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Everything Is Possible: The York Suffragettes review at Theatre Royal, York – ‘impressive community production’

Barbara Marten and David Allsopp. Photo: Anthony Robling

“Deeds not words” was Emmeline Pankhurst’s militant motto. So when you are caught up in a melee outside York Minster involving placard wavers, protest singers and incendiary speechmakers urging women of the world to unite against gender injustice, you could be forgiven for thinking a full-blown, girl-power riot is indeed about to erupt.

But this shouty curtain-raiser to the Theatre Royal’s sixth annual community production is a faux-demo designed to activate the audience into angry mode before a battalion of Edwardian suffragettes marches everyone off to the theatre to discover how local women challenged male power to gain the right to vote.

As the centrepiece of the theatre’s Of Woman Born season, Bridget Foreman’s compelling, celebratory, skilfully staged but overlong play involving more than 350 “community collaborators” depicts an historic moment of genuine female solidarity and empowerment, drawing inspiration from the forgotten story of Annie Seymour Pearson who joined up with other local heroines following Pankhurst’s call for direct action.

The scenes involving Annie’s transformation from quiet middle-class respectability to fearless convicted law-breaker are well-developed and superbly acted by Barbara Marten, with compelling performances too from key community cast members.

The huge ensemble portrays everyone else, from force-fed suffragettes to conniving politicians, with some gorgeously arranged mass choral work underscoring the narrative. But if Annie’s personal struggle for justice sometimes feels overwhelmed by the production’s epic ambitions, the end result is a potent reminder of how women helped achieve the ballot box equality we enjoy today by putting the rage into suffragette.

 

Verdict
An impressive large-scale community production linking the personal and the political

Production

Production
Everything is Possible: The York Suffragettes
Venue
Theatre Royal
City
York
Starts
June 20
Ends
July 1
Press night
June 21
Authors
Bridget Foreman
Composer
Ivan Scott
Director
Juliet Forster, Katie Posner
Set
Sara Perks
Lighting
Prema Mehta
Costume
Sara Perks
Technical
Lauren Halsall and Luke James (assistant stage managers), Clare Morse (deputy stage manager on the book), Fiona Baistow (assistant director), Hazel Jupp (head of wardrobe)
Stage manager
Anna Belderbos
Cast includes
Liz Elsworth, Mark France, Annabelle Lee, Barbara Marten, Beth Sitek, Jo Smith
Producer
Pilot Theatre, York Theatre Royal
Running time
2hrs 50mins