Our new season in The Marlowe Studio kicks off on Friday 12 September with Red Ladder Theatre Company’s Wrong ‘Un – a one-woman musical drama about the suffragette movement.
This year marks the centenary of the First World War, but landmark dates for the suffragette movement sit alongside this. Not wanting people to forget this history, and with recent prominent feminist conversations in the media (No More Page 3 and Everyday Sexism being two examples), it seems the perfect time for this story to come to the stage.
With 40 years of theatre promoting social change and global justice behind them, Red Ladder’s Artistic Director Rod Dixon talks us through the journey of this particular production, and their move into musical theatre.
Five years ago Boff Whalley (ex-lead singer with the band Chumbawamba) and I decided we wanted to make musical theatre which appealed to audiences who wouldn’t normally access theatre very easily or even willingly.
We made several shows featuring the band and Red Ladder actors; shows such as Sex & Docks and Rock n Roll which toured trades clubs and small theatres, and Big Society! a music hall comedy starring Phill Jupitus.
Unite the Union asked us if we could make them a show about the Suffragette movement which would be performed at Durham Miner’s Gala in 2013. The shows up until then had been expensive to make and tour and so we set ourselves a challenge – to make a one-woman musical with no musicians: an acapella musical. Boff had always wanted to write a show specifically for Ella Harris to perform as he had long admired her work.
The first draft of the play came in and Ella was worried that her character was portrayed as slightly crazy, and who was not afraid to break the law or face a prison sentence. The truth is, that when ordinary people feel the need to take direct action they are far from brave or unhinged – they are usually very frightened and are only taking desperate measures because of the need to force change.
Boff rewrote the piece showing Annie Wilde as much more vulnerable and real – in this way her character quickly forms a positive relationship with audiences who love her humour and her story.
It has come as quite a surprise to us that this little play has exceeded all expectations – and I am sure this is due to the attractive qualities of the character that Ella plays. We made the show more or less as a one-off for Durham in 2013. Fifteen months later it is still touring and it has received four and five star reviews in national and local newspapers and websites. Wrong ‘Un isn’t just a suffragette’s story – it is a story for all of us today.
Wrong ‘Un is at The Marlowe Studio, Canterbury on Friday 12 September and will be followed by a free post-show Q&A.