Oxygen Review – The Stage

Natalie McGrath’s beautiful and uplifting play celebrates a group of women who walked from Land’s End to Hyde Park in the Great Suffrage Pilgrimage of June 1913.

It was a call answered by women all over the country, who converged on London in their tens of thousands six weeks later to press for votes and an end to child poverty, sweated labour and white slavery. They wanted to show that the suffrage movement was law-abiding and utterly determined, but not dependent on the firebrand, high-profile suffragettes demonised by the media.

In a sequence of intense and conjoined episodes, the play focuses on two sisters and what happens to their relationship when one chooses militancy and the other peaceful protest.
With nothing more than a bicycle, banners, hats and sashes, the cast magically create an ‘everywhere’, with pavement scenes and public meetings the settings for intimate conversations and a painful dilemma.

The ensemble effectively conveys the characters’ emotional resilience with astonishing delicacy, tenderness and subtlety – an unsentimental testimony to the courage of women who braved weather, hostility and sickness for their belief.

Claire Ingleheart’s music perfectly captures the rapture and exhilaration of the dream as well as the poignancy of loss and exhaustion it demanded. Songs in which the women sing in harmony are especially moving, seeming to say, ‘We walk for the women who cannot’.

Indeed, it’s a sign of Dreadnought’s commitment to the play’s values that the company has organised a remembrance walk as part of a series of waymark events following the route of the pilgrimage and the play’s tour.

Posted in Reviews of Oxygen