A Necessary Woman

Deborah Clair and Philippa Urquhart
Clair Obscur
Sweet Grassmarket

Deborah Clair and Philippa Urquhart

In 1911, Parliament let women clean, cook and make the fires that kept government functioning but they didn’t allow them a vote which would have given them some say in what that government did.

It was as if women were invisible. Many turned census night of 2 April into a protest. “If women don’t count, neither shall they be counted.”

Emily Davison decided as a protest to get herself counted in the census of the House of Commons by hiding in one of its cupboards.

Deborah Clair and Philippa Urquhart imagine an encounter between Emily (Deborah Clair) and the cleaner, a fictional character named Mary who discovers her hiding.

When Mary (Philippa Urquhart) hears a noise behind the cupboard door, her first impulse is to report the intruder and she is not impressed when she realises the noise belongs to one the suffragettes.

However, taking pity on the women, she brings her water. As they talk, their conversation ranges across the activities of the suffragettes, the cruel forced feeding of activists in prison and Emily’s reason for protesting.

But Mary thinks the protests just cause a mess that others have to clear up. She has worked for forty-three years, her hands are stained with coal dust from the fires she has made and when she was pregnant she had to give up her baby for adoption.

For Mary things need to be practical. She knows that as things stand her job makes her “a necessary woman.”

This engaging show gives us a glimpse of two very necessary women and how they might have influenced each other.

And we hear something of the speech Emily might have made if she had managed as she intended to rush into the Commons.

She says of the women who cleaned, cooked and made the fires of Parliament, that they are the “angels of the house (who) make the work of government possible. Why should they be denied the vote?”

Reviewer: Keith Mckenna