By Hildy Harland
I am very familiar with the work of Abbott Dance Theatre. I first came into contact with them for their previous work Launch Day last year and enjoyed working as part of the community cast for their opening of that show in connection with Sunderland Stages at Sunderland College. It was so wonderful to be a part of that and because of my involvement I felt like launch day held a strong resonance with me.
So how wonderful to get the opportunity to see the first full length showing of Abbott Dance Theatre’s next offering ‘Deeds Not Words’ a story through dance of womens suffrage for the vote in the UK. Since the centenary of the first women winning the vote interest in the stories of the women involved in the fight for equality have exploded across the cultural scene. And most of us could not be happier, it’s about time women were recognised for their often hidden contributions to our society.
Within this piece Abbott Dance explore what the suffragettes went through to inspire them to fight for the vote as well as what they endured to get it. Let’s not forget the 2018 centenary is a celebration only of women over 30 who fit certain property requirements (Around 8.4 million women out of 32 million women living in England in 1918) getting the vote. The piece delves into a world where women had for the first time began to step out of the home and into ‘mens’ work after the ‘Great War’ where so many men were lost. They no longer felt content only in the home (if they ever did feel content in the first place, I know I certainly wouldn’t). This was portrayed by a scene in the show where one of the characters played by Natalie Hewitt is setting and un-setting a table repetitively with more frustration each time. There are quite a few different scenes which document what feels like a typical woman’s journey to being a suffragette inspired by some of the most famous suffragettes in our history Emily Wilding Davison, Dame Ethel Smyth and Emeline Pankhurst.
The exploration covers more than just marches and arrests but the more disturbing force feeding of women on hunger strike, the death of Emily Davison in her attempt to pin the suffragette flag to the kings horse in 1913 and the violent treatment which women were met with both in protest and domestically. You can not tell the story of women without men so as well as the three female cast members Catherine Muckle, Alyssa Lyle and Natalie Hewitt and there are two male cast members too. I particularly enjoyed Jannick Moth as the ‘baddy’ and we had Theo Arann as his more supportive counterpart. Jannick really struck me with his depth of character and I really enjoyed his performance as I did with the other characters too although I would love to see more use of the other characters as it did feel like some of the characters were left a little un-explored.
A change I noticed in the aesthetic of Kristin’s work was the presence of a set, which as you all know props and sets always please me! It was nice to see the backdrop contribute to the story of the show concealing props and made from crates giving the audience that feeling of being a part of an underground organisation with the added pleasure of getting a pin baring the suffrage colours as we entered the theatre.
If there was any nuggets of constructive observations I could make I would say that the sections of the piece need more gelling together. As this was the first showing of the piece in it’s entirety and knowing the company, I’m sure the piece will evolve each time it is performed and of course each performance will be unique due to the use of community cast which is one of the reasons I enjoy Abbot Dance Theatre’s work. I would however enjoy a more interwoven community cast. I absolutely loved the ladies choir which gave a real atmosphere of female solidarity to the story which was at times very moving.
I would definitely recommend visiting this piece when it comes around on it’s 2019 tour starting at Queens Hall Arts Centre in Hexham on January 31st 2019. It really is a must see for those interested in the subject as well as educational for those of use who may be totally oblivious. There are some really strong images which show us just how far we have come in the fight for female equality and is completely inspiring to make our suffrage sisters proud and keep fighting new fights!
To find out all of the tour dates for their North East Tour visit Abbott Dance Theatre