Nuworks Theatre, from Australia, bring their lively and passionate musical (written, directed and designed by David Dunn, with choreography by Meg Dunn) about the fight for women’s suffrage to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, and Suffragettes is an impressive addition to the work around this topic (see also, Sylvia, a musical WIP which ran at the Old Vic a few years ago).
With impressive production values (at times allowing different sections of the stage to be viewed through split screen work), this performance was filmed live on stage, and loses none of its detail and power. It takes the story of Mrs Pankhurst as its primary point of preference, and the cruelty of the treatment meted out to them through the abuse of male power and the ‘Cat and Mouse’ Act. The nineteen-strong cast, mainly women, are accomplished and memorable.
With twelve songs – including British :Labour anthem The Red Flag, incongruously set against the Soviet flag – staged with dance and movement which underlie the struggle these women faced to achieve the equality of the vote; the lyrics are indicative of the messages of “rise up, women” and “deeds not words”. It would be a twenty-five year struggle to achieve parity with men (property owning women or graduates over 30 could vote from 1918, but everyone else had to wait until 1928; all men over 21 were allowed to vote).
Interestingly, the reigning UK monarch in the 19th century to 1901 was a woman, Queen Victoria, who did not support the cause. The fight brought women from all classes together; although in the UK there was a split between suffragists, who sought peaceful constitutional change, and the suffragettes, who preferred the use of direct action.
Suffragettes: Deeds Not Words is well-cast and although it presents men in power as figures of fun to some degree, it does succeed in creating strong characterisations throughout and displays a clear knowledge of the people and events within the WSPU and beyond.
Fringe rating: *****