The Fair Intellectual Club – Radio Four Recordings

The first of two recordings of new scripts of The Fair Intellectual Club by Lucy Porter featuring new adventures with our three young ladies took place at The Scottish Storytelling Centre on Sunday 24 January. The original cast of Caroline Deyga, Jessica Hardwick and Samar MacLaren, were joined by Gordon Kennedy, Simon Donaldson and Gus Brown.

Directed by Marilyn Imrie, the young ladies entertained the packed house as they met German composer, Friedrich Handel and satirical artist William Hogarth.

A second recoding session is scheduled for Sunday 31st January at 7.30pm at The Scottish Storytelling Centre. Tickets are currently sold out but there may be returns during the week or on the day so please check with their box office.
Click here to check for tickets

The six episodes for BBC Radio Four will be broadcast later this year. Produced by Absolutely Productions.

The original production of The Fair Intellectual Club was performed at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 2104 at the Assembly Room, and was followed by a tour in Spring 2015 produced in association with Stellar Quines.

A new generation of Fair Intellectuals…

In June a new generation of Fair Intellectuals from Kilgraston School in Perthshire will stage The Fair Intellectual Club by Lucy Porter. With Lucy Porter’s encouragement and support, Kilgraston pupils Katy Allen, Fenella Wright and Alyssa Dougall will perform The Fair Intellectual Club at Kilgraston on the evenings of the 4th and 5th June.

All are very welcome to attend.

Meet modern day Fair Intellectual Rachel McCrum

To support Stellar Quines’ current tour of The Fair Intellectual Club by Lucy Porter we have invited a selection of modern day Fair Intellectuals to share their thoughts and insights on their area of expertise.

Rachel McCrum and Jenny Lindsay

It was seeing a woman my age and sensibility on a stage that made me feel like my voice was also valid. That was the spark.

Meet Rachel McCrum. A poet, performer and promoter working in Edinburgh. Rachel is also one half of Rally & Broad, a cabaret night of spoken word, music and lyrical delight that she runs with poet Jenny Lindsay in Edinburgh and Glasgow. Rachel’s the Broad half.

In the Fair Intellectual Club, one of the subjects the girls secretly studied was poetry, and one of the character’s risks being exposed to scandal when her poems are published – have you experienced any similar opposition to being a female poet / spoken word performer?  

It’s quite difficult to be a spoken word performer in secret! The act of getting up on stage and performing means that you are exposed immediately. And it is quite exposing. I haven’t ever experienced any active or explicit opposition to me being on a stage because I’m female – an audience might not like the poetry but I’ve never had any direct abuse because of my gender.

That said, there are things that are different, I think, to being a male performer.

There are times when I’m particularly conscious that I will be judged differently on my appearance – who the audience thinks I am will be affected by whether I’m wearing a dress or trousers, or makeup, or no makeup, and there are preconceptions that come because of that. I don’t want an audience to make their minds up about me before I open my mouth – it should be about what I’m saying and they can connect or reject that wholeheartedly, as they choose.

I remember a friend and fellow poet and feminist livetweeting an event I was performing in, and tweeting, before I even started to speak, that I was wearing the feminist uniform of flouncy dress and heavy boots. She meant it in a celebratory way but… I am a feminist, and I was wearing a flouncy dress and f***off boots but if a noise or a label starts echoing round in people’s heads before they’ve heard the poem – that doesn’t help.

I’m still not entirely sure how to get around it, really. And the thing with performance and spoken word is that your own physicality is a huge part of that, it should be embedded in the performance, not a distraction from it – but every bit of your appearance is codified, so how to get around that. I’m working on it. Maybe just my pyjamas from here on in.

There are also times when I’ve had unwelcome attention after performances, and I don’t know if that’s something that male performers have to put up with. It doesn’t seem so. You do make yourself vulnerable about going up on stage and putting your view on the world out there, and even if you’re speaking from a persona, some folk unfortunately think they know you better than they do, that they may be the only ones who know you, and that it opens up a channel to a level of intimacy that does not, in reality, exist with that one person. But at the same time, you have opened up the possibility of an honest connection with an audience – that’s kinda what you’re aiming for, whether it’s entertainment, protest, emotion or all of the above – and when that is honest, and there is respect on both sides, it’s amazing.

That’s two negative things. I should talk about the positive things, that really make it worth it. Which, for me, really boils down to – the more women get on stage publicly and do things, the more women will get on a stage publicly and do things. And the public part of that is really, really important. It’s how it started for me – take a bow, Jenny Lindsay! I saw Jenny at her book launch of ‘The Things You Leave Behind’ and she performed her poem ‘Twenty First Century Twenty Something Or Other’. I sat there with my heart drumming, head screaming ‘that’s me, that’s my life’ (we were both twenty something at that point. Now…we are not), she’s speaking my life, oh my GOD, I feel so alive…and I could do that! If she could do that, maybe I could do that!’ It wasn’t quite as easy as that, of course, in the longer run, but it was seeing a woman my age and sensibility on a stage that made me feel like my voice was also valid. That was the spark.

Rally and Broad has been hugely successful in raising the profile of poetry and the spoken word in both Edinburgh and now Glasgow, have you also been consciously raising the profile and the bar for female performers and writers?

Oh, absolutely. Gender balanced programming was one of our goals from the outset, and we’ve achieved it, over nearly fifty shows. As I said above, I haven’t had any explicit ‘We Shall Not Book Her, She Is Woman’ encounters but there are more male performers – musicians, poets, – than female, and you have to think about it to achieve the balance. At a poetry slam in Glasgow last year, I was the only female competitor. At the end, the sister of the guy running it came up to me and said ‘I want to do that. I didn’t think I could do that. Now maybe I think I can.’ More women on stage, more women on stage!

Who would be your modern day Fair Intellectual?

Bidisha. I used to read her columns avidly and she’s just a fanastic writer, thinker, conscience. She wrote an article on Man Ray a couple of summers ago which is one of my favourite pieces of journalism ever.

Also, there are so many amazing projects at the moment, looking at these issues, addressing them actively, passionately, informedly and wittily. Scotland based, three of my favourite are TYCI, Project Naked and Charlotte Productions. Magnificent things, all.


Rally and Broad’s next shows are on Friday 20th February (Bongo Club, Edinburgh) with Salena Godden, Kirsty Law and band, Kevin Williamson, Graeme Hawley and Liz Cronin, and Sunday 22nd February (Stereo, Glasgow) with Harry Giles, The Jellyman’s Daughter, Rose Ruane, Jim Monaghan and Genesee. Celebrating ‘Oh Bondage! Up Yours!’

Meet Modern day Fair Intellectual Susan Garrard

To support Stellar Quines’ current tour of The Fair Intellectual Club by Lucy Porter we have invited a selection of modern day Fair Intellectuals to share their thoughts and insights on their area of expertise.

Women are once again being forced to compromise their ambition in pursuit of intellectualism in order to have a family.

Meet a modern day Fair Intellectual Susan Garrard, a second year doctoral student at the University of St Andrews, working on working class women’s writing in the nineteenth century, with an M.Litt degree entitled ‘Women, Writing and Gender’.

Listen to her response to the following questions we posed:
What are the challenges facing women studying/working in literature today? How far have we come/things improved since 1717? 

Latest Press for The Fair Intellectual Club

Here are the latest updates in the press for The Fair Intellectual Club.

Keep checking back to see features and reviews.

Lucy Porter talks to Jay Richardson of The Scotsman about the inspiration behind The Fair Intellectual Club

A Yearning for Learning: The Scotsman Magazine, Saturday 14 February….

Writer Lucy Porter and Director Marilyn Imrie interview

The Fair Intellectual Club: Edinburgh Feminist Review, Monday 16 February…

Reviews for the 2015 tour

4 stars – The Herald – Neil Cooper

3 bombs – TVBomb – Charlotte Hathaway

Meet our first modern day Fair Intellectual – Prof Robert Crawford

To support our current tour of The Fair Intellectual Club by Lucy Porter we have invited a selection of modern day Fair Intellectuals to share their thoughts and insights on their area of expertise. We’ll be sharing their responses with you over the coming weeks. 

Our first modern day Fair Intellectual is Robert Crawford, Professor of Modern Scottish Literature and Bishop Wardlaw Professor of Poetry at the University of St Andrews. Lucy’s interest in The Fair Intellectual Club was inspired by a passage she read in Robert Crawford’s book ‘On Edinburgh and Glasgow‘: “During an era when ‘A Looking-Glass for Edinburgh Ladies’ saw spinning work rather than brain power as belonging to “the true character of a Good Wife”, one of the Fair Intellectual Club’s members published verse in The Edinburgh Miscellany … they studied the Tatler, the Spectator, Dryden, and other writers. They were though, advised that “comedies should be read with caution” and their secret group was discovered when one of its members fell in love with a young man from a local Athenian Society.”

Professor Robert Crawford:

I was delighted — and gobsmacked — to hear that the account of the Fair Intellectual Club in my book On Glasgow and Edinburgh had sparked a new stage play by Lucy Porter. When I was writing On Glasgow and Edinburgh, I was conscious that it’s easy to write about the history and culture cities as if they were occupied almost entirely by men and hardly at all by women or by children. So I was on the lookout for material that let me tell a more nuanced, and more widely representative story. I’d read a good deal about Scottish Enlightenment clubs in Edinburgh, but never, as far as I remember, anything about the Fair Intellectual Club, so when I came across it in the 1720 Edinburgh Miscellany it was too good to miss out. On Glasgow and Edinburgh is addressed both to people who know the cities and to people who don’t, so as well as detailing familiar aspects of each city’s life, it tries to offer what’s new or at least unfamiliar. In basing a whole play around this teenage society’s original records, Lucy Porter has gone far further than I did, and has given this pioneering club a whole new life for the twenty-first-century. When I mentioned the Fair Intellectuals, I never dreamed this would happen. It’s great.

Could you tell us more about the Edinburgh that The Fair Intellectuals would have been living in at this time, and what this club would have meant for them?

The Fair Intellectuals’ Edinburgh was very much the Old Town, centred on the Royal Mile and the closes off it: crowded, stinky, and still reeling from the effects of the Act of Union in 1707 and the 1715 Jacobite rebellion. In the eighteenth century one spirited girl rode down the Royal Mile on a pig’s back, chased by her sister, brandishing a stick: it was a mucky, sometimes riotous street, with some of the tallest buildings in Scotland on either side. There were intellectual energies afoot, too, though: the poet and Edinburgh wig-maker Allan Ramsay, for instance, published his Scots Songs in 1718, the year the Fair Intellectual Club was founded, and its members may even have sung some of Ramsay’s words. When he was in his late twenties, Ramsay had set up an all-male society, the Easy Club, in Edinburgh in 1712; its members read the Spectator magazine, and sought ‘Improvement in Conversation’. That’s the sort of model the Fair Intellectuals were following, but whereas Ramsay’s and most of the later clubs of the Scottish Enlightenment — such as the Cape Club or the Select Society where philosophers including Adam Smith and David Hume met Edinburgh lawyers, poets and thinkers — were men-only adult drinking clubs, the Fair Intellectual Club was determinedly different. In Edinburgh and the rest of Scotland university students were teenagers of the same age as the Fair Intellectuals — but they were all male. The Fair Intellectuals would have known local students, but couldn’t have joined their university classes. It’s tempting to hear the word ‘Fair’ in the title of the Fair Intellectual Club not just as a reference to the ‘fair’ sex, but also as a reproach to the unfairness of intellectual life in Edinburgh and elsewhere.

Can you see any relevance for this kind of club in 2015 Edinburgh?

In twenty-first century Edinburgh there would be room for a club for teenage Fair Computer Programmers — Girl Geeks —  but if the club were simply designed (like the eighteenth-century one) to encourage reading, conversation and social skills of an intellectual nature, then surely it would be of more use today to teenage boys than to teenage girls?

With thanks to Professor Robert Crawford. You can buy Robert’s book ‘On Edinburgh and Glasgow’ and read more about this fascinating time.

Nominate your own Fair Intellectual.

Lucy Porter

What is it like being a female stand up comedian and how do you survive the touring circuit?

From my teens I was obsessed with stand-up comedy, and from the moment I did my first gig I was hooked. There weren’t many women on the comedy circuit when I started out, I am so glad that seems to be changing gradually.

I love live performance and the unpredictability of a stand-up gig.

I hate being away from my children, but I am trying not to go away too much whilst they’re very young. Although to be honest having the odd night in a hotel on my own is quite refreshing.

What was your first ever job?

My dad was a pharmacist, and I used to help out in his shop from when I was tiny. In fact, I was so young it was probably illegal, although child labour laws were more relaxed back then. I’d imagine people must have been put off asking an child for pile cream or condoms. My first proper job was in a sugar packing factory – I had to test the sugar as it came in for purity. I have always had a sweet tooth, so I thought it would be my dream job, but it was very dull.

Has there been a particular person or an opportunity that you feel has made the most difference to your career?

Tommy Sheppard from The Stand Comedy Club has always been incredibly supportive. When I started doing comedy in Manchester in the 1990s it was hard to get paid work, but Tommy even paid for my petrol to come up to Edinburgh. He and his partner let me stay in their flat, and even though I often died on my arse, they believed in me and kept booking me. Tommy also took a chance last year on allowing us to stage The Fair Intellectual Club in his venue at the Assembly Rooms, and I am delighted that he did.

What made you want to write a play?

I was reading Robert Crawford’s book ‘On Glasgow and Edinburgh’, and in it I came across the story of a secret club for young women in 18th Century Edinburgh. I started to do some research into the story, and became intrigued. I had never considered writing a play before, but the confined, dimly-lit world that these girls inhabited seemed perfect for a theatre piece. I knew that I wanted to concentrate on three of the club members’ stories, and so the idea for the play took shape. I can honestly say that writing it was a pleasure, it was the easiest writing job I’ve ever had.

What do you like best about working within theatre/comedy?

I love the fact that I am always meeting new people. I get bored easily and so I enjoy hopping from place to place. I think most of us who work in comedy or theatre feel lucky that we get to express our creativity. Writing a play about women who weren’t allowed to do that has made me feel even luckier.

What advice would you give emerging female writers or comedians today?

I think any success I’ve had might be more due to luck than judgement, so I am wary of giving advice. I suppose learning not to give up or become disheartened in the face of rejection is particularly useful in showbusiness. If any aspiring writers or performers would like my advice they should feel free to email me through my website

Who would your Stellar Quine of the month be and why?

Would have picked Marilyn Imrie, but she’s already been a Quine of the Month. So I would say Susan Morrison, she’s a brilliant comedian and fascinating history buff who has been an inspiration to me. I named a character in the play after her as a small tribute.