The Wild Lassie Report
Published: 3rd November 2016
It all started a year ago with an idea to research and investigate the death of Emily Wilding Davison. Ken had read “One-way Return Ticket to Epsom” which convinced him there was more to her martyrdom than suicide, I had my doubts. Following much discussion and argument (of course we never argue, we have a perfect working partnership) I should have said after our passionate debate, it led us into a year long quest for the truth, or as near to the truth as we could find. I became somewhat obsessed by the research turning up new people to look at, but what to use and what to discard was the most difficult part of the whole project. We concentrated on the North East movement as much as possible.
With funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund and Barbour’s Foundation we were able to then take our findings, in the form of education through drama or forum theatre, to audiences from 8 to 80 years old. Not to mention the many different venues, we held sessions in such diverse places as school halls to a room in the Hebburn Sea Cadet’s building.
We contacted 150 secondary schools asking them if we could bring a free “Show” or session about the suffrage movement and a little bit about the anti-suffrage movement into their school. We had seven replies, and a junior school joined us in Sunderland Library, we performed for almost 1000 pupils. We were also invited to perform in two local Libraries for the public; a diverse women’s group from Newcastle and the ALIST women’s group in Hebburn. I also attended the Women’s Heritage Day in Durham to talk about some of the inspiring local women I had found during my research, and there were many. We have a couple of talks planned in the New Year with different groups.
The costumes were made to be authentic and realistic using photographs of Emmeline Pankhurst in prison as well as the fashion of the day. The hats were again researched and I think we all agreed our favourite was Emily’s with its netting and clip. We were asked if that was what the women would wear, and yes it was.
Our audience members came from near and far, although most of them were local, we had African, Middle Eastern, Indian, Canadian, Vietnamese and Greek members of the audience some of who came to us at the end to verify some of the points we made and ask for more information.
Between each short scene (5 – 9 mins) we invited questions to be answered by the characters in role or by our facilitators (Ken and I). Some of the questions that stretched us the most were from the Diamond Hall School, Year 6 group. They were relevant, insightful and thought provoking. Bamburgh Special School also came up with questions that we had not anticipated, although between us we could answer the questions, it was good to know the young people had listened and engaged with the drama.
A couple of questions that we thought were particularly interesting were: “Since you’ve become a Suffragette have you stopped wearing makeup?” The girl who asked this question had obviously linked suffragettes with feminism in a certain way which I had not previously thought of. It was easy to answer as the Edwardians wore very little makeup.
Another was “What did your husband think about you being a Suffragette?” this was asked several times in different locations. Of course some women were unmarried but in character Connie Lewcock (Trish Haws) could honestly answer her husband was fully supportive as he wanted Universal Suffrage. The families of some of the others, such as Norah Balls, although supporting the cause, did not want their daughters involved.
We had to have a scene in prison, and although there was a bit of comedy the detailed description of forcible feeding could take place. After this scene Ken, who was horrified by the research we had unearthed, took great pains to explain and demonstrate how unsanitary the conditions were in prison and how the tubes would not be sterilised or cleaned properly. There were many “Aw” and “Gross” heard during these sessions.
We were lucky enough to have three great actors: Sarah Boulter who played a convincing Norah Balls of North Shields, then as Sarah a naive young Suffragette in prison she gave us many laughs and lastly as Mary Humphry Ward the Anti-Suffrage League President she showed us that not every woman was fighting for the vote. You will see Sarah in various productions and events around the area including Princess Jilliana in Jack and The Beanstalk at Gala Theatre Durham. Trish Haws played Connie Lewcock of Durham, Lady Constance Lytton and Millicent Fawcett leader of the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies, (a title that tripped Ken up almost daily). Trish is presently preparing for the next Encore show at the Customs House. Emily Wilding Davison was played throughout by Viktoria Kay (who we think is a reincarnation of Emily). You can see Viktoria in the Palm D’Or Award winning film “I, Daniel Blake” and the television programme Dark Angel. Our thanks are sincere to the girls who worked hard to bring this story to life for the audiences particularly when answering the questions posed to their characters. It gave the piece an air of realism.
I think we both agree, this has been a project we have greatly enjoyed being part of, we have worked hard to make it as interesting and accurate as possible and hope to bring it alive again soon. We also hope it will encourage our young people to use their hard won vote when the time arises.
In the meantime, watch this space for our next project, play, drama or discussion.