Knickerbocker Glories, Street Theatre Company at Strode Theatre

THE Representation of the People Act which enfranchised British women over the age of 30 and with property rights had been passed in February 1918, but by Christmas 1918, the completed ballot papers for the first general election to include their votes lay uncounted.

Progress had been, and many believe continues to be, astonishingly slow.

This year around the country there have been celebrations marking the bravery and persistence of the Suffragettes. In the week the statue of Millicent Fawcett was unveiled opposite the House of Commons, Street Theatre launched its own tribute, in the form of a revue drawn from contemporary plays about suffrage, and songs from the period.

Director Lois Harbinson called it Knickerbocker Glories – an evening full of passion, humour and agitprop. The four plays were originally performed by the Actresses Franchise League, which ran from 1908 to 1913.

Working in collaboration with Strode Theatre, and using its fine studio for the intimate performance, she gathered a strong company to perform these stories, each shining new light on some aspect of the life of varied suffragettes, and the women who started off campaigning AGAINST them.

The arguments put forward opposing enfranchising women are shockingly funny in two plays by Cicely Hamilton and Christopher St John (the nom-de-plume of Christabel Gertrude Marshall), one by Evelyn Glover and a monologue by Mrs Harlow Phibbs.

They highlighted the dichotomy faced by right-thinking women influenced by frightened husbands, and the hypocrisy of the attitudes of many men, especially the lawmakers.

Pot and Kettle is a story of social climbers, subtly performed by Karen Trevis and Peter Wintle as self-satisfied parents, Francesca Fallows as their impetuous daughter Marjorie, Charlie Wood as their unexpectedly well-connected suf­f­­ra­gette niece and Glynn Webster as Marjorie’s insufferable fiance.

Miss Appleyard’s Awakening, performed by Eliane Morgan, Jane Sayer and Charlotte Clarke, is a play about the balance of power, and the first half ended with Sara Holt’s hilarious solo turn as Mrs Puckle in A Mother’s Meeting.

The second half was given over to Hamilton and St John’s fantasy How the Vote Was Won, a delirious imagining of women not resorting to the Lysistratan withdrawal of sex, but to implementing the strict letter of the law, by which unmarried women were entitled to call on their nearest male relation for support and lodging. The self-important Horace Cole (Glynn Webster) arrives home from work on the day the “action” begins, to find his wife trying in vain to prepare dinner for him, in the absence of servants. But his problems have only just started as, one by one, his sister, his niece, his second cousin, his music-hall star first cousin and his aunt arrive with their suitcases to demand their familial rights. Before many minutes he is fully in support of Votes for Women, as are all the other men in the vicinity. The entire company performs in this play, and the show ends with an audience sing song – not of the Only a Bird in a Gilded Cage, My Old Man and Put Me on an Island of earlier, but Ethel Smyth’s anthem The March of the Women.

The Great Pilgrimage of 1913 saw suffragists walking from around Britain to Hyde Park where 50,000 met. One of the six marches passed through Street. The cast re-enacted the event in the town on the Saturday before the show.

I only hope that the company can find more places to perform this revue during this year. It would be a pity not to spread the word further with this brilliantly performed  and thoughtfully selected group of plays.

The production was dedicated to the memory of Bruce Bourquin, who died suddenly less than a week before the opening night. His roles were taken, seamlessly, by Peter Wintle.


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