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Vic Holt and Alby Stockley - Airswimming Interview

A new production of Airswimming by multi-award-winning playwright Charlotte Jones, will be presented at the White Bear Theatre, Kennington from 17th to 21st October.

This moving yet dark comedy is inspired by the real story of two women, Miss Kitson and Miss Baker, who, in the early 1920’s, were incarcerated in a hospital for the criminally insane, as moral imbeciles - one for wishing to dress like a man and the other for bearing an illegitimate child.  

Discarded by society and forgotten by their families, Dora and Persephone are united by circumstances.  They develop a unique bond, adopt alter egos, Dorph and Porph, and together tread water and create an imagined world in which Doris Day provides solace and hope. The fluid timeline flows between the harsh linear world of the hospital and a world of their imagination.

Scandalously the two inmates and many others who suffered a similar fate were not released until the 1970s and this brilliant play is a stark reminder of society’s cruel treatment endured by the forgotten women of these generations.

The production stars Vic Holt as Dora/Dorph and Alby Stockley as Persephone/Porph. Vic and Alby recently graduated from drama school. They had both enjoyed successful careers before training, Vic as a Consultant Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist and Alby as a Youth Worker. Airswimming is a play they are both passionate about and wanted to produce and they are so delighted their dream is now a reality.

Ahead of the run I caught up with Vic and Alby to discuss the production.

Can you please begin by telling me a little bit about the piece and your role within the show?

Vic: Air Swimming is based on the lives of 2 women who were incarcerated into an asylum in the 1920s and not released until the 1970s. Miss Dora Kitson (for dressing like a man) and Miss Persephone Baker (for having an illegitimate child)

They form a close bond and find ways of coping with their fate, often providing comfort and support to each other over 50 years.  I play Dora.

The play also has alternate scenes of Dorph (Dora) and Porph (Perspephone) which could be interpreted as them developing alter egos to find a way to cope with  their incarceration or could be seen as Dora and Persephone post asylum when they are older and struggling with PTSD, they continue to comfort and support each other after becoming institutionalised.

Alby:  The piece is the journey of two women who were incarcerated during the 1920’s for breaking the societal and moral norms/expectations of the time. They are labelled, institutionalised and forgotten by their families, by a system that is perverted to stifle and render them impotent. And by a society that is rigid and unforgiving. When they are finally released it is into a world they have neither the knowledge or the tools to traverse. It is a story of survival, love and friendship.

I play Persephone, a naive and cosseted woman who has a child by an already married man. She is a product of her upbringing, but manages to retain a sense of innocence and joy despite all that she endures.

What attracted you to wanting to tell this story?

Vic:  I saw this play in the late 1990s and it has stayed with me ever since. I was moved on a number of levels, as a woman, a gay woman, and as a psychiatrist. 
The fact they were locked up and forgotten for being themselves is tragic , but what also shines through is how a strong bond of friendship can also give you a sense of freedom.

Alby:  I was 20 when I became a mum. I spent much of that time as a single mum. I have been judged for it. I have sat in meetings as a youth worker, where single mums were discussed and described as benefits abusers who were work shy, of loose morals, uneducated and unable to make good decisions. This play is a story that is still relevant. Still happening. It is a story of my lifetime. My Mother and Aunties lifetime. My child's lifetime. I have been and have known these women. I have worked with them. I believe to keep our freedoms we must be aware of what our freedoms are. This is a story that reminds us in part of the rights and acceptances we have won and of those we still need to build on. Both for women and for the LBGTQ+ community. I was attracted to this play because it reminded me of all of this and these are things I feel passionately about.

With the piece set just after World War One, did you have to do any research into the period?

Vic:  We have done a lot of research both into that time period and even found the actual hospital that they were detained in.  It has been a fascinating learning curve.

Alby:  As a bit of a history nerd already I had some awareness of the era, so I found myself researching the history of women in prison and women's mental health. Particularly their treatment during the 1920’s. When you read records of some of the women, they are very brief and the language is very austere.

What keeps you inspired as an artist?

Vic:  I love comedy and despair and this play has plenty of both. I love playing strong women and Dora appeals to me on a number of levels.

Alby:  What keeps me inspired as an artist? People. Their ability to grow through adversity. Resilience. My Dutch Grandfather was part of the Dutch Resistance during WW2. I was brought up on stories of his exploits whilst living under occupying forces. I remember watching the Berlin Wall being torn down on the news. A persons determination to kick back and to fight against oppression on any scale is what inspires me as an artist.

What do you hope an audience member takes away from seeing the show?

Vic:  I hope they are as a moved as we have by been by the play, and that our performances do their stories justice.   It feels so important and a privilege to keep telling their story so they do not remain invisible and forgotten.

Alby:  I hope the audience take away an awareness of the forgotten women who were wrongly locked away from the world for so long.  And that we are as strong as those we stand beside.

Airswimming plays at The White Bear Theatre in Kennington from 17th until 21st October 2023. Tickets are available from

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