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Votes for Women review at New Vic, Newcastle-under-Lyme – ‘resonant and thoughtful’

Lowri Izzard and Kieran Hill in Votes for Women at the New Vic, Newcastle-under-:Lyme. Photo: Andrew Billington

Kentucky-born actor, writer and activist Elizabeth Robins’ play Votes for Women, first staged at the Royal Court in 1907, is animated by a scintillating intelligence. Adapted and directed by Theresa Heskins to mark the centenary of the Representation of the People Act, it’s a fine tribute to the literary and political energies of the woman who first played Ibsen’s heroines on the British stage and pulled a gun on a pestering George Bernard Shaw.

It depicts the political moment in which suffragists became suffragettes, when methods of polite patience gave way to direct action and anger at the reform-promising but inert Liberal government. Heskins provides a neat prologue that dramatises outcry in the parliamentary women’s gallery in response to the sneering and filibustering of male MPs.

The first act is dense and detailed with lively repartee. Into an upper-class Edwardian milieu preoccupied by philanthropy, Conservative re-election and amused distaste for noisy suffragettes comes the figure of Vida Levering (played with dignity and wit by Polly Lister), an unmarried woman in her thirties with political fervour and a compromised past. The latter has much to do with oily Tory Geoffrey Stonor, whose young and monied fiancee Jean (the excellent Lowri Izzard) experiences an ideological awakening.

Dawn Allsopp’s deft designs transport us from a genteel garden to a Trafalgar Square rally (one that could do with more action and racket) and Stonor’s drawing room. Though the ending is a little pat, it shows how personal ambition, rather than principle, effects political change.

Verdict
A resonant, thoughtful adaptation of a rare suffragette play

Production Information

Production
Votes for Women
Venue
New Vic
City
Newcastle-under-Lyme
Starts
March 6, 2018
Ends
March 24, 2018
Press night
March 8, 2018
Authors
Elizabeth Robins
Adaptation
Theresa Heskins
Director
Theresa Heskins
Set
Dawn Allsopp
Lighting
Daniella Beattie
Sound
Alex Day
Stage manager
Steve Hall (company stage manager), Kate Wilcox (deputy stage manager)
Cast includes
Rebecca Brewer, Hannah Edwards, Elizabeth Elvin, Danielle Henry, Kieran Hill, George Howard, Lowri Izzard, Anna Kirke, Polly Lister, Jonathan Markwood, Hugh Simon
Producer
New Vic Theatre
Running time
2hrs