Princess Dashkova, the Woman Who Shook the World
- Gareth K Vile
- 30 November 2018
A precis of an Enlightenment heroine
Georgina Barker's celebration of the life of Princess Dashkova reclaims a remarkable woman from the Enlightenment and places her life at the centre of the rationalist tumult: having been part of the coup in Russian that placed Catherine the Great on the throne, and travelling across Europe to meet many of the eighteenth century's movers and shakers, she was made head of Russian Academy of Sciences and spent her life challenging lazy assumptions about women's capacities in the way that she conducted herself. Barker's script collates many of the comments made about her by the luminaries of the Enlightenment, giving the impression of a lively, committed and passionate woman who combined social, philosophical and political intelligence.
Sumptuously costumed and offering brief interludes of Enlightenment dances and music – including Dashkova's gloomy hymn that worries about confronting 'my maker face-to-face', the production is lively despite relying on a series of talking heads. The decision to read some of the reflections in both Russian and English adds little meaning – although Barker's rendition of Elena Shvart's 'typically quirky' poem is lent drama by its parallel versions – and the format becomes predictable, not always catching the tensions between the different opinions and perspectives. In giving Dashkova a biography built from the opinions of others, her spectacular achievements aren't given enough context, and the parade of characters, at times, is overwhelming.
A shift in the third act – her later years are discussed in more depth by her companions – gives a more intimate portrayal of the princess, and while The Woman Who Shook the World is a great introduction to this remarkable woman, its dramaturgy is limited and emphasises a synopsis of her achievements rather than exploring the tensions that drove her inspirational life.
Seen at St Cecilia's Hall, Edinburgh. Run ended.