Wednesday, 5 June 2013

Emily Wilding Davison - the play

On Wednesday 12th June, a new play from Cambridge Devised Theatre entitled Emily Wilding Davison; The one who threw herself under the horse comes to Manchester for a matinee performance at the People's History Museum. 
In these extracts from an interview conducted by Kate Connelly, the playwright Ros Connelly, director Kath Burlinson and actor Elizabeth Crarer discuss how and why they chose to devise a play about a suffragette hero and the continuing relevance of the suffragette movement.

'Emily' in rehearsal
Why do you think it is important to produce a play about Emily Wilding Davison today?
Ros: One of the reasons I am fascinated by the suffragettes and think they are so important is because they demonstrate the heroism of ordinary people.  Emily Wilding Davison seems to be the supreme example of someone who under ordinary circumstances would have disappeared from history but, because of the particular circumstances of the time in which she lived and the strength of her beliefs, she ended up acting in a way which most of us would think is out of the ordinary.  I also think it is a very good time to be reminded about how people have used public protest in the past when the government doesn’t seem to be listening to the people.  I think there is a lot of modern relevance to what the suffragettes and Emily Davison did.  They saw people were not properly represented and they realised the government wouldn’t act unless people forced them to. 

Kath: We need to continue to keep women’s history and political struggle in the forefront of people’s consciousness because the minute we forget it, it disappears.  Having studied the women’s movement in the nineteenth century, the early twentieth century and second wave feminism, I feel that we are now living in a very interesting time.  I am meeting women in their twenties who are very interested in these debates and it feels like things are on the move.  But I am acutely conscious of the losses that can happen in between periods of obvious activism.  For example, in the early 1940s my mum was an undergraduate at Bedford College where the College colours were those of the suffragettes: purple, green and white.  But my mother, who was born in 1926, did not know the significance of those colours until 6 months ago.  Although she was born so soon after those suffragette campaigns, and was a woman studying at a college that had been at the forefront of the movement for women’s higher education, that she did not know about that colour symbolism is symptomatic of what can happen. 

I also hope this particular story of Emily Davison is going to open up a whole series of debates about activism that are very current: violent versus non-violent action; the reaction of the powers of the state to peaceful or non-peaceful protest; martyrdom; the fate of political prisoners.  All of these questions are as relevant today as they were then and all of them appear very directly in the play.
Lizzie:  For me personally Emily is a very interesting way of really thinking through my own attitudes about politics.  For years I have felt a-political and I didn’t grow up connected to a political narrative and I was ashamed and a bit afraid of that.  Meeting Emily Davison, researching and understanding the way that she did things was a way into politics through empathy and imagination. I hope that through making her story into a play, we might offer other people an opportunity to feel how these events at these beginning of the twentieth century connect with them.

'Emily' in rehearsal
Emily Davison was one of the most mysterious of the suffragettes, rarely revealing her motives for her militant actions.  How did you find out about Emily and decide what motivated her?

Ros:  We used the process of devising which entails lots of research before starting.  We tried as much as possible to find what Emily herself said and what others said about her.  The director created different scenarios for the actress to explore, sometimes using Emily’s words, sometimes starting with physicality, feeding in imagery from the time – the art of the time, the music and what was happening culturally.  There is very little of her private writings, so we tried to get through to the private person from her public writings.
Kath:  Part of the discussion between Ros, Lizzie and me has been inventing our own Emily Davison – not fancifully without evidence, but there is an interpretive necessity.  We are creating our own woman who is not Emily Davison.  As every actor will create their own Hamlet, we are creating our own Emily Davison. 
Lizzie:  I don’t think I’ve decided anything yet and I hope I don’t.  It’s not my place to do so.  I can only work with the clues and have to keep exploring and discovering.  There is always more to find out.  Of course there are a few things that I feel are important; at the moment I keep coming back to Emily Davison’s relationship with her father, the moment of transition in her introduction to radical politics and her relationship to her faith.  But through this encounter I hope that Emily teaches me to extend the range of things that I consider to be important.  Part of my job as an artist is to question my own preconceptions.  We’re not producing the definitive version.  I am thrilled that there are two other plays and an opera coming about Emily.  This is really appropriate and necessary because there needs to be a conversation.   
Why did you choose to devise this piece and what difference do you feel devising makes?
Ros:  I chose to devise this piece because I think it’s important to get the input of other people and not just to have one person’s view.  When you get the input from the writer, the director and actor at the same time in the creative process you get very different points of view and different ways into the material. This story is particularly appropriate for the devising process because there are so many important physical actions, not expressible through words - Deeds not Words!
To book your tickets, get in touch with the museum via the contacts on the flyer below.
For details of more dates across the UK, take a look at
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