BWW Review: EVERYTHING IS POSSIBLE: THE YORK SUFFRAGETTES, York Theatre Royal
Set in early 20th-century York, Everything Is Possible tells the moving story of Annie Seymour-Pearson, a local housewife who risked her life to fight for the right to vote.
Directors Juliet Forster and Katie Posner felt strongly about creating a piece of female-led community theatre showing the unjust struggles faced in the past. Bridget Foreman's play, performed by Pilot Theatre Company, thus focusses on the women of York and their place in the suffragette movement.
Taking full advantage of the historical context of the city, the prologue begins not in the theatre, but outside the York Minster. Volunteers from the production interact with the crowd, inviting them to sing and chant for equality.
A smooth transition is made from this modern, festival-like atmosphere of the present to the retold past: the cast make their first appearance, and lead the audience through the streets of York back into the theatre. This constructed illusion of a giant Women's Rights protest attracted considerable attention from the public, and is an effective way of enabling the audience to step into the shoes of the women who marched before them.
Not to be outshone by the Minster, the set design inside the theatre, by TopShow, is also creative. Influential words spoken during the suffragette movement are written across the stage, with the 'Deeds Not Words' quote that features prominently in this play displayed subtly but proudly on the backdrop. The community wardrobe team should also be acknowledged for providing excellent and historically accurate costumes, enabling us to more easily distinguish between the most and least affluent women in the story.
Prema Mehta's lighting is also effective, with video projection playing a large role in this performance. The use of video recordings from the past, such as scenes from the streets of London after women were first refused the vote, complement the action onstage and act as a powerful and emotional reminder of the lengths women had to go to just to be taken seriously.
The production involves a large and diverse cast of over 150 volunteers. At times, the sheer number of people moving around on stage makes it difficult for individual performers to command attention, so some parts of the plot are difficult to follow.
However, Barbara Marten as Annie Seymour-Pearson is a standout, and her superb performance holds attention even in the busiest moments on stage. Marten's sensitive portrayal of York's leading suffragette allows the audience to get behind the character from the very beginning. Excellent, too, is Annabel Lee as Lillian Lenton, adding sensitive touches of humour throughout the play.
Everything Is Possible proves a compelling story of the fight for equality not just in York, but throughout the whole nation, though following the journey of a local woman did appear to resonate deeply with the audience. The final scene, involving the gathering of the entire cast on stage, projected a powerful sense of unity, evoking a strong emotional reaction and sense of community.
Although the fight for equality continues to this day, Parliament currently features a record number of female MPs. This play explicitly demonstrates just how much determination, anguish and heartbreak were involved in securing the right to vote, acting as the turning point for women to enjoy the freedom that we rightly enjoy today.
Photo credit: Anthony Robling