MUSICIAN, historian, teacher and composer Louise Jordan, a regular on the Artsreach circuit, is entertaining and educating fans across Dorset with her new show, No Petticoats Here.
It all started when she asked her husband where he would like to go for a richly-deserved short holiday after a summer of touring in 2014. “The Somme” was his answer.
So off they set off from their Fordingbridge home to France, and there Louise, unexpectedly, found herself drawn into the stories of the people involved in the action. First was Louise de Bettignies, whose simple portrait stood out against the polished and embellished church on the battlefield.
No Petticoats Here has been developed since that November day, with Louise’s researches, contemporary photographs, newly composed songs, original writings and stories of the remarkable women whose largely unsung work influenced the outcome of the Great War.
She thanked her Cerne Abbas audience for making the journey with her. “It’s difficult to explain what this show looks like,” she said.
There’s a black draped keyboard centre stage, against which pictures, backs turned to the audience, are propped. Two guitars are ready for action, as well as a snare drum. Louise, in cavalry jodhpurs, a white blouse and cap, introduces some of the women whose lives she has been researching, turning each grainy monochrome photograph to meet the viewers. A soundtrack brings the battle subtly to life, as well as providing readings from letters from the women.
It makes for a fascinating, shocking and sometimes wryly amusing panorama of the lives of women at the time of the Great War, from the familiar story of Vera Brittain to women who braved the front line, disguised as men or setting up field hospitals, those whose scientific discoveries in English universities helped the troops fighting in the trenches, even a football team in Preston that raised thousands of pounds for the war effort – and was disbanded by the FA when the war was over! French spies and resistance workers and workers in a Wiltshire munitions factory are brought to vivid life.
Louise is a fine singer and multi instrumentalist, and her songs moved the audience as clearly as they still effect her. No Petticoats Here (originated by Lt Gen Sir Arthur Sloggett, who told female medical corps volunteers: “My good lady, go home and sit still. We don’t want any petticoats here.”) is a work in progress.
If I have a criticism it is that the words and tunes are sometimes in conflict, and need a bit more work to fit together.
You can see No Petticoats Here at Salisbury Arts Centre on Thursday 15th February, Bridport Arts Centre on Saturday 10th March, or Millbrook Folk Club at Torpoint on Saturday 28th April.