The Rondo Theatre, Bath
Oxygen, a new play, by Natalie McGrath, tells the story of a group of women who walked from Land’s End to Hyde Park in the Summer of 1913 as part of the Great Suffrage Pilgrimage.
History tells us that thousands of women up and down Britain joined the march to London in protest against gender inequalities, work conditions and to demand votes for women.
In contrast to the militancy of Emmeline Pankhurst’s campaign, exemplified by Emily Davison’s death at Epsom the same month as the Suffrage Pilgimage, the marchers wanted to emphasise that the campaign for equal rights could be law-abiding and peaceful.
Natalie McGrath’s well-structured play highlights the divisions within the suffrage movement through its focus on two sisters who take up opposing positions with regard to the issue of militancy. To that extent, their relationship mirrors that of Christabel and Sylvia Pankhurst, who held strongly conflicting views as to the best way to gain the franchise.
The production is both inventive and resourceful with just a few props used to good effect to create a sense of the time. Moreover the ensemble combine well to portray both the determination but also the emotional intensity and sense of common purpose that drove these women on in their search for justice.
The music is beautifully evocative both of the aspirations of the women but also of their sense of frustration in the face of difficulties and sheer exhaustion.
Oxygen tours until 20 July with the final performance at The Orange Tree. Richmond. It is a powerful piece of theatre that confirms Natalie McGrath’s genuine talent as a theatre maker.
Reviewer: Sue Gordon