Writer: Boff Whalley
Reviewer: Holly Spanner
Established in 1968, Red Ladder is one of the nation’s leading touring companies dedicated to producing theatre which has the power for social change. With productions that are engaging, thought provoking and have a strong political voice, Songs of Solidarity, Suffrage &Strength is no different. A double bill, the audience are treated to two very different, yet very similar works of art.
The evening begins with Wrong ‘Un, a one woman suffragette musical written by Boff Whalley and directed by Justin Audibert. A solitary square of a small room is positioned in the middle of the stage; an old table and chair stand on the rug. The rest of the stage lay in darkness, creating the impression that we are peering through a window and into a life. To the audience, the backdrop of the set appears to have the quality of a watercolour painting, with an old oil lamp casting dancing shadows over the walls.
As the audience mill around in their seats, suffragette Annie Wilde, played by Ella Harris, takes her seat at the table, quietly pouring herself a cup of tea and resuming her correspondence letters. A monologue, interspersed with song, she creates a vivid image of growing up in the early 1900’s, stubborn and indignant at being put in her place for being a girl. Describing a working life in the mills, to being imprisoned in Holloway where she was force fed salted cabbage water through a tube in her nostrils, you can’t help but be moved by her story. There are light hearted elements as well, bringing a careful and easy balance to the narrative. It is easy to forget in this day and age, where women in power are so commonplace, that one hundred years ago other women endlessly campaigned and suffered for just this. Not just for the vote, but for the respect and equality of being more than a slave to the stove.
Using footsteps or a rhythmic sweep of the broom as occasional percussion, Wrong ‘Un is largely acapella and described as a one woman musical. However, it falls more into the category of a play with songs. Whichever you prefer, this play is beautifully crafted, and well worth 55 minutes of anyone’s time.
Giving way to a concert style second act, O’Hooley &Tidow take to the stage with a collection of songs from their upcoming album, The Hum. A completely different format to the first act, it continues the theme of vulnerability and human reaction in the most difficult of circumstances. Drawing on personal experiences, Belinda O’Hooley and Heidi Tidow’s thoughtful folk vibe echoes the determination and passion for life felt in the first act. They see the world through different eyes somehow, in touch with nature and themselves. Open and honest, they make the audience think about things afresh. So sit back, relax and see where your mind takes you in the wake of their music. If you can’t make it to see this act in person, O’Hooley &Tidow’s new album The Hum is released on the 14th February.
Runs until: 24th January 2014