Rod’s Blog 21.06.13
‘Wrong ‘Un,’ our new one woman musical written by Boff Whalley and performed by Ella Harris has now opened – and this coming Monday will play to a sell-out audience in Hebden Bridge as part of the Hebden Bridge Arts Festival.
‘Wrong ‘Un’ is a beautiful piece – in many ways Boff’s best piece of writing yet. The story tells the tale of Annie Wilde, a working class Suffragette – one of the’clog and shawl brigade’ who came down to London from Lancashire to take direct action in the fight for votes for women in the 1900’s. What I didn’t know was that Emmeline Pankhurst agreed to coordinate the ‘white feather campaign’ in return for the vote – a horrible campaign where young women bullied young men into enlisting to fight in the First World War (before conscription came in). A white feather, a symbol of cowardice, was handed to the man to shame him into enlisting. I always believed this campaign was a piece of government propaganda – I had no idea that it was the Suffragettes who organised this. It is not surprising that many of the working class women refused to take part in this campaign and this split the movement. In 1918 only women of property were given the vote which meant that 60% of all women were not eligible to vote – working class women had to carry on fighting and didn’t get the vote until 1928 – after the General Strike.
‘Wrong ‘Un’ asks a serious question of the audience. How far would you go to fight for a key human right? Women were tortured by the authorities in prison – that’s not an exaggeration. Force-feeding was brutal and high numbers died – very often several years after the treatment and often of related conditions that were directly caused by the cruel treatment suffered in prison. Boff has cleverly written an hour long musical which is very funny in places but doesn’t pull its punches when detailing how badly the women were treated. There is a rather ‘twee’ sit-com on BBC at the moment entitled ‘Up the Women’. It is mildly amusing – but basically pokes fun at the Suffragette Movement. At first I thought it was a clever piece of satire, poking fun at the upper middle class women who became part of the movement – but it actually seems to be mocking the struggle and we must not forget that women died in the fight.
After the Hebden gig, Ella will be performing the show at The Unite the Union Women’s Week at the Unite Conference Centre in Eastbourne. Boff and Ella will also hold a post-show discussion with the delegates. Len McCluskey, the General Secretary of Unite, has often stated publicly that he would endorse direct action taken by union members. What Len doesn’t say is what kind of direct action.
Suffragettes were prepared to break the law in their actions – they smashed windows, they damaged paintings at the National Gallery, they trespassed and occupied private property. All these actions are still clamped down upon heavily. Climate activists who broke into power stations have faced prison sentences.They had no intention of committing criminal damage – they merely wanted to hang banners in order to bring attention to the criminal damage to the climate that coal powered energy causes, but they faced severe sentences and were reported as ‘lunatics’ or even ‘terrorists’ by the press and the authorities.
When does an activist become a heroine? When their struggle results in positive social change – change which improves lives. Unfortunately people only take direct action when they do not have a voice and they do not feel heard. What we haven’t learnt from history is that very fact – the Suffragettes were driven to direct action by being mocked and ignored for many years by men who held all the political power.
If you missed the performance of ‘Wrong ‘un’ at the Leeds Big Bookend then don’t panic – the show is touring all summer and will start again in January with two dates at The City Varieties (January 23rd/24th) and then other regional dates are in the pipeline including a performance on March 7th for International Women’s Day at Halifax Square Chapel.
About Rod: Rod became Artistic Director of Red Ladder Theatre Company in 2006, following his role as associate director at the Barbican Theatre in Plymouth. He has also ran The Hub Theatre School in Cornwall and been an actor with several companies including Kneehigh Theatre. Directing credits for Red Ladder include Where’s Vietnam?, Forgotten Things, Riot, Rebellion & Bloody Insurrection, Ugly, Sex & Docks & Rock ‘N’ Roll, Big Society! and Promised Land. Rod is both a life-long Liverpool supporter and a believer in Proudhon’s principles of anarchy – the two might be connected.