To Freedom’s Cause
Kate Willoughby‘s play To Freedom’s Cause came to the Tristan Bates Theatre in London’s Covent Garden at the end of June. It was an intense and thought-provoking performance.
The play arrived in London on its last stop on a tour to mark the 100th anniversary of the death of the suffragette, Emily Wilding Davison. Emily is the character at the heart of the drama and the play considers not only her commitment to the ‘Votes for Women’ cause but also what that meant for those who were caught up in her struggle.
Many of the elements of the play are raw in their brutal telling of the experiences that Emily had to endure at the hands of the state. The terror of force-feeding and the treatment meted out when Emily barricaded herself into her prison cell are not easily forgotten. But while these scenes are horrific to watch, I feel that they are important reminders of what these women went through.
Kate Willoughby, as both playwright and actor in the role of Emily, portrays Emily as a clever but complex character, neither saint nor sinner, just human. We glimpse the playful and tender woman behind the determined and often difficult persona of the militant suffragette.
In an interesting twist, the play suggests that the 1913 Derby protest was initiated by the suffragettes of the North-East and it was they who persuaded the now exhausted Emily to join in. Soon after, Emily receives a telegram informing her that she has drawn the short straw and will be the one to implement the direct action. At this point, you can’t help wondering whether the selection was purely by chance. Resigned to her fate, Emily leaves her long-suffering mother and goes to do her duty.
In a rather beautiful mirroring of the tragic incident, the inclusion in the play of the figure of the King’s jockey, Herbert Jones, mostly in his later life, is a poignant reminder of how every action an individual takes can affect the life of others. This aspect was of particular interest to me. I was pleased to see ‘Bertie’ have a place in the story and was very moved by the performance, which I felt captured the sorrow of this gentle sportsman.
The stage production was clever and imaginative, but unobtrusive; I was amazed at how well the different locations were accommodated. The haunting Northumbrian folk music added atmosphere, suggesting an almost timeless inevitability of what it can mean to fight for your cause.
All in all, I found To Freedom’s Cause to be a very accomplished and compelling piece of theatre. The play tells of a key moment in our social history. That this play does so in a naturalistic yet poignant manner suggests to me that such a dramatization has further value as an educational tool, although not just for history scholars or students of citizenship, but for us all.