York’s role within the fight for women’s suffrage in the 1910s is little talked about, but now that’s all about to change.
Everything Is Possible is an impressive production that tells the compelling story of the York suffragettes and how hard they fought just to give women the basic right to vote.
Everything Is Possible: The York Suffragettes
York Minster / York Theatre Royal
Till Sat July 1 @ 7.30pm; Sat matinee 2pm
The show follows the life of Annie Seymour-Pearson (Barbara Marten), initially a Heworth housewife, who became a pivotal militant in York’s fight for women’s suffrage.
Annie, along with other women in the York Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU), runs a safe-house and organises meetings, along with breaking windows and setting fires.
Exuberance and empowerment
The first ever portrayal of the dramatic story of the York suffragettes is played out on both street and stage. Everything Is Possible begins outside York Minster.
Arriving at the piazza, we were greeted with a march for women’s rights, filled with exuberance and empowerment from people busking and brandishing signs with various slogans.
This then transforms into a rallying speech, greeted with cries of approval from actors planted in the audience. They then storm the platform, decorated in 1910s garb with purple, green and white flags, pursued by police officers.
It’s a spectacular theatrical experience, far removed from a standard sit-down performance.
The audience is then escorted back to York Theatre Royal for the main body of the show. As you enter, you are greeted with protesters with placards shouting “No votes for women!” and “Oppose women’s suffrage!”. It’s almost histrionic, but thoroughly entertaining and adds to the engaging, captivating atmosphere.
A visual delight
Everything Is Possible is a visual delight. The stage is covered in hand-painted script, while the backdrop is emblazoned with ‘DEEDS NOT WORDS’ and the names of inspirational women from across history, including Malala Yousafzai, Cleopatra, Rosalind Franklin and Maya Angelou.
As the audience trickles in from the Minster, a series of filmed sketches from the era are projected onto the stage, including A Comical Absurdity: Milling the Militants. Throughout the show, archive film brings home the reality of those days.
The story, which has some serious themes, is depicted sensitively and accurately, whilst retaining humour at the appropriate points.
Being immersive, Everything Is Possible evokes strong feelings in the audience, including a sense of solidarity with the women involved – and real frustration and anger with the men who fail to listen to them.
The cast is stellar. Its remarkable to think that almost all those on stage aren’t professional actors but drawn from the community in and around York.
Stand-out performances come from Barbara Marten, who plays Annie, Beth Sitek portraying Mabel, Annie’s maid and Annabel Lee, whose character is Lilian Lenton, a fiery member of the WSPU with a significant role in York’s fight for women’s suffrage.
You feel genuine passion radiating from the cast; outrage at the injustice and inequality faced by the women of the past and the thrill and exhilaration of the danger faced by the York suffragettes.
This video shows the dress rehearsal of the opening scene outside York Minster
Of course, none of this would be possible without those working backstage, including the wardrobe team, who developed costumes perfectly fitting for the era, the backdrop and prop makers, who created the simplistic but incredibly effective set, and the choir with their beautiful music.
This is the latest in a series running this year entitled Of Woman Born, which itself is curated by women and seeks to focus on art made by women and their stories, in order to address the gender imbalance sometimes seen in the industry.
Everything Is Possible is a stunning representation of the fascinating tale of the York suffragettes and how they fought for votes for women, and it’s sure to delight all who see it.