Friday 13 September 2013, 12:03
I first read this extraordinary play more than 20 years ago, but it's remained with me ever since and bringing it to air has allowed me – just for a short time - to touch the skirts and breathe the air of those women who dared so much in the early part of the 20th century. Radio allows us so easily to inhabit another world and to mine the psychology of the characters who populate it.
My favourite story about its author, the American actress Elizabeth Robins, is that she is said to have pulled a gun on George Bernard Shaw when he made a pass at her! Renowned for her performances on the London stage (most notably Ibsen), she became a prominent literary figure and brilliant propagandist for women's suffrage, which was gathering momentum at the time. She originally wrote a novel "The Convert", based on the Suffragette speeches she'd heard and the responses they evoked (this forms the middle section of the play), but realised that drama could have potentially greater impact (this led her subsequently to be involved in the setting up of the Actresses' Franchise League). Votes for Women was performed at the Court Theatre (now the Royal Court) in 1907, directed by Harley Granville-Barker.
What's most significant, I think, about the play is that Robins captures the change which came at this time (she describes it as "a new spirit"). Some women were realising that peaceful protest had achieved nothing and the activism of the Suffragettes caused a split which Robins explores. But she only ever raises issues through character and it's much to her credit that there are no heroes or villains in the play: that the minute we think we sympathise with one perspective, something causes us to doubt it. The play has a modernity in subject matter and style which is still surprising and impressive. I hope she'd be pleased to know we're still listening.
Marion Nancarrow, Producer, Radio Drama
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