Company name: Bloomers

Founders: Eileen Pollock (Polly), Eve Bland, Noreen Kershaw

Established: 1979

Reason: Because women’s lives were underrepresented on stage. Bloomers was born out of frustration amongst the ‘five strong women’ of Belt & Braces, the patriarchally top-heavy, alternative, socialist theatre company to which Eileen Pollock, Eve Bland and Noreen Kershaw were all very committed. Although there was usually one strong female part in every play, the remaining female roles were highly stereotypical, and often women just played men. Women whose lives were put on stage had to be in some way important, they couldn’t just be ordinary women.

Current Status: Disbanded. There was not one particular reason why the company disbanded, and there were no disputes between its members. It dissolved because they had other ongoing projects (they were not able to survive financially solely on the Bloomers’ work) and ended up going their different ways. Eileen Pollock formed Camouflage with ex-Beryl and the Perils member Christine Ellerbeck.

Area of Work: Women’s

Policy: A three-woman comedy team, addressing female issues in a serious but non-belligerent way. They were working to dismantle through theatre the concept of women’s issues as irrevocably separate from politics. ‘We were always subservient to the idea that the only way to tell a story was through the eyes of men… and the idea that ‘when the revolution’s over we can talk about women’s issues’’ (Eileen Pollock 2008). Noreen Kershaw chose the name Bloomers after Emily Bloomer, who caused scandal with her britches, designed to make cycling safer for women.

Structure: Collective. Eileen Pollock wrote most of the texts, however, the three members worked together collectively on all the shows. Bloomers were firm in the principles of the collective: they considered each other equal members of the company, and while everyone’s material was considered worthy, there was still a platform for discussion and constructive criticism.

Based: Camden, London

Funding: ‘First we had nothing, then Eileen Pollock got an Arts Council bursary for £400, which enabled us to pay for a rehearsal room, a movement consultant and some outside direction. It was very exciting, and scary, being in charge of ourselves. Eventually we got an Arts Council Grant for the tours we set up, so we could offer each other and a stage manager a minimum wage.’ (Eileen Pollock 2013)

Performance Venues: Mainly performed in small-scale theatres, working men’s clubs, miners’ clubs, labour clubs, colleges and community and arts centres in and around London, as well as elsewhere in the UK such as Manchester, Reading and Leeds. Bloomers 3 also did a conference of women criminologists in Colchester ‘who said they learned more from the show than from all the lectures they had to endure!’ (Eileen Pollock 2013)

Audiences: Predominantly women but because of their background with the mixed company Belt & Braces, they also drew audiences from both genders.

For more Bloomers images see Eileen Pollock’s interviewee page.

Company work and process:
The company’s creative process started with the collecting of their own and other women’s testimonies of everyday experiences. For Bloomers 1, billed ‘1,001 Women’s Days and Nights’, the company conducted research in launderettes, libraries, crèches, nursery groups and other places where women met and talked. These stories were then used as starting points to develop scripts for sketches and shows. They devised the sketches collectively, with Eileen Pollock most often writing the scripts. After performances, Bloomers would gather further testimonies, anecdotes and opinions from the audience members to use in future productions.

Topics dealt with by Bloomers included: women and work (Bloomers 1) under every aspect – the work place, house work, motherhood, ‘the invisible labour of women’; women and madness (Bloomers 2), either induced by impossible circumstances or perceived as ‘hysteria’; women and crime (Bloomers 3), also in the context of the Thatcher era. They considered themselves to be ‘good girls’ compared to members of other women’s companies such as Beryl and The Perils, who they often double-billed with and who dealt with issues such as menstruation and masturbation.

Personal Appraisal and Thoughts:

Eileen Pollock: ‘Creating Bloomers gave us a lot of strength; I/we learned that we could achieve things for ourselves and the responses we got from our – mainly female – audiences let us know that we were important for them as well. I think we achieved what we set out to do: putting the spotlight on ordinary women’s lives, and having a shared laugh at the same time! I’m very proud of us!’

Noreen Kershaw: ‘”Why don’t you go and crawl back under your stone with your women’s issues”  Yes that was said to me all those years ago. But what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger and I found great strength working with Eve Bland and Eileen Pollock in Bloomers. We learnt loads, we were good friends, we had an equal partnership and it also felt good to be part of a women’s movement that was growing and speaking up for itself.’

Bloomers 1
Daily Mirror work study reported that a working man can be valued at £177,000 while a woman (surprise, surprise) is valued at only £54,000. From such news reports theatrical events are inspired… three actresses, when reading this, spent the next few months in Camden, London, interviewing working class women about their lives, fantasies and difficulties. The result of their efforts is a theatrical treat – a fast-moving, very funny production. Well acted and designed with a healthy smattering of my favourite pink colour the show uses a great deal of dramatic gimmickry – people appearing out of cupboards and constant costume changes … the jokes were sharp and beautifully timed’ (Spare Rib, 1979)


Bloomers 1
Cast: Eileen Pollock, Eve Bland, Noreen Kershaw
Bulmershe College, Reading
Carlton Centre, London
St Andrew's Church, London
Chat's Palace, London
Longhouse Centre, London
Bloomers 2
Cast: Eileen Pollock, Eve Bland, Noreen Kershaw
Bloomers 3: Women in Crime
Cast: Eileen Pollock, Eve Bland, Noreen Kershaw

Interviewee reference: Eileen Pollock

Existing archive material: V&A Theatre Archives – Eileen Pollock file (currently lost!)

Unpublished plays by Eileen Pollock:
Bloomers 1 (1979)
Bloomers 2 (1980)
Bloomers 3: Women in Crime (1981)
Acknowledgements: This web page was written and constructed by Natalia Rossetti with grateful thanks to Eileen Pollock for her help. November 2013

The creation of this page was supported by the National Lottery through the Heritage Lottery Fund.