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A host of performances at Durham illustrates how our students are marking the creative and artistic talent of women.

International Women’s Day (IWD) on Friday 8 March focuses on inspiring inclusion, ensuring the needs, interests and aspiration of women worldwide are valued and included. There are many ways to achieve this, including recognising and developing female talent, supporting women into leadership positions, and promoting female artistic and creative prowess.

At Durham, we seek to provide a respectful, inclusive environment where all staff and students can thrive, and our student performing arts societies are using their musical and theatrical platforms to explore IWD’s rich themes over the course of March. From showcasing the talent of female soloists and composers, to re-evaluating women’s position in society, and even building inclusivity into the foundations of student society ethos, the importance and impact of women within student performing arts and our wider student experience continues to be profound, questioning, and thought-provoking.

The below performances represent a handful of what’s on offer. Browse the full range of productions using the links at the bottom.

Overturning expectations

In an historic performance, Durham Opera Ensemble brings Gilbert & Sullivan’s ‘HMS Pinafore’ to The Sir Thomas Allen Assembly Rooms Theatre 115 years after it was first performed in by the Durham Amateur Operatic Society in 1909.

Running from Thursday 29 February – Saturday 2 March, this rambunctious light opera focuses on Josephine, the daughter of a ship’s captain, who is caught in a conflict between love and expected duty. Audiences can expect plenty of jabs at the former British class system – even ‘HMS Pinafore’, a fearsome warship, is lampooned by its own name – together with an all-singing, all-dancing cast in sailor suits and a full chamber orchestra.



Taking centre stage

In a direct celebration of female talent, on Monday 11 March Durham University Palatinate Orchestra presents an evening of orchestral music at Elvet Methodist Church. Second year undergraduate student Charlotte Gee is the soloist in Alexander Glazunov’s Concerto for Alto Saxophone and Orchestra. Rich textures, memorable melodies and colourful harmonies intertwine in the single 15-minute movement of this performance, with tricky interval jumps and fast scalic passages driving the theme forward.



The woman behind the music

The following evening, on Tuesday 12 March, Durham University Orchestral Society welcomes audience members to ‘Welsh Tales’ at St Oswald’s Church. Showcasing Welsh history and its musical traditions, this concert features ‘Fantasia on Welsh Nursery Tunes’ by Wales’ most famous female composer, Grace Williams. The Fantasia transforms eight familiar Welsh nursery tunes into a light, whimsical piece to evoke the colours and imagery of childhood. Williams also became the first British woman to score a feature film (‘Blue Scar’).



Examining women’s place in society

From Wednesday 13 – Friday 15 March at The Sir Thomas Allen Assembly Rooms Theatre, Durham University Classical Theatre brings you a gothic inspired adaptation of Shakespeare’s ‘Measure for Measure’. Billed as one of the Bard’s most provocative plays, ‘Measure for Measure’ tackles the issues of justice versus mercy, lust versus restraint, and power versus truth. It examines what power women can have in a world dominated by men and their inescapable objectification, facing some challenging issues head on. Filled with bold costumes, vibrant sets and complex drama ably interpreted by this premier student society.


Advocating for female artists in gospel music

Finally to Durham University Gospel Choir, which has at its heart the championing and celebration of women who influenced and contributed to the gospel music tradition. This joyful ensemble, which will perform in ‘An evening with Durham Dynamics and Gospel Choir’ on Saturday 9 March at Elvet Methodist Church, comprises a larger than usual number of female singers – its tenor section is mostly women too in a departure from the norm! In a musical genre more commonly dominated by male voices, the Gospel Choir’s approach is refreshing.

Co-president Georgia Hubbard reflects: “One of the ways that we as a Gospel Choir represent and empower female artists, singers, and choir members is to select music that gives a voice to women’s stories. A seminal piece within DU Gospel Choir’s repertoire list is ‘Stand Up’, a song sung by Cynthia Erivo in the film ‘Harriet’. This film tells the true story of Harriet Tubman, who bravely and repeatedly returned to the American South, wherein she had previously been enslaved, to aid the escape of other enslaved people before the Civil War.  

“Singing ‘Stand Up’ for us is a celebration of this woman’s astounding courage and advocacy for her community, and in recognition of the trauma and challenges she – and many like her -  faced as a black woman in seventeenth century America. We hope that, as we share the work of Harriet Tubman through song, the role women played in the painful, yet powerful, history of gospel music is commemorated. Through the inclusion of more female voices, we want to see the women in our choir flourish, whilst advocating also for those amazing women artists in gospel music.”

University Gospel Choir of the Year

Having warmed up their vocal chords with the above performance, Durham University Gospel Choir will head to Trinity Baptist Church in Croydon on Saturday 16 March to compete in the University Gospel Choir of the Year (UGCY) finals. The Gospel Choir is a strong contender. They placed second in 2023, won the Virtual UGCY Choir Award in 2020, and came second in 2019.

The choir was formed in 2011 and has grown from 8 to 27 members, with singers coming from all over the world and varied cultural backgrounds, reflecting its ambition for diversity and inclusivity.

Watch their performance in UGCY 2023:

Graphic for UGCY 2023 video


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