Last week, I attended a fascinating play about the women of Hertfordshire’s journey to winning the vote. ‘The March’, from Pins & Feathers productions, takes a look at women’s suffrage, through the eyes of a mother and daughter, based right here, in the county where the play is being performed.
Having previously interviewed the play’s writer and producer Kate Miller, I had a general idea of what to expect. I knew that the play was about women fighting for the vote and that it was based locally. What I hadn’t expected, was the breadth of settings and time which the piece covers.
As part of a tour of multiple venues, I saw the play in the Hertford Theatre Studio. The studio provides a ‘blank canvas’ on which Pins & Feathers construct several very absorbing settings. Using a few simple pieces of furniture and props, the actors create a cosy Hertfordshire home, the riotous streets of London and even the ever-changing environment of the women’s pilgrimage.
The success of these scene changes is supported by an atmospheric soundtrack of ambient noise, songs and sound effects. When paired with simple but effective changes in lighting, I was effortlessly transported from one location to the next. If I were to suggest one small piece of constructive feedback, it would be that some of the sound transitions felt a little abrupt and I felt this could be remedied by fading in and out of scenes a little more gradually.
As well as changing physical location, the play also moves swiftly through time, covering a number of years, within the 120 minute (including an interval) run time. I was impressed by the smooth way in which this unfolded, both from an acting and a writing perspective. References to the year or the passing of time are clear enough to register with the audience but subtle enough that they feel natural and uncontrived. Whilst this is a testament to Miller’s skilled writing, kudos must also go to director Richard Syms and the actors. In particular, daughter Cissy (Catherine Forrester) and best friend Edith (Melissa Parker) seem to move from excitable adolescents to mature young women with a kind of invisible progression that feels incredibly true to life. As in reality, it was only when looking back over the events of the play, that I realised how much the characters had developed over their timeline.
Although both girls are firmly ‘pro’ the women’s vote throughout, their maturity brings a new, slightly more sober, perspective on the central themes of the play. Cissy’s mother Georgina (Lindsay Cooper) also goes through her own transition, shaped by her experiences of the campaign and her interactions with women from outside her usual Hertfordshire social circle.
Cooper presents the slightly anxious, out-of-her-comfort-zone mother exquisitely and her character’s gradual perspective shifts are interesting to watch. The dynamic between the three leading ladies is perfectly balanced – on the one hand, a power struggle of ‘action vs. discussion’ and on the other, an unwavering support for one-another, as family, friends and women.
The central characters are supported by Ninaz Khodaiji in the role of Jayanti Bannerjee and Paula Tappenden who plays a variety of parts, including real-life activist Lady Constance Lytton. Both women gave fantastic performances, their characters introducing themes such as ethnicity and social class to the already multifaceted topic of gender equality.
The March is clearly a play with a lot to say about gender, politics, family and social perspectives. However, its real strength is in the way it asks the audience to decide: How does the struggle of one social group compare to another? Is it better to stay quiet and safe, or take risks for your rights? And as the play puts is, ‘deeds or words’?
Follow the play on Twitter: