Jina is really annoyed. She wants to be a scientist for her birthday, so what happens? She is given a nail polish making kit. It is so annoying when that happens! Why can’t females be proper scientists, and do something useful instead of just making pretty things? Well, they can, and they always have, and here’s where we’re going to find out about it!
Producers HMDT Music, twice winner of the prestigious Royal Philharmonic Society Award for Education, are specialists in creating music-based educational productions. With Jina and the STEM Sisters, they offer a carefully crafted musical puppet show, from an all-female team. Written by Rachel Barnett-Jones and with music composed by Jenny Gould, it’s aimed at schools and family audiences from age 8+. They manage to pack masses of information into its 55 minutes, making it a very successful piece of edu-tainment.
With Jina lost in a forest, she is helped to find her way out by a variety of key historical figures from science, who also happen to be female, allowing us to learn about the significant contributions they have made to our lives. This is an incredibly important topic, with women massively underrepresented in the field today, so it is great to see it introduced to our younger generation in such an accessible format, with an assortment of musical styles and songs to catch the imagination.
There is a great breadth of history in the choices of characters, taking us from ancient Egypt all the way through to more modern times. We come across familiar figures such as Marie Curie, Hedy Lamarr and Ada Lovelace, who share with us a good understanding of their work. But we also learn about less well-known women, such as Ancient Egyptian astronomer Hypatia and entomologist Maria Sybilla Merian. Each scientist offers Jina a gift to help her in her quest, and it is this fairy-tale structure that brings a nice balance between the fantasy of the production and its factual content.
The set is comparatively straightforward, but is extended by the simple introduction of a washing line on which to display further information. Interesting lighting takes us to the stars, and creepily portrays Marie Curie’s radium contamination.
For a show about children who like to ask questions, questions are prompted: the vocabulary is sometimes challenging – what 8-year-old knows what an astrolabe or an algorithm is? I wasn’t quite clear what the projected video of female scientists was showing us, other than that there are female scientists. It implies some kind of reaction is being displayed but I couldn’t get the message. At times the puppetry crosses over between stylized and clumsy, with Hedy Lamarr, for example, spinning round, looking rather like a Barbie doll, for no apparent reason, but on the whole the fantasy framework means elements of floating and spinning are largely pulled off.
As an educational production this is a very effective show. It has lots of facts, lots of diversity and some really impressive singing to carry it along. If I were watching just for entertainment, I would like to see a bit of humour added, just to round it out a bit. Nonetheless, this is a crafted piece of work, with much thought invested into it. It is certainly worth a watch for its informative content.
Written by: Rachel Barnett-Jones
Music Composed by: Jenny Gould
Directed by: Clare Whistler
Design by: Sophia Lovell Smith
Produced by: HMDT Music
Jina and the STEM Sisters is available to stream for £10. Booking information can be found on HMDT Music’s website via the below link.