Land’s End and Beyond

I'm sat in the auditorium of the beautiful Orange Tree Theatre today, where the company are working Oxygen for the space, which is in the round.  Another new space, another new configuration.  Amazing to the see the 'bones' as they are now known in here, after seeing them against so many other backdrops.

It is great to be so welcomed here in Richmond by Sam Walters and his team.  It's very exciting to be finishing our tour here.  A place where women playwrights are regularly honoured and produced.   Richmond.  The women on the pilgrimage were here.  Passing through.  Almost at their destination. 

We have been made welcome in so many places on our journey. This has been an extraordinary aspect of the Dreadnought project as a whole.  Another reflection of the way the women of 1913 gathered and managed being on the pilgrimage route.  When we set out on this projects beginnings over eighteen months ago, it was always an ambition to try and reflect and honour aspects of the pilgrimage itself.  Obviously the constraints are wildly different, but here we are nonetheless.

It has also been our intention to mark things that happened.  To remember. To get folk talking.  It feels like this has happened, whether it has been through seeing the production of Oxygen, or through one of the many waymarker related activities, or a commemorative walk in honour of the footsteps taken.

People talking about women who walked for their right to social justice and why they walked.  Side by side. Shoulder to shoulder.  Peacefully.  Collectively.  Could we do this today?  In the name of a cause?  And if so; what would that cause be?

So.  It is the day before our last two shows. 

Tomorrow:  20th July 2013. 

Last two shows. I'm wondering how we got to here so fast.  So much has happened along the pilgrimage route.  I have met and walked and talked with many people.  We have been hosted beautifully.  I have been amazed at folks responses to this story that inspired me into action over four years ago.

And now Land's End feels so far away, now we have turned right and moved firmly towards London. 

Hyde Park. 

We are getting closer to Hyde Park.  I can feel this now.  This moment the women who walked were working towards.  Their convergence point.  Their collective act of protest. Their rallying call to the government for the vote.  Their celebration. Their achievement. 

Whichever route they took from across England and Wales.

One hundred years ago.

I'm imagining all the faces. The crowds. The excitement. The exhaustion.  The sheer intensity of it all and what it meant.  What they were fighting for.  It still resonates for us today and has resonated along our way with the show and the wider project engagement. 

I am still captivated by this great feat of imagination. To collectively protest and gather,  mobilising so many people, peacefully even though there was danger and hardship.

There are women and men walking collectively once more.  Here in 2013 as part of the Walk for Women project, organised by Lucy Holmes.  Who is also responsible for the fantastic and crucial No More Page 3 campaign.  Knowing that over 50,000 women walked and met in Hyde Park has inspired people all over the country.  I feel very proud knowing this. 

In Plymouth a woman stood up at the end of one show to demand that all women used their vote.  In Corsham, around a hundred Year 6 children chanted "deeds not words", and "votes for women" in the same street the women walked down, to make their public address to a welcoming crowd.  In Exeter an 11 year old girl from Libya told us what was wrong with our voting system today here in the UK with a clarity I find myself unable to reach on a daily basis.  In Truro, women whose great grandmothers had been imprisoned for their militancy met for the first time, and their pride in their ancestors shared history filled the room.  Making us all smile.  Making us proud.

There are so many of these stories to tell and slowly but surely I will remember and commit these to some form of response and documentation.  This is just a beginning.  Not an end.  I think we are a little ahead time wise of the women from one hundred years ago, but full of stories and extraordinary moments nonetheless now of our own.  Stories and moments that I think we will all carry around in our hearts for a long time.  They will be held deeply.  Carried like gifts.  There have been many gifts on the Dreadnought journey.

I have been watching, listening, gathering, singing.  I have changed as an artist.

I think back to the very first development of Oxygen in January where I sang for the first time in years and years, and how now I have written songs, and worked with Claire Ingleheart on their arrangement, learnt from her skilful compositions and layering of harmonies.  I have been singing, not necessarily beautifully, but I have been moved and compelled to sing with the cast at the end of each show, who have sung these harmonies, touching and lifting so many people.  I have felt this as a member of many audiences.  As a bystander of the episodes performed in outdoor spaces. 

I am wondering what it will feel like to hear those harmonies for one last time this Saturday and how emotional this will feel.  Maybe it is only a last time for now.

Claire invited us into the world of a Cornish Shout, way back, when we were in rehearsal at the Hall for Cornwall.  On a Sunday evening we ventured out to the Countryman Pub in Piece through tin mining heartlands outside Redruth.  Relics of the past haunted me on this evening, here where everything had just started to burst out, lush and full of so much greenery, greens that cannot be counted. 

Wild flowers.  Cornish wild flowers. Spinning all around me as I sought the words for the final song for the show.  I looked to the wild flowers.  I looked at them wide eyed.

It was one of the first of many evenings where I have felt like I had stepped into a private world.  A unique world.  One of many experiences I will not forget in a hurry. 

Listening to their harmonies I started to understand something about the power of song and the voice, that I thought I knew, but only probably intellectually, not in a visceral way.  Not physically.  Emotionally.  It was a massive turning point in my understanding creatively about the process we were in.  That night the cast sang what must be the very first public outing of a song from Oxygen.  It was also a massive moment in my understanding of what the whole project was and could be about in relationship to voice.

To being heard. 

Here we tested the Lament, now known as Scatter Myself from the play.  The cast sang to the accomplished group of singers gathered, and as they listened in, I watched and felt an urgency in the work and the possibility of what we were doing.  What it might action.  Now as we reach the end of this beginning, for it is a beginning, the songs from Oxygen are now being sung across Cornwall by choirs.  Still resonating and reaching out. 

Lungs full of air capturing the spirit of the pilgrimage. 

At Land's End I named the women who we think walked all the way.  And now here we are in Richmond. 

Two shows left. 

In Hyde Park I will name the women again. 

The women's footsteps we have been tracing and marking have become more and more potent as we have moved along the route.  I now understand even more how history is such a powerful and important place to re-visit.  Particularly if it is part of a history that hasn't been told before.  Something that happens so frequently when it is women's history. 

All the more reason to share this extraordinary story of political activism.

Almost all of our creative team are here today: Director Josie Sutcliffe, Choreographer Diana Theodores, Designer Sophia Clist,  Assistant-Director Erika Lindahl, Production Manager Sally Crooks, Stage Manager Charlotte Bister, Creative producer Kerrie Avery, and tomorrow our Musical Director Claire Ingleheart will join us for the last show, as will Didi Hopkins who worked with the cast on Commedia.  I also need to mention Belinda Dillon who is our PR and marketing person and Sarah Scaife who has mapped the waymarker events.  That leaves just our glorious ensemble: Becca Hulbert, Michelle Ridings, Rachel Rose Reid, Stevie Thompson and Carolyn Tomkinson.  Whose work will be remembered by us all and the audiences who saw them for a long time ahead. 

Thank you to all who shared, and celebrated this journey of the women on the South West route of the Great 1913 Women's Suffrage Pilgrimage. 

Thank you. 

Natalie McGrath

19th July 2013

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