In the first few months of 2012 I worked as a dresser on South Downs/The Browning Version at the Comedy Theatre in London. I was in the second year of my PhD, and also putting together the manuscript of The Methuen Drama Book of Suffrage Plays. Working in wardrobe on West End shows is intense - you're in eight shows a week and often also more for laundry calls, understudy runs, and maintenance sessions. It's also great fun - I've worked in wardrobe on nearly 30 West End shows since 1998 and been fortunate to work with and for some incredibly lovely and talented people on stage and off.
It was on that show that the idea of a suffrage themed 'top trumps' style game first came to me. I thought it would be a great way to introduce some of the amazing campaigners I was finding in my research - and talking about constantly! - to new audiences in an accessible and fun way.
My friend Greg who was then the deputy head of the wardrobe dept and is now a tailor was super encouraging of the idea and I mocked up a set to see if it would work. It did. Since that day I've been going on and on about this idea, keen to make it happen but not knowing how to do so.
But finally - in 2018 it has! It was totally worth the wait. Suffra-Greats! is a reality.
I've written the text for the cards, and the fantastic illustrations are by Cat Crossley, who runs Clavis and Claustra. The scores and categories have been fun to create, especially in this Vote100 centenary year of the partial franchise. This is what they represent:
Creativity - inventiveness in campaigning for Votes for Women.
Fame - how well known the person was in their lifetime.
Daring - the person's involvement in militancy and direct action.
Legacy - how the person has been remembered.
A high score means their face or name is widely recognised.
A low score shows they have not yet been celebrated enough.
The game comes with 30 playable cards, and instructions.
This year I've been among the suffrage historians who have been keen to point out that the colours of the movement were not all purple, white and green!
The Suffra-Greats! represent 18 different suffrage societies, shown by rosettes in their own colours. These include militant and constitutional societies, and societies for both women and men.
The first outing for the cards was at the National Theatre as part of the Courage Everywhere pop up events day on Sunday 18th November.
I was delighted to see adults and children enjoying playing the game and finding out all about the campaigners featured.
As of November 2018 packs of Suffra-Greats! are now available online and in a number of museum shops. At £10 a pack they are a perfect gift! Order them here: Clavis and Claustra
My second edited collection with Methuen Drama is being published on the 2nd July! It contains twelve pieces in all - a wide variety of material written by female and male suffragist writers between 1908-1914.
Spanning different styles and genres, the pieces explore many issues that interested feminist and suffragist campaigners such as the value of women's work, domestic and economic inequality, visibility in public space, direct action and its consequences, sexual double standards, and the influence of the media on public opinion. This collection builds on my first volume of plays, published in 2013. If you get both you will have an impressive collection of playable, accessible and fascinating plays that speak to us directly about how the suffrage movement represented itself on the stage and through the medium of performance.
Here's a little bit about each of the plays to whet your appetites!
Last week, in preparation for the discussion at Above the Arts on Women in Theatre, as part of Verve Festival, I decided to scan back through the last 12 months of reviews on The LGBTQ Arts Review to see how the gender imbalance in plays out in LGBT theatre. Admittedly, it's impossible for us to get to every LGBT show on in London, because there are simply too many (hurrah). However, it was no surprise that we covered 31 shows with male protagonists and / or about male sexuality, and only 9 with females. Trans stories are also incredibly rare.
In groups of ten to fifteen at a time, audiences will set off on a specially prepared route through Covent Garden starting from the historic Theatre Royal Drury Lane. At intervals throughout the route, actors and actresses begin their performances as the groups draw near, engaging audience members in comic and moving moments from the struggle for Votes for Women with pieces both inspired by and directly from the plays and experiences of the Actresses’ Franchise League…
Audiences will discover theatrical Suffragette secrets they never knew Theatre Land had been keeping!
2. Male support for Votes for Women
In the film 'Suffragette' the character of Hugh Ellyn, played by Finbar Lynch, is described by the policemen watching his property as being part of the 'Men's League.' Married to a known militant, he has apparently previously been imprisoned for his role in the suffrage campaign, and we see him in the film helping the WSPU to organise and carry out violent militant actions. Although we never get to hear any of his story, it's good to have acknowledgement of the male support for suffrage in the film - as it's an important part of the history of the campaign.
It's not made clear in the film or production notes, but I reckon, given his militant leanings, Lynch's character is most likely to have been part of the Men's Political Union for Women's Enfranchisement (MPU). The MPU was directly affiliated with the WSPU, the society featured in the film 'Suffragette,' and shared their colours of purple, white and green. As well as their headquarters near Charing Cross Station in London, they had a number of regional branches across the UK, including in Eastbourne, Birmingham and Letchworth and at both Oxford and Cambridge Universities. One branch, in East Grinstead, was apparently "actually the outcome of an anti-suffrage meeting there... One gentleman was so struck with the feebleness of the arguments that he proceeded to found a branch of the Men's League."
So this month I graduated with a PhD in Drama from the University of Manchester after four years of research and study that has been a total joy. I can't believe how it much it has changed me.
This article was published in the Observer newspaper on 24th August 2014 - it was originally published by the same paper on 24th August 1986 and is about the vote of the Magic Circle, the International Brotherhood of Magicians, in that year on whether to allow female magicians to become members of the organisation.
Studying, performing and engaging with feminist theatre from a century ago has pretty much ruined the past three years of theatre-going for me - and in many ways I couldn't be more pleased. I feel awake.
Last week the press reported negative comments made by the leader of UKIP about working women who take time off to have families - challenged about his views on working mothers he said "I can't change biology"
This old-fashioned (to be kind) and backward (to be honest) view reminded me of some equally ridiculous and sexist discrimination towards working women - in this case actresses - almost exactly a century ago...
On 29th January 1914 the Actresses' Franchise League held a Tea Dance at the Empress Rooms in Kensington.
It was a fundraiser for the League and as well as
Tea and the Tango, there were all sorts of other entertainments, including palmistry.
Well-known actresses became waitresses for the occasion to serve the tables and thereby hangs a tale...
Thoughts, reflections, bits of research