Writer: Boff Whalley
Director: Justin Audibert
Reviewer: Rosanna Sloan
Performed a stone’s throw away from the factory where Alice Hawkins, the leader of the Leicester suffrage movement worked, Red Ladders’ new one woman musical drama is a stunning testimony to the power a script and a single actress can have: moving, amusing and intriguing; a sold-out gem of a venue at Upstairs at the Western.
Ella Harris is an exceptional performer. In this intimate space she carries the entire story about fictional suffragette Annie Wilde with incredible timing, empathy and energy from start to end. She moves with ease between script and song, seamlessly blending the two with both director and actor finding all the available nuances that this fantastically written script has to offer. There is no doubt about it- when Harris performs she is Annie Wilde and through her performance she brings an entire period of history out in technicolor before us.
The simpleness of the staging is brave but entirely right for the performance, we are invited into Annie’s home and straight into her memories, hopes and dreams through a character who has lived, suffered and strived rather than a rose-tinted perception of a history.
Performing various characters as she tells her story from being a simple Lancashire mill-girl to an imprisoned suffragette, Harris need only look a certain way for the audience to know she is the judge at her trial, or her employer telling her to forget such an absurd idea as equal pay. At times I had to remind myself I was in an audience to ensure I didn’t respond to the different characters Harris presented as figures from Annie’s life – showing the transportative nature of the play through thoroughly effective storytelling as good direction, acting and writing fuse together; indeedBoff Whalley’s script is second to none, it is full of life and ingenuity and pulls us in from the start.
Although Annie Wilde is a fictional character, she is representative of the many northern women who were ‘agitating for votes’ during this period and the amount of research that has been conducted behind the play is evident in the faultless writing of Annie’s character.
Wrong ‘Un really highlights that achieving votes for woman was accomplished through the efforts of those that suffered and whose names aren’t remembered by us all – the women who went on hunger strikes, the women who were alienated from society and arrested, and yet still success only came for some in 1918 with a selected few woman allowed to vote. The tender moments in the play that confront the less glamorous ideas we may have of the WSPU (Women’s Social and Political Movement) are touching and provoking. Great theatre always leaves you thinking, and from the buzz in the bar afterwards and the post-show discussion, Wrong ‘Un has certainly achieved this.
The songs intersperse the monologue, accentuating the defining moments of Annie’s life, helping the audience to remember her story through the tunes and memorable lyrics of the songs. Performed without accompaniment, apart from some simple percussion with a broom or a tap of her foot, the songs are incredibly satisfying to listen to, and the audience at this performance were so enraptured with Annie and her story that they began to join in before they were even asked to.
In the words of one audience member after the tumultuous applause – ‘that was totally brilliant’.
Photo Jim Smith | Reviewed on 12th March 2014