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An evening of pure pleasure with warring women



Review by Paul Nelson

AN UTTERLY delightful evening, peppered with polite jokes and sporting some excellent performances, can be found at the Finborough Theatre with its latest in-house production, The Women At War - A Centenary Celebration.

The evening is comprised of sketches written contemporaneously by members of the militant National Union of Women's Suffrage, Women's Social and Political Union and their supporters, not surprisingly one of them being George Bernard Shaw.

How The Vote Was Won is a very funny one-act play. In suburban Horace Cole's house, female relatives of him and his wife converge ostensibly for tea.

Horace is a staunch opponent of women's suffrage and, wild as his reactionary ideas are, he none-the-less puts them across earnestly and fervently.

However, the prospect of an army of females not only having tea in his home, but also planning to stay indefinitely, finally breaks down his resolve and he joins the distaff ranks.

A Chat With Mrs Chicky is another gem. The play has two characters, upper class Mrs Holbrook and charwoman, Mrs Chicky.

Mrs Holbrook's aim is to 'educate' the working classes and point out to them how unnecessary and foolish it is to wish for the vote. A likely candidate for her to persuade is hard-working Mrs Chicky, but Mrs Chicky is not simply a cleaning machine, she has a brain, can reason, and neatly and deftly turns the tables on the hapless Mrs Holbrook. Mrs Chicky is a card-carrying member of the suffrage movement.

There follows an unsentimental tribute to Emily Davison, who famously threw herself in front of the King's horse in the 1913 Derby, which, in spite of its factuality, I found quite moving. Dominique Gerrard, who was struggling to find her character in the first play, sails home in this monologue.

The GBS play is Press Cuttings, a one-act rant at the stupidity of the authorities not to realise that women are fellow creatures deserving fellow rights.

It has plenty of amusing touches, the Prime Minister Balsquith having to disguise himself in drag in order to get into the War Office through female picket lines being just one.

The play is overlong, Shaw always was carried away with his messages to the world, and this is no exception. It redeems itself by presenting opportunities for some splendid acting and Edmund Dehn as General Mitchener along with John Edmunds as Balsquith rise to its challenge and present a good deal of enjoyment.

The evening ends with Dame Ethel Smyth's vibrant March of the Women, written for a fundraising rally at the Royal Albert Hall in 1911.

The whole is goaded along by the charming Caroline Head, a dame with not only a pretty ankle I can assure you. As far as women's rights are concerned the sketches give excellent arguments for, along with some real chances for the girls to get to grips with some fine character lines, all in all giving an evening of pure pleasure.

The Women's War - A Centenary Celebration, Directed by Laura Dunton Clarke. Designed by Alex Marker, Lighting by Robert Gooch.
How The Vote Was Won by Cicely Hamilton and Christopher St John WITH: Anna Ledwich (Winifred), Josephine Peer (Ethel), Alexandra Francis (Lily), James Price (Horace), Rob Hughes (Gerald), Cally Lawrence (Agatha), Dominique Gerrard (Molly), Caroline Head (Maudie Spark), Lou Harvey (Madame Christine), Jackie Everett (Aunt Lizzie).
A Chat With Mrs Chicky by Evelyn Glover WITH: Anna Ledwich (Mrs Holbrook), Jackie Everett (Mrs Chicky).
Tribute to Emily Wilding Davison by Mary Richardson WITH: Dominique Gerrard (Mary Richardson).
Press Cuttings by George Bernard Shaw WITH: Edmund Dehn (General Mitchener), Rob Hughes (The Orderly), John Edmunds (Prime Minister Balsquith), Lou Harvey (Mrs Farrell), Cally Lawrence (Mrs Banger), Josephine Peer (Lady Corinthia).
The March of the Women, Music by Ethel Smyth, Lyric by Cicely Hamilton, WITH: The Company led by Caroline Head. Presented by Wild Pendulum in association with Concordance at the Finborough Theatre, 118 Finborough Road, London SW10 Tickets 020 7373 3842.


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