A new musical performed at Latitude festival shows that the feminist battles of the early 20th century are not academic, but can inspire new voices today.
It’s a great tribute to contemporary feminism – and the internet age – that a political podcast can provide a launchpad for what hopes to be a game-changing musical production.
In this case, it has kicked off a powerful new stage show on the centenary of the first women getting the right to vote.
Suffrageddon, a crowdfunded musical masterminded by The Guilty Feminist host Deborah Frances-White, covers the battle for suffrage before the 1918 Act – honing in on the divide between purely peaceful and distinctly radical forms of protest.
The suffragette/suffragist debate – played out in the tensions between moderate Millicent Fawcett and suffragette leader Emmeline Pankhurst – is well-trodden ground. But it has never been done as a hip hop musical – and it is rare too to see what could become a major West End hit to played entirely by women of colour.
On the day Trump came to visit, the rationale this Latitude Festival performance was, as commissioning producer Frances-White joked:
“We try to be as inclusive as possible – because we hate Trump.”
This is a musical which cuts to the chase – moving swiftly in the opening song to cries of ‘revolution’. There is little space for context in this 45-minute show.
From crescendos of ‘this is Suffrageddon, and I declare war’ to ‘Actions speak louder than words, Millicent’, this is, undeniably, a suffragette, rather than suffragist production – of civil (and sometimes uncivil) disobedience over conventional lobbying.
Like many musicals, the form makes for a bit too much ‘telling’ over ‘showing’. But Suffrageddon has undeniably filled a gap in theatre – with queues stretching down a huge woodland track.
It follows a launch at the London Palladium in February – then running at just 12 minutes. Now it is heading to be 2.5 hour West End show (they are looking for investors).
It’s a savvy move: it is, after all, hard to squeeze the story of suffrage into 45 minutes, meaning there is a need for simplification. Indeed, it’s difficult to retain nuance in musicals at the best of times.
They can’t, for example, cover actually passing the Bill, the role parliamentarians had, or the struggle for full equality after that partial enfranchisement.
That means characters aren’t fully introduced – both assuming knowledge of them while not being able to teach a lot within the songs.
But a longer production would allow more scene setting – and the production is an impressive one, with fantastic singers and writing able to throw humour into the story.
Frances-White makes a cameo as a male MP: “Your role is in the house, not the House of Commons.”
It is a screenplay which works for all audiences, expertly written by Omahrose, Roxxxan, Mark Hodge and Oracy.
Suffrageddon comes at the right time – with a big community for the production beyond podcasting millennials.
Fittingly, it ends with a challenge by the characters. “In 100 years, where will we be?” they sing.
They were talking about 2018, but this play forces us to look at how far women have got – and that those early 20th century battles are not academic, but can inspire a new movement and new voices today.
‘Suffrageddon’ was performed at Latitude Festival on the 13th July. Find out more here.
Josiah Mortimer is the Editor of Left Foot Forward. Follow him on Twitter.Like this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.