intellectual humor throughout,” says Smith, who also serves as the theater company’s president and artistic director. “The beauty of this particular piece, I think, is that nothing is ‘dumbed down’ for an audience. We expect our patrons to watch intently and stay alert. There’s always something afoot.”

This story is far from unrepentant man-bashing, Smith says, given that characters on both sides of the gender divide have flaws. Those flaws, along with a fairly absurd premise clothed in a rich historical context, provide grist for the humor that runs blithely throughout the narrative.

“The author’s writing is tight, the humor clever and smart,” Smith says of Benjamin, who was a year ahead of her at Harvard University. “Unlike a lot of popular farces, this one isn’t all about doors slamming or mistaken understanding. The best comedic moments unfold when these characters are simply interacting face to face.”

Part of that interaction centers on a NaKong tribesman whom Spotte-Hume has nicknamed “Luigi” (Phil Sepanski) and has brought with her to The Explorers Club to support her discoveries. In a scenario driven by its opposition to gender bias, Smith has worked hard to keep Luigi from becoming a racial and cultural cartoon stereotype.

“(Stepanski) and I worked closely to develop a background for his character that is rooted in an understanding of modern tribal cultures,” Smith says. “From his costume design to his presentation of the NaKong language to the physicality he employs onstage, each element offers a true, unique character that is rich with appreciation and sensitivity to indigenous peoples around the globe.”

That doesn’t keep Luigi from contributing to the play’s funny bits. He’s a rich contrast to the high-collared buttoned-up club members, who manifest a social primitivism of their own in the way they treat women scientists, Smith says.

“I think Phyllida’s character is typical of female scientists of the period, who were considered women first and scientists second, if at all,” Smith says. “Victorian-era anthropologist Mary Kingsley is considered one of the 10 greatest British explorers ever and yet even she was widely seen as needing to be a dutiful daughter first in caring for her parents.”

The play, of course, does a lot to deconstruct historical constraints while treading its humor on a set that Smith says is remarkable for its wealth of cultural bric-a-brac and historic detail, something in which she take obvious delight.

“This is my wheelhouse!” says Smith, who studied biological anthropology and archeology in college. “I always had a passion for antiquities, fossils and other tchotchkes of historical relevance. Researching those kinds of articles and finding ways to incorporate them into Mark Schuster’s wonderful set has been a really fun adventure.”

Smith says that all these various elements are what in her mind will make The Explorers Club appeal to a wide-ranging audience.

“I just love how smart it is,” Smith says. “I love how it dismantles the gender and Western-centric biases of the time in a most systematic and undeniable way. I love the way it threads real science into the dialogue. It’s so much fun.”

ON STAGE 

Soulstice Theatre’s production of Nell Benjamin’s The Explorers Club runs Nov. 6-21 at the company’s playhouse at 3770 S. Pennsylvania Ave., St. Francis. For tickets, call 414-481-2100 or visit soulsticetheatre.org.

Soulstice Theatre’s New Season

Nell Benjamin’s farce The Explorers Club launches the 2015–16 season for Soulstice Theatre. Upcoming shows continue to illustrate the company’s broad range of topics and interests.

With the help of Milwaukee playwright Liz Shipe, Soulstice welcomes the holiday season with Upon a Midnight Clear. Shipe’s whimsical look at Jack Frost’s life as a human being and whether or not he should remain human to be with the woman he loves runs Dec. 4-19.

The company welcomes the new year with Starlings, a play by local playwright Ben Parman that claims to be “too Christian for the gay demographic and too gay for the Christian demographic.” Parman’s fast, funny and profound look at the tensions between religion and contemporary society runs Jan. 14-30.

The unlikely romance between an Irish fisherman and a woman from Liverpool he’s seen only once before forms the narrative for Sea Marks. Written by actor Gardiner McKay, the bittersweet romance takes the stage March 4-20.

The season closes with a lush musical version of The Secret Garden, an updated version of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s story of little orphan Mary Lennox. Discover if Mary finds the family she needs — and the family she finds needs her — June 10-25.