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Friday, 3 August 2018

'Make More Noise' at Bristol Old Vic


It can’t have escaped your attention that 2018 is the centenary year of when (some) women were finally entitled to vote. To mark this, Bristol Old Vic’s Young Company presents its tribute to the women of the past who shaped our future.

Taking its title from a famous Emmeline Pankhurst quote (“You have to make more noise than anybody else…”), Make More Noise is of the moment, melding one or two historical facts with present day problems, all of which concern women. Because the vote was just the start…

A range of strong women from history are referenced during this busy hour of theatre. There is the generic suffragette character as well as named sheroes such as Mexican artist Frida Kahlo, American birth control activist Margaret Sanger and Hollywood actor Uma Thurman.

It is the Uma Thurman section that I found the most affecting, with one of the cast speaking proudly about her love for Question Tarantino films, especially Pulp Fiction and the famous dancing scene with Mia Wallace and Vincent Vega. As the cast don ubiquitous white shirts over their black jeans to dance the twist to Chuck Berry’s You Never Can Tell, our narrator reminds us that Pulp Fiction was produced by Harvey Weinstein, who we now know sexually assaulted Uma during the film’s production. And watching that joyous, strong woman dance in that famous scene, knowing what we now know… we are invited to think about how Uma (playing Mia) must have felt at that time. And I found that very effecting.

Make More Noise is an energetic and enthusiastic tour through contemporary feminism. With a strong, all-female cast who dance, sing and shout their way through his/herstory, at times I did wonder who the intended audience was. The cast was all white and predominantly young (facts they acknowledge), but it seemed a stretch to believe that of the 300+ students at the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School there were no BAME women who could have filled some of these roles, especially given how self-conscious the script was in places to acknowledge ‘cis’ white privilege.

But that aside, it is always positive to see feminism embraced and celebrated by a new generation and Make More Noise is a triumphant celebration of where we have been as women and where we need to go next.


Make More Noise is being performed at Bristol Old Vic until 4 August 2018. For more info and to book tickets, click here.

Friday, 20 July 2018

'Old Baggage' by Lissa Evans


For nearly a decade, I've kept my eyes open for books about the suffrage campaign (and written about many of them on this blog). And while I'll happily devour both fiction and non-fiction with a suffrage bent, I've a strong preference for fiction - because it seemed so hard to come by until recently. 

Last February, I stumbled upon a copy of Crooked Heart by Liisa Evans and absolutely adored it (you can read my review here). It followed ten-year-old Noel who had been brought up by his godmother Mattie, a former suffragette, and it was a smart, buzzy and interesting take on the suffrage novel. So it made sense that I was also going to love Lissa's new novel, Old Baggage, which was published recently. 

Old Baggage is a prequel to Crooked Heart, and I'm delighted to say that we have even more of Mattie in this novel. It also poses the interesting but rarely considered question: "What do you do next, after you've changed the world?" Mattie was a strident suffragette, she had thrown herself heart and mind into the campaign, but now it's 1928 and universal suffrage has finally been achieved. 

Now in her mid-50s, Mattie is stuck living in the past. Her home is called The Mousehole (in reference to it having been a place of recuperation for hunger striking suffragettes who had been temporarily released from prison under the 'Cat and Mouse Act'); she lives companionably with sister suffragette Florrie; and she spends her evenings giving informative lectures about the suffrage campaign to increasingly disinterested audiences, for whom the events of the recent past are meaningless. Mattie needs something more. 

And that something more comes in the form of waking up the new generation of young women... and trying to teach them how to engage with the modern world, to be an active part in it, and how to look after themselves and to be something. But of course, the path of resistance is not a smooth one...

Old Baggage is a really enjoyable and enlivening read, and Mattie is a truly wonderful character - I really hope we see more of her in the future and that Liisa's next book goes back a previous decade and shows Mattie, Florrie and co battling in the midst of the suffrage campaign. Fingers crossed. You can never have enough strong, bold and determined women in literature.

The question of what you do next after you've effected change is a really interesting one, especially in the field of women's rights and specifically suffrage. For the big names such as Millicent Fawcett and Sylvia Pankhurst, we know what they went on to do because their names never stopped attracting interest. But for the everyday foot soldiers such as Mattie, the women whose names weren't in the newspapers but without whom the war would not have been won... the question of how their lives changed is fascinating and often ignored. Yet those women were changed for ever and armed with an impressive toolkit of skills for life, both mentally and physically.

When you have thrown every ounce of your being into a campaign, day in, day out, for decades... and then that campaign is won... while you are delighted, you must also be left feeling flat. When you have gone to prison and endured the trauma of hunger strike for that campaign... and now audiences no longer think what you did was astonishing but merely a curiosity... that must leave you totally deflated. 

There is a lovely scene towards the end of Old Baggage (this isn't a spoiler) when Mattie, Florrie and their sister suffragettes are preparing to go to the polling booths for the very first time (as unmarried women, the 1918 Act still didn't give these warriors the right to vote). This is a monumental day for them, and celebratory cards are posted, motor cars booked to mark the occasion, and they go to the polling stations in unison. Only, of course, there is nobody they want to vote for... all of the candidates are miserable old men who don't have any intention of improving the lot of the new wave of women voters. Which is not a situation that has changed, in many places. 

Lissa Evans is a wonderful storyteller, and having absolutely adored both Crooked Heart and Old Baggage I must seek out some of her other novels. I'm reliably informed that Their Finest Hour and a Half is a cracker, so that's where I'll be heading next.

Friday, 29 June 2018

Bristol Music: Seven Decades of Sound


Bristol is a city known for several things (hot air balloons, street art, big old bridges, a very large ape up at the zoo), but chief among them is surely its distinct music scene. From 1950s’ crooner Russ Conway to contemporary chart botherer George Ezra and everyone in between, there is a strong sense of sound coming from this special city.

To tie in with a major exhibition at the city’s M Shed museum, music journalist and publisher Richard Jones has written Bristol Music: Seven Decades of Sound to collect together a snapshot of 70 years of Bristol’s distinctive hum.

While not claiming to be an exhaustive collection, there are certainly a lot of stones upturned in this picture-heavy collection - everyone from indie pop pioneers Sarah Records to self-styled Scrumpy’n’Western performers The Wurzels are in here, although there is inevitably a hefty lean towards the more recent trip hop acts.

Just like the exhibition that accompanies it, the Bristol Music book invites contributions and collaboration from readers who want to share their own memories of gigs and bands in Bristol, and their own stories. It’s a great little collection and a must-have for the book shelf of any discerning music fan in the South West.

You can buy a copy of Bristol Music direct from Tangent here.

And for more information on the M Shed exhibition, which runs until 30 September 2018, click here.

Monday, 25 June 2018

'The Cause' comes to Bristol

Photo: Jim Wileman

A new play inspired by an imagined meeting between two great leaders of the women’s suffrage campaign comes to Bristol on 6 July. Tickets here.

The Cause depicts the explosive meeting of minds when Millicent Fawcett and Emmeline Pankhurst come together at a time when campaigns for women’s rights were at their most revolutionary and embattled.

Written by Natalie McGrath, and directed by Josie Sutciffe, The Cause explores the struggle, and the effects of campaigning for a cause by different methods. There was a divide between the violent direct action of the suffragettes and the peaceful constitutional means of the suffragists.

The play is produced by Dreadnought South West, a charity which connects individuals and communities through telling great and courageous stories about women.

Director Josie Sutcliffe said: "This play considers the impact of a lifetime of political campaigning on an individual, asking: ‘how far would you go for what you believe in?’ Many women gave up a great deal; home, family, children, and in some cases their own lives, to join the suffrage campaign. We hope that The Cause will provide a stimulus for debates on gender inequality, democracy and citizenship amongst many different groups within the communities we will visit."

Playwright Natalie McGrath said: "This tour feels timely with the current energy and visibility of women’s rights and gender equality campaigning that is taking place, and the centenary of the first votes for some women. As we developed the work, we met many women who have been campaigning for a long time. I really felt those stories that were shared with us at Dreadnought very deeply, and they have emerged as being at the heart of this play about Millicent Fawcett and Emmeline Pankhurst."