EMILY WILDING DAVISON: THE ONE WHO THREW HERSELF UNDER THE HORSE
by Ros Connelly.
Burton Taylor Studio Gloucester Street OX1 2BN To 18 June.
TICKETS: 01865 305305.
then Knebworth Village Hall 21 June 2013.
Runs 1hr 10min No interval.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 17 June.
The unknown life behind the well-known death.
As historical play titles go, Ros Connelly’s matches Liz Lochhead’s Mary Queen of Scots Got Her Head Chopped Off for length and apparent flippancy. But there’s nothing flippant about this play, developed with director Kath Burlinson and performer Elizabeth Crarer for Cambridge Devised Theatre. The title’s more a sign of frustration.
For her death on Derby Day 1913, is the only thing widely known about the suffragette from Northumberland, her radical conscience infused from her parents, someone who might been satisfied by attending a women’s university college and becoming a teacher.
But one Sunday in Hyde Park she hears votes for women campaigner Annie Kenney. Davison’s soon taking action, losing jobs and building a criminal CV. No-one, she discovers, listens until you throw a stone (it becomes routine for her), set fire to a post-box or assault the Baptist Minister you’ve just mistaken for the Chancellor of the Exchequer.
Crarer’s performance is vivid, alert and detailed. Early prison sentences, days or a month, are tolerated, but enforced wearing of dirty, shabby prison garb brings the demand to be treated as a political prisoner, allowed their own clothes.
As offences and punishments increase, the results become physically evident: agonised stiffness when held in a chair and force-fed (the posture like someone being raped), the stiff walk and limp after Davison throws herself down prison stairs to prevent other prisoners being beaten.
Aptly, a long rope suggests all manner of objects including scrubbing-brush, podium and bicycle. Crowds are imagined through Stuart Brindle’s soundscapes. Essentially, though, Crarer’s physicality creates mood, the joy of walking freely or the shock of being thrown into yet another prison-cell.
But the one-person format discourages debate with other suffragettes, though there are awkward attempts to fake talk with the audience. As middle-age encroaches, joy dissipates in agony. Does determination meet and negotiate with obsession? What took her to her death at the Epsom Derby?
Connelly and Crarer wish to focus on her life rather than its much-publicised end. But without arguing whether the death was ill-luck, sacrificial martyrdom or sudden madness, the life itself is never fully unlocked.
Emily Wilding Davison: Elizabeth Crarer.
Director: Kath Burlinson.
Lighting/Sound: Stuart Brindle.