Helen Murphy | The Royal Central School of Speech and Drama

Helen Murphy

Project Title

‘Faint Flickerings’: Printed Imagery of the Typical Female Figure as a Genre


Prof. Simon Shepherd and Dr. Katharine Low 


MA (hons) Psychology/Theatre Studies, University of Glasgow, 2009

MA Scenography, The Royal Central School of Speech and Drama, 2011


I investigate imagery portraying female figures set in typical costume, mise-en-scène and motifs under the social contract of genre. The material, made in France and Britain between the 1820s and 1910s, includes lithographs, photographs, cartes-de-visite, and postcards. I attend to the formal features of the material in a specific societal and historical context. At the same time, I position myself as ‘analyst’ in the present day in order to address a fundamental contradiction in dominant historical narratives that have tended to see this material as pertaining to either a male or a female author. Against the grain of such categorisations, I treat the generic image as a text whose production depends on its personalised reading. My argument is presented through typological readings of the generic image itself and of literary texts that respond to the material. I critique generalisations around women and the feminine, and describe the circulation of desire operated by the material in its society. This thesis thus recuperates a generic body of material and unburdens the imagery of its categorical association with either women or men. 


I am a researcher and scenographer based in London, and a graduate of the University of Glasgow (2009) and The Royal Central School of Speech and Drama (2011). At the University of Glasgow, I took forward my studies in psychology as a researcher on the Watching Dance Project investigating kinesthetic empathy. At RCSSD, I have taught seminars on representation, feminism, activism and human rights for BA Drama, Applied Theatre and Education and specialist classes on exoticism in early twentieth century opera and ballet for MA/MFA Scenography. My previous professional experience also includes design and costume-based roles for theatrical productions in the UK. I have presented research at the following conferences: Scenographic Things, Scenography Objects, TaPRA, Dublin, Ireland, 2015; MOTIF RHUL Practice-based Research Conference, London, 2014; International Federation for Theatre Research, Warwick, UK, 2014, and Barcelona, Spain, 2013; CCCS Conference, Skopje, Republic of Macedonia, 2014, 2013; Colloquium of Performance Research, London, UK, 2014, 2013; Watching Dance Conference, Manchester, UK, 2010. I am the recipient of an AHRC doctoral award (2013), two Board of Governors’ travel grants and a TaPRA travel bursary. 


2012 Set designer - NowHere - Watford Palace Theatre - London (Divya Kasturi)

2012 Set and Costume - Joe Orton’s The Erpingham Camp - Bethnal Green Theatrical Society - London

2010 Assistant Costume Designer - Orlando - Theatre Cryptic production - Glasgow

2010 Costume - What We Know - Ek Performance/Traverse co-production - Edinburgh

2010 Scenography (Sculpture and Costume) - The Gilding Room - Playathome production - G12 Gilmorehill Theatre

2009 Assistant designer - An Argument about Sex - Untitled Projects/Tramway/Traverse co-production - Glasgow and Edinburg

Key Publications

2012 'Using a novel motion index to study the neural basis of event segmentation', i-Perception, 3.4: 225

Conference Presentations

2012 'European Women and a European Void: Desiring the Orient in ‘Fin-de-siècle’', European Dance, Postgraduate Conference, RCSSD

2011 'Positioning the Figure in Beckett’s ‘Ill Seen Ill Said’', Postgraduate Conference, RCSSD

2010 'Exploration of the visual information and neural processes that form the basis of event segmentation in dance', Watching Dance Conference, University of Manchester

Teaching areas/expertise

Nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century culture, particularly concerning the portrayal and/or presentation of the female figure





Sexuality and gender

Research techniques and methodologies, particularly concerning the production and consumption of neglected everyday materials