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Everything Is Possible: The York Suffragettes – York Theatre Royal and Pilot Theatre

Reviewer: Eve Newstead

Writer: Bridget Foreman

Designer: Sara Perks

Directors: Juliet Forster & Kate Posner

Time is transfigured in a remarkable way in Everything is Possible: The York Suffragettes; every element of the production unites the past and present of local women. The daring opening grounds us in current gender politics, by showing footage from a demonstration on the streets outside York Minister. Within moments, women clad in suffragette sashes, demand we turn to the past in both physicality and voice, yelling ‘deeds not words’ and marching us to the theatre stage.

The thought-provoking collapse of time is a triumph of directors Juliet Forster and Kate Posner. They skilfully managed this huge-scale community production of 150 actors and 80 choir singers for the play created by York Theatre Royal and Pilot Theatre in 2017, and which is available to watch in its entirety on YouTube until the end of the month. Inspiration and hope is extremely relevant during these uncertain times and this play is packed full of both.

An insightful piece of local history, Everything is Possible tells the stories of the York suffragettes in 1912 and centres on Annie Seymour Pearson; the city’s only suffragette to ever be arrested. Like many other women did, Annie sacrifices her comfortable and ordinary life to break the law in pursuit of the vote. Barbara Marten’s portrayal of Annie’s transformation from an uninterested middle-class women, stating “I just don’t think it affects me,” to a brave and determined suffragette is commendable, combining moments of both strength and vulnerability. We are reminded that politics starts individually and at home. This is reinforced by the intimacy of her scenes with Mark France, portraying Mr Pearson, where the larger political fight is brought into the family sphere, captured in Annie’s line “I’m talking about the inequalities, between men and women, between you and me.” Bridget Foreman’s writing is full of similarly thought-provoking lines.

The enormous cast of characters enables a variation of viewpoints and, therefore, a nuanced exploration of the part played by gender, class and age in the struggle. However, unfortunately the plot spreads itself out too thinly amongst the different characters. Foreman’s script, instead of adding depth to Annie’s story, contains too many subplots, causing confusion and detachment. That being said, the general acting is strong throughout; Annabel Lee is particularly inspiring in her portrayal of the fierce demonstrator Lillian Lenton. The camera work emphasises her striking facial expressions which are key in inciting hope in the other characters. Skilled camera use can also be seen during the crowd scene at Pankhurst’s speech, honing in on passionate faces and this, combined with the overlaid music, the visual mass of the cheering spectators, and the confetti, is cinematic and inspiring.

For the most part however, much is lost by experiencing Everything is Possible through a camera lens. The camera work is often unfocussed and unsteady, and the sound is lost during important monologues. Most frustratingly, the historical footage and other video projections used were difficult to see clearly due to the lighting. It’s a real shame because you can imagine how powerful the effect was on the stage, but on screen it just didn’t come off.

After a slow middle section with many plot detours, the ending is remarkably swift considering its powerful message. Annie provides a brief history of both victorious wars – WW1 and the women’s’ as present day invades the space with footage from parliamentary debate playing in the backdrop and the demonstrators returning with chanting and music. The parting message of hope and unity is relevant not only for current women’s politics but also for all of us during a time that seems unendingly dark. Overall, a powerful and inspirational production, but its effectiveness is diluted by being screened at home.

Available HERE until  31st May 2020

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The Yorkshire & North East team is under the editorship of Mark Clegg. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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