Friday, 6 December 2013

Christmas in the Trenches

Stick your head above the parapet, pick up your football and wander into No Man’s World this Christmas.

For today only, the No Man’s World: Black Hand Gang ebook is 98p over at the Rebellion store as part of their Advent calendar event.

Grab a copy, and have a Joyeux Noël!

Thursday, 11 April 2013

Suffragette City

The First World War proved to be a turning point in the advancement in Women’s rights, providing fresh opportunities for women, who found themselves drafted into new employment to replace the men sent off to fight. In 1918, the Representation of the People Act finally extended the vote to women over the age of 30, although it was another ten years before the voting age was lowered to 21, the same as men.

Prior to the war, the Pennine's own Nellie Abbott, First Aid Nursing Yeomanry, ambulance driver and aspiring tank driver, was involved with the suffrage movement. Its members had campaigned long and hard for the Vote and were forced to resort to ever more extreme tactics in order to publicise their cause.

This  month sees the centenary of a Suffragette attack on Manchester Art Gallery, the kind of action which Nellie would have supported, if not actively participated in. On the 3rd April 1913, Emeline Pankhurst, founder of the Women’s Social and Political Union, was sentenced at the Old Bailey to three years penal servitude for inciting persons unknown to commit felony. In protest at the sentence, and in keeping with the Union’s motto, "Deeds, not words", a rash of militant actions took place across the country.

Annie Briggs, Evelyn Manesta and Lillian Forrester

In Manchester, three women; Annie Briggs, Evelyn Manesta and Lillian Forrester entered the art gallery just before closing and began attacking paintings with a small hammer, around which was tied a ribbon declaring, "Votes for Women" and "Stop Forcible Feeding".
"Two attendants ran into the Gallery and found three women, Lillian Forrester, Annie Briggs, Evelyn Manesta, running round, cracking the glass of the biggest and most valuable pictures in the collections. It had been well planned. Nowhere else in the Gallery were hung so many famous pictures, so close together."
 -Manchester Evening News April 14th 1913

They attacked and damaged thirteen works among which were: The Last Watch of Hero and Captive Andromache by Lord Frederic Leighton and The Syrinx by Arthur Hacker, works still on display today.

The Last Watch of Hero by Lord Frederic Leighton

Captive Andromache by Lord Frederic Leighton
The Syrinx by Arthur Hacker

The three women were arrested and brought to trial for malicious damage. Although all three protested that this was not a criminal but a political offence, Lillian Forrester was sentence to 3 months penal servitude, Evelyn Manesta to 1 month. Annie Briggs was acquitted.

Circulated police poster for Suffragettes Lillian Forrester and Evelyn Manesta

Following this initial attack, paintings became a prime target for suffragettes - and not without reason:
"There is to me something hateful, sinister, sickening in this heaping up of art treasures, this sentimentalising over the beautiful, while the desecration and ruin of bodies of women and little children by lust, disease, and poverty are looked upon with indifference."

Tuesday, 29 January 2013

The Accrington Pals

Like the Broughtonthwaite Mates, the Accrington Pals, were another northern Pals Battalion. Accrington, though, was the smallest town in England to field a volunteer battalion of a thousand men, a battalion that was effectively wiped out within the first twenty minutes of the Battle of the Somme. Barely anyone in Accrington was left untouched by the tragedy.

The Royal Exchange’s revival of Peter Whelan’s The Accrington Pals (17 Jan - 16 Feb),on its home turf so to speak, contrasts the experience of the men in the trenches of the First World War with the lives of the women at home.

Photo by Jonathan Keenan

The men volunteered for Kitchener’s new army in a spirit of bravado and comradeship, seeing the war as an adventure and escape from their daily toil.  Left behind, the pragmatic womenfolk of the mill town find themselves in a rapidly changing world that presents new hardships, opportunities and fears.
 "If there’s one thing that narks the men about this war its the way it shows them up for creating such mysteries round things.  My God! Providing both your eyes point forwards and your arms aren’t on back to front, anyone can drive a tram!"

Photo by Jonathan Keenan

The play is, by turns, poignant and funny and is underscored by dramatic irony; the audience is aware of the fate that awaits the men and the grief the women will face - but not meekly. Frustrated by rumour and newspaper propaganda surrounding The Big Push, the women of Accrington marched en masse to the town hall to demand the truth.

Photo by Jonathan Keenan

The cast are excellent, with great female characters shouldering the weight of the play, from Emma Lowndes as May, the single and independent market stall holder with her own private burden, to Sara Ridgeway’s ardent young Eva, Laura Elsworthy as the naive young mill girl, Bertha, Rebecca Callard’s earthy Sara and Sarah Belcher as the embittered Annie.

The Royal Exchange knows its space well and its set designs are always inspired. This time, designer Johnathan Fensom sets the scenes with  simple cobbles, a tram line, a market stall and a water pump. Being performed  in the round,  there is an immediate intimacy with the audience that a proscenium arch often can’t match. If you get the chance, go and see it.

Besides, you can’t go wrong with a theatre that looks like the set  for a TARDIS interior.