Writer: Vashti Maclachlan
Composer: Kieran Buckeridge
Director: Jonny Kelly
Musical Director: Rebekah Hughes
Designer: Celia Perkins
Reviewer: Ron Simpson
In many ways, you see Mikron Theatre Company at its best in settings like York’s Scarcroft Allotments. The company does pretty well in theatres (see our review of Get Well Soon at the Square Chapel), but it is at its most typical making itself at home in an allotment or pub garden or fish and chip restaurant, pitching intelligent and entertaining theatre to an audience who are more supporters than customers.
The Mikron formula is simple in concept, difficult in execution: take two British institutions past, present or both, commission plays about them full of jaunty songs, real history and good gags, gather together a company of four actor/musicians and set off on the waterways of Britain for the summer months. The company is based in Marsden, near Huddersfield, so Yorkshire gets the benefit of a few van-borne performances before the company takes to its narrowboat.
Revolting Women proves that the formula is more flexible than might at first appear, certainly in the nature of the plays. Many typical features of the Mikron play are here: the simplicity of staging (basically a wooden podium for soapbox oratory), the ever-present music (either as songs or played under speeches), the actors’ constant character changes (often just by means of a hat) and the combination of knockabout and a serious message.
Where Revolting Women differs from most Mikron plays is that it is dominated by one life-story. Instead of mixing in bits of history with a fictional story, Vashti Maclachlan concentrates on the time Sylvia Pankhurst spent in the East End, organising working women to agitate for the vote. The relationship at the centre of the play is between her and East End widow Lottie Turner who initially resents the intrusion of yet another Pankhurst, causing trouble and attracting attention to herself without really caring for the poor. Sylvia soon wins her round, but the fusion of Lottie’s pragmatism and Sylvia’s idealism is an effective theme throughout the play. As both feel the effects of imprisonment personally or in the community, health suffers and disappointment bites; at one stage the second half becomes surprisingly moving before the semi-victory of the 1918 Act enfranchising some women. At the end Sylvia goes off to find some other idealistic cause: eventually, she was to end up in Ethiopia, but that’s beyond the reach of this play.
Jonny Kelly’s direction is a telling combination of discipline and freedom and the four actors work supremely well as a team. Daisy Ann Fletcher is outstanding as Sylvia, changing physically between optimistic health and still determined debility, and putting over the key song, Tell me a tale Miss Wardress, with real emotional impact. She and Rosamund Hine, powerfully convincing as a forceful, but contained, Lottie, enjoy themselves in the usual quota of parodic caricatures, notably as braying, burping MPs. James McLean is as versatile as ever, making the most impact as Prime Minister Asquith, more interested in where the next glass of wine is coming from, and Christabel Pankhurst whose incendiary letters from Paris are never less than aristocratic in tone. Christopher Arkeston, excellent in a variety of caricatures, does very nicely in a genuinely human part, Lottie’s son Jimmy.
Touring nationwide | Image: Peter Boyd