A celebration of suffrage plays and playwrights
In 1918 women over 30 and men over 21 won the right to vote in British elections. In 1928 the franchise was extended to include all women over 21. In August 2018 we celebrate these achievements by performing three one-act plays written during the suffrage campaigns in the early 20th century - ‘How the vote was won’ by Cicely Hamilton and Christopher St John, ‘A Chat with Mrs Chicky’ by Evelyn Glover and ‘Press Cuttings’ by George Bernard Shaw. The first two plays were written by women playwrights for the Actresses’ Franchise League; the third by a man who was an ardent supporter of women’s suffrage. These plays are part of women’s political and theatrical history and like so many aspects of women’s history they have largely been ignored and forgotten. They inform, enlighten and celebrate women’s commitment and tenacity; they highlight the absurd beliefs and contradictions of the time and they do all this with wit, humour and elements of farce. A great evening’s entertainment and an opportunity to reflect on how far we have come (and how far we still have to go)!
‘How the vote was won’ by Cicely Hamilton and Christopher St John.
One of the best known suffrage plays, this is an ensemble piece. It is set in Ethel and Horace Cole’s living room in Brixton in the first decade of the 20th century. It is the day of a general women’s strike called because women have been refused the vote on the grounds that they do not need it because they all have men to look after them!
The play was first performed at the Royalty Theatre in April 1909.
The playwrights - Cicely Hamilton was a member of the Actresses’ Franchise League and the Women Writers’ Suffrage League. She worked as an actress before becoming a writer. From 1914-1917 she worked at a hospital in France and formed a repertory company at the Somme.
Christopher St John, also known as Christabel Marshall, was a member of the Actresses’ Franchise League and the Women Writers’ Suffrage League. She was also an actress and a writer and founded the Pioneer Players with Edith Craig, the daughter of Ellen Terry.
‘A Chat with Mrs Chicky’ by Evelyn Glover.
This is a play as much about class as it is about women’s suffrage and reflects the growing involvement of working class women in the suffrage movement following the founding of the Women's Social and Political Union (WSPU) in 1903. It also explores the views of women who formed themselves into anti-suffrage societies and worked to collect signatures on petitions against women’s suffrage. This is a great duoloque for two actors.
The play was first performed at the Rehearsal Theatre in 1912.
The playwright - Evelyn Glover had a long and successful career as a writer of plays for the stage and short pieces for radio including a children’s series.
‘Press Cuttings’ by George Bernard Shaw.
The play is set in a room in the War Office on 1 April 1912. Shaw assumes that the Suffragettes will be in direct confrontation with the government, that German rearmament will be under way and that the government and army will be struggling with a fair degree of incompetence to maintain control. Into the mix he adds two anti-suffrage leaders whose arguments enable him to parody those of the Women’s National Anti-Suffrage League and a charwoman who seems to have a better grasp of the situation than everyone else. This is an ensemble piece with fantastic opportunities for both female and male actors.
The first public performance was at the Gaiety Theatre, Manchester, on 27 September 1909.
The playwright - George Bernard Shaw was an Irish playwright, polemicist and political activist. He supported women’s suffrage but not the tactics of the WSPU. He wrote more than 60 plays: the best known being “Man and Superman’, ‘Pygmalion’, and ‘Saint Joan’. Press Cuttings, written in 1909, is a farcical comedy, subtitled ‘A Topical Sketch Compiled from the Editorial and Correspondence Columns of the Daily Papers’.