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Chris Grady: Marking centenaries in Bloomsbury and Aldeburgh

By • Southeast

This week I have been at St George's Church in Bloomsbury reflecting on the amazing legacy of the Suffragettes on the 100th anniversary of the day when Emily Wilding Davison threw herself under the horse at the Derby. And then over to Aldeburgh for the start of the Aldeburgh Music Festival celebrating the 100th anniversary of Benjamin Britten's birth. Two powerful and top quality solo shows.

In Bloomsbury church Elizabeth Crarer offered us a harrowing insight into the Suffragette movement and in particular the struggle, time after time after time, for Emily Wilding Davison to have her voice heard and the torture and degredation she, and so many others, went through to win women the vote in the UK.

With just a chair and a rope, the audience packed around her "cell" on three sides, supported by an evocative soundscape by Stuart Brindle, this richly emotional actress led us through Emily's life from prison cell to prison cell. We were left unsure whether she wanted to die under the king's horse, but sure that she would take her struggle as far as it was necessary.

At a time when Pussy Riot and so many others around the world are still fighting for equality of voice this was a powerful reminder of how much we owe to these women.

It is a piece which deserves to be seen on tour across the UK and thereby to awaken debate in young men and women in schools and colleges, and reflection for all of us for a fairer future. This was a piece devised and directed by Kath Burlinson leading to this new play by Ros Connelly. It is presented with support from Unite and Arts Council England by www.cambridgedevisedtheatre.co.uk.

Keep an eye out for further performances and, dear arts centre and theatre manager, think about inviting Elizabeth and Stuart to your studio theatre. It's an important and impressive piece of work.

From there I travelled to Aldeburgh for the world premiere of Tell Me The Truth About Love – a commission by Aldeburgh Music for Conor Mitchell and Mark Ravenhill to take songs and poems by Benjamin Britten and WH Auden and reshape a lost cabaret song cycle.

There are two more performances on 22 June when the piece returns to the atmospheric intimacy of The Pumphouse on the marshes at Aldeburgh, and then it plays at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe for the whole of the festival.

The songs were brought to powerful and vibrant life by Jamie McDermott, best known as the composer and lead singer with The Irrepressibles, supported at the piano by Stephen Higgins with lighting from Nigel Edwards.

They are off this morning to the Amsterdam Festival. I suspect, and hope, that this new cabaret cycle will be seen at festivals for a long time to come, and will gain a goodly selection of awards along the way.

I was sitting next to a lovely couple from Saxmundham who were clearly Britten and Aldeburgh afficianados – what would they make of Conor and Mark's new songs, and the new pieces by Conor based on Auden poems, alongside the remaining four Britten/Auden songs? They were most impressed, commenting that they couldn't see the joins, and wished to send much praise to messrs Mitchell and Ravenhill.

I passed on their good wishes and over a glass or two of too much beer and wine celebrated the writing quartet of Britten, Auden, Mitchell and Ravenhill. For details of the festival go to aldeburgh.co.uk and if you're going to be in Edinburgh this summer book now to see this part of the Inspired by Britten series.

Happy 100th birthday Mr Britten – the seascape looked suitably grey and atmospheric, and the fish and chips were fabulous.

Tags: Chris GradyEdinburgh FringeEmily DavidsonAldeburghBenjamin Britten


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