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Knickerbocker Glories

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
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“Feminists have no sense of humour?” is the teasing question chalked up outside the theatre in order to tempt us inside, and indeed there is some fun to be had viewing this triple bill of plays written for the Actresses Franchise League between 1908 and 1913.

There is a curiosity value too, and the evening is a fascinating glimpse into Edwardian era agitprop. As such it is a rare pleasure but, sadly, this is drama in its most slimline guise. The three plays – Miss Appleyard’s Awakening by Evelyn Glover, Lady Geraldine’s Speech by Beatrice Harraden and How The Vote Was Won by Cicely Hamilton and Christopher St John – are all written with passion, and indeed humour, but also with such predictability and thinness of character that they have the air of extended sketches rather than plays. Knickerbocker Glories assumes that the audience is clearly on its side from the start – as of course we are in this day and age – but it’s intriguing that such an assumption might also have existed when the plays were first performed.

In the first, directed by Russ Hope, Miss Appleyard (Charlotte Moore) receives a visitor (Kathryn Martin) who is trying to persuade her to sign an Anti-Suffrage Society (ASS) petition. During the course of the visit it transpires that Miss Appleyard is not such a willing signatory as both she, and her visitor, assumed at the outset.

In the second piece, directed by Samantha Bond, Lady Geraldine (Naomi Paxton) is in a terrible fluster because she has somehow got herself elected president, or vice president, or perhaps even Hon. Sec. – she’s not quite sure – of the Anti-Suffrage Society, and she has to make a speech. She turns to her old schoolfriend Dr Alice (Beatrice Rose) to write it for her, without taking on board the fact that Dr Alice is a militant suffragette, who tells her that the anti-suffragists have “a passionate insistence on their own brainlessness”.

In the final play, directed by Sam Kenyon, poor hapless male Horace Cole is descended upon by all his female relatives, demanding that he support them. Cue much masculine huffing and puffing and a suitably flag-waving ending.

All very appealing as historical trinkets, but not exactly a revelation of hidden dramatic talent. If perhaps just one of the three had had a subtler or more substantial approach to the subject, the evening would have had a greater sense of balance for today’s audience.

– Giles Cole


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