This week in Bristol and Me, we speak to Kim Hicks, a Bristol-based actor
I’m playing the title role in Show of Strength’s latest production, about an extraordinary Bristol woman called Sarah Guppy. First and foremost, she was an engineer at a time when women just didn’t do that sort of thing. In 1811 she became the first woman to patent a bridge design, but was frequently pushed back to designing domestic appliances – she invented an early teasmade – because that was an acceptable thing to do.
Brunel came to stay when she lived at Arnos Manor. It’s fair to surmise they spent time in each other’s company and she might well have considered him – a man who got to do what she dreamt of doing – a rather attractive prospect; there’s a picture of him playing cards with her children in Arnos Manor Hotel. What is now Brislington’s Black Castle pub were her stables, originally built by a brass manufacturer – those black bricks were made from the process’s waste product. She also lived in Richmond Hill, where her blue plaque is, and Queen Square.
Sarah was a big fan of Bristol. She wrote a letter asking “Why shall our magnificent city be left to lag behind?” I feel a great affinity with her, someone who wanted to do things right for the city. Personally, I’m anxious about this raft of high-rise building proposals. Our mayor says “aspirational cities build high,” but I think Bristol should be innovational, not aspirational, and find other ways to create housing.
I’m a seventh generation actor on my father’s side, grew up surrounded by stories of the Newells’ travelling theatre. They were gypsies, in the north at the same time as the Redgrave family were a travelling theatre in the south. Acting is a tough profession because there’s so much insecurity – most actors in England earn less than £5,000 annually from their work – but when you get involved with people like Show of Strength, it’s great; you’re constantly challenged, constantly looking at human behaviour, at ways theatre can connect with people.
Sarah Guppy: The Bridge, The Bed, The Truth plays in Bristol from Nov 6–9. Ffi: showofstrength.org.uk
Image credit: Zuleika Henry