York’s women battle for equality in new community blockbuster show

Vote for Women! Some of the cast in Everything Is Possible. Photograph © John Saunders in the production's Flickr group
21 Jun 2017 @ 4.16 pm
| Entertainment

Actor Barbara Marten is passionate about women’s rights.

Asked whether she would consider herself to be a feminist, her answer is unequivocal: “Absolutely, yeah.”

And York’s brand new community production Everything Is Possible: The York Suffragettes showcases her beliefs in fighting for equal opportunities for women – both then and now.

This video shows the dress rehearsal of the opening scene outside York Minster

Campaigner who risked it all

Barbara Marten in rehearsals at the De Grey Rooms in York. Photograph © Shaun Conway on Flickr

Marten, best known for her role as Eve Montgomery in BBC hospital drama Casualty, has played a huge part in bringing the production of the show to street and stage.

Everything Is Possible:
The York Suffragetts

York Minster / York Theatre Royal

Tue Jun 20-Sat Jul 1 @ 7.30pm, Sat matinee 2pm


More details

She carried out the research on which the show is based, and plays the part of Annie Seymour-Pearson, an ordinary Heworth housewife who became a suffragette – and risked her life and her family for what she believed in.

The show invites the audience to join those turbulent times.

Starting with a scene outside York Minster, then moving in to York Theatre Royal, Everything Is Possible charts the city’s suffragette story – as across the city, women run safe-houses, organise meetings, smash windows and fire-bomb pillar boxes.

The suffragette movement was crucial because it was when “women made their presence known and demanded a voice having been pretty much oppressed for a very long time,” Barbara told YorkMix.

“I found it astonishing when I was reading the early research, what these women did. It was so impressive.

“They were fearless and physically brave because they were knocked about by police, went to prison and went on hunger strikes.

“It’s the idea that they took to the streets and made their voices heard because it mattered; it mattered to so many women across the board, from all classes and ways of life.”

Emily Pankhurst in York

Emmeline Pankhurst addresses a crowd, not in York, but in New York City in 1913. Photograph © Hulton Archive on Wikipedia

The most iconic member of the suffragette community, Emily Pankhurst, came to speak in York.

At the time, she was welcomed with the suffragette union’s banner, which is now being replicated by community crafts people, to be used in the play. Marten says “to see them making that, I just found it really choked me up”.

The production has a different vibe from most, because part of it is set outdoors, on the streets of York.

This gives an extra sense of authenticity and makes it just that bit different. “I love doing stuff outdoors. Way back I did street theatre and I love the idea of it,” said Barbara.

Street theatre: Rehearsals near York Minster. Photograph © Andy Argyle on Flickr

Like Blood + Chocolate in 2013, Everything Is Possible is a community production.

There are 170 volunteers, of all different experiences and ages, with the oldest person being 84 and the youngest only seven.

Many of the cast members and production team have worked on previous community productions. However, about 40 per cent of the actors and backstage staff are new volunteers.

Here’s some more of our chat with Barbara Marten.

‘The big scenes are terribly exciting’

Rehearsing outside the Minster. Photograph © Dave Lee on Flickr

How is it working with all the different members of the community?

It’s really nice actually, they really give their all and there’s a lot of passion and vigour going into it and everyone’s giving their hearts and souls to it and everyone believes what it’s about.


What type of multimedia is being used?

We have some silent movie stuff, we have music, we have sound, but the big thing is that we have projections of original footage. There are tiny little snippets from a video called ‘make more noise’, which is all snippets of suffragettes’ activities or events.


What are your highlights so far?

I’ve got some lovely scenes with the people who play my family, which are really special to me. There are significant young girls in the story that Annie meets or comes into contact with because it’s about them really; it’s about passing it on through the generations, so I love that.The big scenes with everybody involved, 150 people, are just terribly exciting and thrilling. And I just love that there are some great parts for the other women in the play, I just feel like they deserve it.


Do you live in York? Do you have family here?

I do yeah; I’ve lived here for about 12 years, before that I lived in Leeds. Two of my children went to school here and are now in London, one of them has just finished uni and one’s working in London, and my other son works in Leeds.


What are the highlights from your extensive TV career?

Well, Casualty was a really nice job for me in many ways because it was the first time I’d done a really long term piece of television work and it kind of felt like I got into the groove and found the right level and the right style for TV work.But actually, over the last four or five years, I’ve done nothing but theatre. I think that is what I love.


After this production, what’s next for you?

I did a play the year before last at a national called People, Places and Things by Duncan Macmillan, which is about addiction and recovery and it went to the West End the following year, and this year, in September, we’re taking it to New York. So that’s the next thing that I’m doing. So that’s really exciting.