To Freedom's Cause: Houses of Parliament

Emily matters

To Freedom’s Cause – 4 stars, 13/02/14, Houses of Parliament

The Houses of Parliament may often be home to a great deal of drama, but it is a rare occasion that it is the venue for actual theatre. Yet, on the evening of Thursday 13th February, the Jubilee Room housed a small invited audience (about 90% women, I noticed – which makes a change from the usual demographic in the building!) who had come to attend an evening of performance and debate. Titled ‘To Freedom’s Cause: The campaign for equality – still worth fighting for?’, the evening was presented by the Emily Davison Statue in Parliament Campaign in association with Kate Willoughby Productions, and took the form of Willoughby’s play (To Freedom’s Cause) followed by a panel debate.

The play was produced simply with little set, other than suffragette banners and flags adorning the walls of the room and just a few chairs on stage. The show was presented in a curved thrust, with the actors sitting on chairs in the front row at the sides when not on stage. There were also occasional voices off – from actors being passers-by or hecklers – which came from members of the team planted in the audience. This made you feel like you were in the centre of the action.

The cast of four women and one man were dressed very simply, in plain clothing representative of the era during which the action was set (around 1913 for the most part). The narrative did jump around time-wise, but this was clearly signposted by introducing the date and place of each scene; the play was effectively split into ‘chapters’ which pieced together to form the whole story. The largest proportion of this story was set between 1911 ad 1913, detailing the build up to Emily Davison’s historically significant death, after stepping in front of the King’s Horse at Epsom Derby. Within these few years, we journey around both London and the north of England with her, following her relationships with her mother, her best friend, and the Women’s National Anti-Suffrage League. It was the insight into these relationships, not always portrayed sympathetically, which drew the audience in, and made this a play not just about ‘history’, but about people, love, fear and commitment.

It was interesting, also, to consider the story from the perspective of the jockey who rode the horse that killed her, and parts of the play were set in the 1940s and ‘50s, as Herbet Jones, the King’s jockey continued to try to come to terms with the event. Although this was an interesting angle to explore, the piece did occasionally lack pace, and these sections would be easy to compress.

The most memorable scene in the play was that depicting the force-feeding of women in Strangeways prison, which was sophisticatedly directed to explain and show the horror of this practice. The cast’s ensemble singing also stood out and added a great deal to both the flow and power of the piece.

The panel debate after the show was interesting, although it would have been very useful for the speakers to have been introduced. The discussion added another dimension to the night, as we contemplated the history of social change, the place and power of feminism today, and the everyday, often discrete, battles we are still fighting.

In the Houses of Parliament there are only six out of one hundred non-royal statues of women. I think a statue of Emily Davison would be a welcome step towards remedying this, and I hope Kate Willoughby’s play not only contributes to this campaign, but also goes on to receive a wider audience beyond Westminster’s walls.

(C) Kate Massey-Chase 2014

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Website: http://www.katewilloughby.co.uk
Twitter: @katewilloughby8 / @2FCPlay #EmilyMatters
Instagram: tofreedomscause

Photo by @tweeter_anita

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