The Purple, White and Green: the Story of the Scottish Suffragettes Scottish Storytelling Centre, Edinburgh
*** (3 stars)
A woman sitting alone in a coffee shop, reading a newspaper, was joined by a slightly nervous younger woman who’d been at the previous night’s rally, and was keen to hear more about the cause. Edith was passionate in her defence of the suffragette movement: sixty years’ peaceful campaigning had got nowhere and, in her opinion, the only way forward was to take action – DEEDS not WORDS! Millie was hesitant at first, but gradually blossomed under Edith’s coaching – learning to overcome her reluctance to show her ankles as she stood on a soapbox, to raise her voice above a genteel whisper, and ultimately to take violent dramatic action in support of her beliefs.
I found the first half of the show a little slow: there was a lot of repetition and the scene changes were rather clumsy and prolonged. The second half livened up considerably with the emergence of Millie as a converted [?radicalised] suffragette who planted a bomb in the Observatory on Blackford Hill; and the first-hand account of force-feeding by a woman prisoner made extremely uncomfortable listening. Militancy was at its greatest in Scotland in 1914 – and then came the Great War. The slide shows of the parts played by men and women in the Great War made their point, but were again rather slow: and the hideous mockery of Keep the Home Fires Burning, in which the audience joined, yet again nearly broke my heart. The conscripts being sent to die were without a vote, as were the women working in munitions and other factories: the granting of the vote on 6th February 1918 was only a partial improvement of the situation. A rousing chorus of a Suffragette song, in which we were invited to join, ended the show.
The question and answer session that followed was in some ways the liveliest part of the show: the audience had sat silently throughout the somewhat sluggish first half; chatted in a very lively fashion during the interval; and were gripped by the horrific first-hand account of force-feeding. They had a lot to contribute, both questions and information and the mood was extremely positive and encouraging as the two actors spoke about their desire to take this show into schools and counteract the fallacy that the suffrage movement was exclusively the province of upper-middle-class women with too much time on their hands… suffragettes were everywhere, from all classes: and this wasn’t the exclusive domain of women: there were many men who also believed in and worked for the cause. Having local settings for the actions – bombs were planted in Roslyn Chapel and the Royal Observatory at Blackford Hill, women were imprisoned in Carlton prison – brought home the reality of events: they happened HERE not in some remote other where.
The women’s suffering was graphically portrayed – would we be prepared to suffer in the same way today? Convinced of the moral rightness of their actions, the Suffragettes chose to attack men in their bastions of privilege – golf club, cricket club, racecourse: and a Liberal government sanctioned the torture of women – just as they condoned the torture of Conscientious Objectors – another example of what people would suffer for what they felt to be right.
The Purple, White and Green: the Story of the Scottish Suffragettes Scottish Storytelling Centre, Edinburgh Run Ended
Review by Mary Woodward