Wednesday, 28 March 2012

The Adventures Of Wound Man And Shirley - Bristol Old Vic

Ushered into Bristol Old Vic’s cosy Basement, we perched on the high stools, and looked around at the small set of an armchair surrounded by ‘80s paraphernalia, and enjoyed the ‘80s pop songs playing. Automatically, I had a hopeful feeling about this.

The Adventures of Wound Man and Shirley is a one-man production, both narrated and performed by writer Chris Goode, who has been performing various incarnations of this show since 2009. He’s instantly likeable, and blessed with the perfect voice for narration: already, this feels good.

Shirley is a teenage boy with a girl's name. Nothing makes much sense to him, and his heart belongs to a male classmate, Subway, who barely knows he exists. Wound Man is an unconventional superhero, sprung from the pages of a medieval medical textbook, with an alarming assortment of weapons sticking out of his body. Wound Man has just moved into a house on Shirley's street – and he has a vacancy for a sidekick.

And so begins this fantastical adventure as Shirley, who has more than his fair share of woes, starts to peer out of his shell and look at people to see more than just what is on the surface.

Chris Goode is a talented and likeable performer. He instantly has the audience in the palm of his hand and, by the time we reach Shirley and Wound Man’s impassioned stand-off, the atmosphere in the Basement was gripped with expectation… and I’m not ashamed to say I had a few tears pricking at my eyes. But that’s not to say this is a schmaltzy production. Chris Goode perfectly balances emotion and comedy, meaning that even while the audience is invested in Shirley and his crisis, we still come away lifted.

The inclusion of Wound Man as an unlikely saviour is inspired, and the many facets of his story leave the audience wondering if he even existed, was he simply a figment of Shirley’s teenage imagination, or was there something more sinister at play? All of these are questions we take away with us.

The simple set by James Lewis, and the inclusion of a full musical soundtrack of re-workings of ‘80s pop favourites, really help to reinforce the magic of The Adventures of Wound Man and Shirley. And it’s a relief that the full listings are included in the screenplay (I was scratching my head trying to remember what one of two of the songs were!).

Chris Goode is a huge talent and one to keep an eye on. This was an exhilarating show that in many ways reminded me of the fuzzy charm of Gregory’s Girl, and I will certainly be booking my place to see what Chris does next.

The Adventures of Wound Man and Shirley is performed daily in Bristol Old Vic’s Basement until 31 March. Please click here for more information and to buy tickets. The screenplay is also for sale at Bristol Old Vic, alternatively please click here

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Black T-Shirt Collection at Bristol Old Vic

A one-man show by Inua Ellams, Black T-Shirt Collection came to Bristol Old Vic’s metamorphic Studio last week as part of it’s UK run. This is Ellams’ second show, following 2010’s The 14th Tale, which received extremely positive reviews, and included a turn at London’s prestigious National Theatre.

Black T-Shirt Collection is Ellams’ new story, following the progress of foster brothers Matthew and Muhammed who unwittingly create a global t-shirt brand that brings them fame and success in unmanageable quantities. The brothers’ good fortune takes them from a gig in London to a market in Nigeria and a sweatshop in China. And also hones in on the issues of what it means to be a gay Muslim, and the ever-pertinent problem of dealing with unexpected fame and fortune.

An entirely one-person performance, Ellams takes to the stage with only a white box of t-shirts, and some black wooden blocks as props. Supported by occasional projected drawings of maps and cartoons to help us join the characters as they fly around the globe, and experience different shifts, Black T-Shirt Collection takes minimalist stage management to a new level, and to great effect.

Combining poetry into this theatrical story telling, Ellams succeeds in capturing the audience’s attention for the full 70 minutes of his show, and his delightful manner means we were concerned rather than annoyed when he vanished from the stage with no explanation for a few minutes towards the end… perhaps to check on his lines? It would be understandable if so – quite how one person can remember all that prose, as well as the correct cues to rearrange the prop furniture on, is staggering!

Ellams is clearly an emerging writer and performer to keep a close eye on.

To see what else is coming up at Bristol Old Vic, please click here

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Sinead O’Connor 
at Bristol St George's

How many acts have you seen who receive a standing ovation just for walking on stage? The love for Sinead O’Connor at St Seorge’s was so strong that she was given standing ovations after pretty much every song, and in any rare quiet moments someone in the audience could usually be heard to shout: “We love you, Sinead”. All of this adulation is met with what seems like genuine bewilderment that so many people care… and that they care so strongly.

Despite what you’ve heard in the press about Sinead being a fragile character who flits from failed marriages to doomed relationships like there’s no tomorrow, she presents in Bristol as a strong woman who knows her own mind. Albeit one who is tired of endless failed affairs.

Tiny in stature and dressed all in black with her trademark shaved head, Sinead packs a colossal punch with a voice that encompasses every range from quiet whisper to mighty roar without breaking stride. With an eight-piece backing band, there are nine people on the St George’s stage, which is excessive and, at times, the music drowned out Sinead’s wonderful voice – which seems like the result of bad production: something Sinead seemed aware of, too, by her gestures of stage for the levels to be altered. There was simply too much backing music, which was often distorted and added little to Sinead’s singing.

This was perfectly emphasised by her first a capella song, Stretched On Your Grave: a note perfect rendition that proved Sinead really doesn’t need a whopping great backing band to support her.

Sinead’s voice is legendary, and it’s hard to believe that both she and it are 45… and that it’s been 23 years since Nothing Compares 2 U hit the top of the charts in 1989. Needless to say, her version of the Prince-penned classic still carries enough weight to both send shivers down my spine, and make the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. The atmosphere in the room at this point was electric –there was absolute stillness among the sold-out crowd, who were motionless and fixed in their determination to absorb every millisecond of Sinead performing her best-loved song.

But there was love for every song she sang. Whether it was a well-known former single such as Three Babies or The Emperor’s New Clothes, or tracks from her current album How About I Be Me? (And You Be You?). These were hardcore fans in the room, so the tracks may have been new, but Queen of Denmark, I Had A Baby and Old Lady were met by the audience as if they were also 23-year-old favourites.

Please visit St George’s website here for more information about further upcoming gigs at this extraordinary and treasured Bristol venue. Sinead's official website is here.

Thursday, 8 March 2012

Bristol’s Other Women – IWD 2012

On International Women’s Day 2012, I call on you to take a few minutes to remember the unthanked women of Bristol who, more than 100 years ago, shaped our lives to be as comfortable as they are.

Regular readers will know that I’ve a keen interest in the campaign for women’s suffrage, and particularly how it ricocheted around the city of Bristol. But it’s impossible to learn about the work of the suffragists and suffragettes without also taking on board the many other female-fronted campaigns that our city also spawned in the surrounding years.

Today, in honour of IWD 2012, I’m going to outline just a few. And please note, when I say “a few” I really mean it. There’s so much that we have to thank our Bristolian foremothers for. Today, please take a few minutes to remember them.


1819 onwards – Bristolian women are recorded as active members of the Chartist movement. However, as the suffrage campaign grew, suffragists separated from the ambiguously prioritised Chartists.

1831 – Women were prominent participants in the Bristol Riots.

17 September, 1840 – The Bristol & Clifton Auxiliary Ladies’ Anti-Slavery Society was formed at the Temperance Hotel, Bath Street.

Catherine Winkworth

1866 – Susannah and Catherine Winkworth, and Anne and Mary Priestman, of Bristol are involved in the signing of the petition for women’s suffrage, presented to Parliament by John Stuart Mill.

1867 – The Reform Act extends the Parliamentary right to vote to all male rate payers in UK towns, and Jacob Bright’s amendment granting municipal rights to women on the same terms had been passed by Parliament. However, the parliamentary franchise still eluded women. In 1867, one lone woman in Manchester voted in a bye-election.

Elizabeth Cady Stanton

1868 – The Bristol & Clifton Society for Women’s Suffrage was formed. Mary Estlin was a prestigious member of both groups and formed strong links with sisters in America, including Elizabeth Cady Stanton, who visited Bristol in 1883 in a show of solidarity.

1870s –Anne and Mary Priestman refused to pay their taxes in protest that their status as property owners was not recognised by their right to vote. They refused to give in, even after their furniture was seized by the authorities.

1871 – Bristol’s first female doctor, Dr Eliza Walker Dunbar, is among the prestigious names who have signed up in support of the suffrage campaign.

Millicent Garrett Fawcett on a stamp from 2008

1871 – Millicent Garrett Fawcett speaks in Bristol as part of a nationwide speaking tour, at a time when it was considered unseemly for women to speak in public. Mrs Fawcett gave her name to the Fawcett Society, which campaigns for women’s rights – the Bristol branch continues, in 2012, to be the largest and most active local group.

1877 – The Bristol & West of England Society is founded.

1880 – Meetings raising awareness of the demand for women’s suffrage were held in Bristol locations including, but not limited to: Charlton Hall in Lawrence Hill; the Temperance Hall in Bedminster; St Mark’s Schoolrooms in Easton; the Colston Hall in central Bristol; the Broadmead Rooms; plus locations in Stapleton, Clifton, Redland, Cotham and across the city centre.

1880-1884 – The early suffrage movement peaks in Bristol. In 1883, on 22 successive evenings, the Bristol Downs were taken over by meetings and rallies in support of women’s suffrage – all organised by the redoubtable Maria Colby.

September 1869 – The National Campaign Against the Contagious Diseases Act is launched in the Victoria Rooms, Clifton. Women had been appealing the Act since 1883, however, which forced sex workers to undergo invasive medical inspections and, if found to be infected, to be subject to three months in a ‘lock hospital’. The cure for sexually transmitted diseases in the Victorian era was mercury: a poison. The campaign centred on the Act’s violation of women’s rights, the unequal treatment of men and women under the Act, and the implication that the government condoned the use of prostitutes by the armed forces. In Bristol, campaigners set up the Old Park Hospital to offer voluntary treatment to any woman who wanted it. The Act was repealed in 1883.

1875 – Anne Priestman calls for the unionisation of women during a meeting at the Victoria Rooms. She writes a pamphlet entitled The Industrial Position of Women as Affected by the Exclusion from the Suffrage. As a result, the National Union of Working Women is founded in Bristol.

1882 – The Married Woman’s Property Act is passed, extending control over property and earnings to married women – but not divorced, widowed or separated women. Clearly, there were class issues with this Act.

1882 – Elizabeth Sturge and her sister Emily help to found Redland High School for Girls. Elizabeth is also involved in the creation of decent housing for working-class people, and helped establish Shirehampton as a ‘garden suburb’.

1887 – Catherine Winkworth, a suffragist, founded Clifton High School for Girls. Like Elizabeth Sturge, Catherine was involved in the creation of housing for working-class people and attempted to set up projects in the Jacobs Well area. Incidentally, Winkworth Place in St Paul’s is named after Catherine Winkworth.

Women at the Great Western Cotton Factory, Barton Hill, in 1900

1889 - Anne Priestman supported strike action by women working at the Barton Hill cotton factory over low wages and poor working conditions. There were also strikes by women workers in Bristol’s tobacco factories.

1892 – There were further strikes by Bristolian women working in the cotton mills, tobacco factories, docks, and at Sanders’ confectionary factory, which concluded with a meeting of 4,000 women workers at the Ropewalk in Bedminster. They were led by middle-class women who were socialists and suffragists.

Banner of the Women's Co-operative Guild

16 October, 1893 – The first Co-operative Working Women’s Guild is formed in Bristol, and the Bedminster Guild passed a unanimous resolution in favour of women’s suffrage. The Bedminster Guild is now closed but the Horfield Guild remains.

1897 – Enid Stacy writes an essay for the Independent Labour Party called A Century of Women’s Rights. She sets out a string of demands, many of which were echoed by the demands of the second wave of feminists in the 1970s. “The right to choose whether or not to have children; equality within marriage and fairer divorce laws; the right of mothers to guardianship of their children; full legal and political rights, including the right to vote in both local and parliamentary elections.” (You can read the whole essay here.) Enid died in 1903, aged 35, and was given a moving eulogy by her comrade Sylvia Pankhurst, who felt Enid had campaigned herself into an early grave.

1904 – The non-militant Bristol & West of England Suffrage Society resurfaces. They organise marches and electoral work.

Annie Kenney, 1909

1908 – Annie Kenney is dispatched by the Pankhursts to Bristol to establish the South West branch of the Women’s Social and Political Union. She is helped by local women Anne Priestman, Maria Colby and Lilias Ashworth Hallett.

November 1909 – Theresa Garnett is arrested and imprisoned at Horfield Gaol, following her attack on Winston Churchill at Temple Meads Station.

1910 – Thanks to Annie Kenney, there are a string of suffrage events at the Prince’s Theatre, on Park Row, Bristol, including a pageant, play and concert with a combined cast of hundreds.

Annie Keney's 1911 census form

1911 – Annie Kenney and her sisters organise a mass refusal of Bristolian women to sign the census – women believed if they did not have he right to vote, they should not be counted as citizens.

1913/1914 – Suffragettes begin a period of attacks on property, including burning a timber yard, a mansion at Frenchay, a mansion at Stoke Bishop, and the University Sports Pavilion at Coombe Dingle. After the last, the students took revenge by destroying the WSPU headquarters on Queens Road, opposite the university, with fire.

1913/14 – Alongside this, suffragettes and suffragists were involved with an enormous door-to-door canvassing of women who had been given the municipal vote, meetings for working women in Bedminster and other areas, jumble sales, lectures etc. Many suffragettes were held at Horfield Gaol where they endured hunger strikes and force feeding.

1914-1918 – During World War One, Bristolian suffragists (alongside those elsewhere in the country) cease protest in support of the war effort. They have more opportunities for paid work, which necessitate them being out in the dark hours. As a result, Bristolian women form the Women Patrols and Police. The patrols aimed to protect women from physical attack and ‘moral danger’ on the streets. After the patrols came under the control of the Home Office, Bristol Women’s Aid was formed to both protect women from assaults on the street and to help women in the courts, particularly unmarried mothers facing the workhouse or separation from their children.


Ellen Malos

In compiling this timeline, I owe a huge debt to Professor Ellen Malos’ article Bristol Women in Action 1840-1940, which appeared in the book Bristol’s Other History, published in 1983 by Bristol Broadsides: a cooperative based on Cheltenham Road. Alongside Ellen’s article, there is also a fascinating piece by Dr Madge Dresser about slum housing in the city. For those who don’t know, Madge is still a Reader in History at the University of the West of England, and next year she is publishing a book about the history of Bristolian women with Redcliffe Press.

Ellen is responsible for a raft of important developments for women in Bristol, thanks to her tireless work in the 1970s and 1980s. Ellen founded the Bristol Women’s Centre in her home, offered free pregnancy testing, took battered women in, and much more. I had the honour of meeting Ellen last year and speaking on a Festival of Ideas panel with her at Bristol’s Watershed last May. In October, Ellen retired as Senior Research Fellow at the University of Bristol’s Centre for Gender and Violence Research. Please listen to this clip of Debi Withers interviewing Ellen for the Sistershow project last year.

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

What The Frock?

As you’ve probably noticed, there’s an aching hole in the comedy circuit where women should be. All too often, panel shows like Have I Got New For You? or Mock The Week have (at best) one woman on a line-up of five or six, while live comedy nights very rarely feature women full stop.

In Bristol, we’re served extremely badly – one local comedy club, for instance, has 24 events listed on its current flyer: just one of these events features a woman. That’s right, one! It’s like we’re invisible.

Enough is enough.  This cultural femicide of funny women cannot continue. So I’ve been hard at work since January plotting a way to redress the balance in Bristol, and would like to invite you and your friends to two upcoming events that will tickle your funny bones, while giving female comedians a well-deserved moment in the spotlight.

‘What The Frock?’ comedy pub quiz and raffle with exceptional prizes
April 17, 7.30pm. The Big Chill Bar (upstairs in the function room), Small Street, Bristol

To put on a comedy night and attract high calibre funny women, we need some money to pay the acts, feed the acts, and make sure they have somewhere safe and warm to sleep. So we’re throwing a fundraising quiz night with a comedy theme. It’ll be a hoot. There are some genuinely starry prizes (donated by, at the time of writing, Stewart Lee, Tina Fey, Stephen Merchant, Simon Pegg, and, err, Noel Edmonds). As well as some tickets to upcoming shows that have been kindly donated by Watershed, Bristol Old Vic, Bristol St George’s and the Hippodrome. If you don’t manage to win a prize in the quiz, there’ll be plenty of other opportunities to win one as a raffle prize.

It’s £3 per person to enter the quiz, and a maximum of four people per team. Bring your friends, family and colleagues – it promises to be a fun and sociable night out. As if that’s not incentive enough, there are free (yes, free!) button badges for all.

‘What The Frock?’ women’s comedy night, May 18, 8pm, Arnolfini, Bristol.
Thanks to the wonderful Bristol Festival of Ideas, who have been so enthusiastic and supportive of this project, we’ve been lucky enough to get the fantastic theatre at the Arnolfini as the venue for the comedy night. Hosted by Kate Smurthwaite, your entertainment for the night will be provided by Tiffany Stevenson, Dana Alexander and Zahra Barri. While it’s an all-women line-up, absolutely everybody is welcome in the audience.

There will also be a raffle at the end of the night (tickets sold before the event and during the interval), where there are some really choice goodies up for grabs – including signed merchandise from the likes of comedian Stewart Lee, Thick Of It writer Ian Martin, very funny woman Tina Fey and much more.

Money raised will go towards the running costs of the event. If there is any extra money once costs are covered, it will all be donated to Bristol charity One25, which helps local women to exit prostitution. What The Frock? is a not-for-profit event and the organisers will not benefit financially in any way.

Tickets will go on sale in April, along with the tickets for all the other Festival of Ideas events, and can be bought through the Festival of Ideas website or from Arnolfini’s box office. I’ll circulate more information nearer the time.

Thanks for reading, and I hope very much to see you at both events. If you’d like to help, can offer more prizes for raffles etc, or simply want to ask a question, please contact me direct on madamjmo[@]

Join the Facebook page, follow us on Twitter,  and keep an eye out for the What The Frock? website and logo - launching very soon!