New play celebrates women who battled for equality
ANNIE Kenney arrived in Bristol more than 100 years ago to sow the seeds of what turned out to be one of the most active cells of the women's suffrage movement. In just a few years, facing large-scale opposition, the group was driven to undertake a campaign of sabotage and vandalism in a bid to recognise women as equals.
Members cut telephone wires, attacked post offices and set fire to mansions in a climate where their speakers faced being pelted with stones at public engagements.
Their courageous battle, fought tooth and nail, helped secure women the vote in Britain and built a platform for years of advances in gender equality.
Now, just over a century later, Annie's work is being celebrated by actors of the amateur Ship and Castle Theatre Company who have been inspired by her brave stand.
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Standing up to the establishment and a conservative political class was not easy for the militant Women's Social and Political Union – something the cast of Deeds Not Words have learned to appreciate over weeks of preparation for their play which runs next month.
Written by Tom Phillips, the play is made up of four acts and has two casts – male and female – who know nothing of each other's scripts or scenes.
The play is set in 1913, half in a meeting of the suffragettes in Epsom to discuss what they might do next, and half in Lord Asquith's Cabinet debating votes for women.
Amber Andrews, who has been chosen to play Annie, said: "It is the reality of it all which has struck everyone in the play.
"When you look into what these women did for us, it is astonishing.
"From when we first read the script to when we started rehearsing we got more and more involved in it.
"It has been a journey and all the women involved in the play now are feeling very proud and are keen to do it justice."
Amber, 30, said that as the cast have learned more about the history of the movement, the significance of the great leaps in gender equality has hit home.
For Amber, regional fundraising manager at the Sue Ryder charity, this is something further put into perspective by the heroic acts of the women represented on stage.
She said: "I think about the fierce danger they put themselves through – from standing up and speaking, to burning buildings – and realise the bravery involved.
"It has really made us think about how far we have come since the vote and how much we can do now.
"Quite a lot of the cast have got great jobs and are really successful women.
"To think that we could not access all that before these women put their life on the line is incredible.
"What it has also taught us is that all different classes of women were welcome at these meetings.
"We are all equal no matter whether we are part of higher circles of society or not."
Amber said that the play's message is the most important thing.
She said that getting across the message to the audience is essential for the cast and writer, who are keen to stress the power and influence of the suffragette movement.
Amber said: "I hope that the audience are inspired in the same way that we were.
"I think the audience will all take something different from the play.
"Whether you are male or female, or from whatever class, there is something to be learned."