Brighton Fringe 2014
The first part of the play description in the Fringe brochure says “May 1914. War is imminent. Suffragettes threaten public buildings: moving pictures are the latest craze.” This led me to believe I would see a serious show about the state of the world in 1914. I should have paid more attention to the second half of the description – “All are welcome at Minnie’s- be they fugitives or spies. But why is one man staying in the ladies’ boarding house?”
What we have is a quirky promenade production brilliantly acted, full of humour, with salient information about the suffragette movement.
Arriving at St Barnabas’s Vicarage, there is a small group of people standing outside the locked door. Eventually the door opens and we are led into the house where we see the characters dressed in Edwardian clothes. Suddenly screams are heard from the upper floor and the characters rush upstairs. We follow & enter a room where an old lady Mrs. Boxall has fallen out of bed and we see the ladies get her back into bed and calm her down. Elaine Mitchell as the old lady gives a remarkably brilliant performance of a feeble old lady, worried that her jewellery would be stolen but who delivers a wonderfully wicked comic line about the brandy she is given. Every gesture, every sigh, every cry are so real and believable that one almost wants to try to calm her one self. Suddenly we are immersed in life in an Edwardian house in Hove which we find out is run by Minnie as a refuge for the suffragettes who have been imprisoned. Minnie is based on Minnie Turner who ran a boarding house in Brighton and devoted her life to the cause of women’s rights. A mysterious American man is also in the house intending to make a silent movie which reminds us of Brighton’s link with the development of the early film industry.
Without giving away too much of the plot we see scenes, of seduction, love, death, actions of the suffragettes with the horrible treatment meted out to them. Some scenes are very funny, some scenes are serious and all of them acted terribly well. Most of the characters are elderly with only the young innocent maid, unaware what voting means and of the dangers of the sexual advances of older men, is played by a young actress. A policemen also appears in the story, sometimes involved in amusing silent movie police acting & at other times being involved in a more realistic & tragic story line. Every one of the characters, some based on real people, are meticulously researched and acted with an intense naturalism. I feel as if I am a ghost watching the characters go past me in the different rooms of the house as the action is played out. Music arrangements by Roderick Hart contribute to the almosphere of the piece.
The play has been brilliantly devised by the company under the direction of Sylvia Vikers who must take great credit for her vision of the play. Congratulations to the universally superb cast of Gillian Eddison, Graham White, Jackie Thomas, Angela Ferns, Robin Humphreys, Eleanor Rankin, Judith Horth, Elaine Mitchell, Lisa Sang & Ruth Oliver.
Only a small number of people can be accommodated at this venue and I urge you to book your tickets quickly to see some of the best acting I expect to see on the Fringe this year. The production may not be innovative but it is well acted, entertaining and we get a glimpse of what life was like for the very ordinary people who were involved in the suffragette movement.