World Premiere at Old Vic Theatre of pulsating musical on how women got the vote in the UK…
By Suman Bhuchar
WE HAVE all heard about the political activist, Emmeline Pankhurst who was one of the key figures in fighting for women’s suffrage in the UK.
However this new musical, ‘Sylvia’, focuses on her daughter, and their relationship in the personal and political arena.
Mother is played by Beverley Knight, while Sharon Rose portrays Sylvia; both excel in this pulsating energetic show, presented as a hip-hop, funk and soul musical. They have strong voices with a wide vocal range.
The debates are vital and relevant: direct action versus nonviolent protest; women only or wider socialism; these arguments make for a great evening at the theatre.
Directed and choreographed by Kate Prince, and the book co-written with Priya Pawar, the musical chronologically chronicles the struggle for female suffrage and features original music by Josh Cohen and DJ Walde. There are lots of video projections and some of the song lyrics reference pop numbers.
From the moment of the opening number, ‘First Steps to a Revolution’ set in 1904, right to the end in 1928, this show is absorbing, funny and deep.
The songs move the plot on just like in a Bollywood film or they reveal the inner feelings of a character, such as one where Sylvia expresses her admiration — later love, for Labour leader, Kier Hardie (Alex Gaumond) through the song, ‘Did You See Me’ which takes her from aged eight to sixteen.
Along with the external struggles, audiences get an insight into the fissures within the Pankhurst siblings (four daughters and one brother).
The design and set by Ben Stones is visually stunning with a monochrome look that has everything coordinated in shades of black/white — which could be a metaphor of sorts with an occasional splash of red.
“What’s the point of fighting for votes for women if we have no country to govern”, runs another song during World War I section.
Featuring a multicultural cast of 21 actors and five live music performers on stage, this show evokes other struggles – especially in the March scene — such as Salt Satyagraha by Gandhi or the long March from Selma, Alabama led by Dr Martin Luther King – where the women are being beaten by police truncheons.
It was shocking to learn that Winston Churchill was against female suffrage as was Lord Curzon, so there was a lot of history being presented too.
Winston is portrayed by black actor, Jay Perry and is played for laughs and there are many to be had in the idea that he was under the thumb of both his mother, played as Jamaican matriarch Lady Jennie Churchill (Jade Hackett), and his wife, Clementine who is portrayed by Verity Blyth.
The show has been five years in the making and the result is uplifting, entertaining and inspiring.
ACV rating: ***** (five out of five)
Main picture (main characters only): Adela Pankhurst (Kirstie Skivington), Harry Pankhurst (Razak Osman), Sylvia Pankhurst (Sharon Rose), Emmeline Pankhurst (Beverley Knight), and Christine Pankhurst (Ellena Vincent) All pictures ©ManuelHarlan
‘Sylvia’- (January 27) – April 8 The Old Vic Theatre, 103 The Cut, London SE1 8NB.
More info/tickets: https://www.oldvictheatre.com/stage/event/sylvia