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Oxygen (tour - Plymouth)

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
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© Mary Evans
I so wanted to love Dreadnought South West Association's inaugural piece Oxygen and urge people to grab a ticket but….

Telling the inspiring tale of June/July 1913's Great Suffrage Pilgrimage, Natalie McGrath's five-hander womanfully strives to capture the campaign and the determination against the odds of these amazing visionaries.

With some 30 stops on a tour mirroring the original Land's End to London leg, Rebecca Hulbert, Michelle Ridings, Rachel Rose Reid, Carolyn Tomkinson and Stevie Thompson play myriad characters illustrating – with a varying degree of success – the ordinary and the extraordinary women who gave their all to combat child poverty, stop white slave traffic, end sweated labour and fight for the right to vote.

We hear of Emmeline Pankhurst's thwarted hunger strike efforts, Emily Davison's dive under the king's horse at Epsom and the abuse of peaceful protesters by police and crowds.

It is all very interesting, a stark reminder of the lot of women at the time and a great reminder of just how brave the suffragists were but, unfortunately, there are too many characters to engage and a certain self-indulgent air occasionally pervades with a sprinkling of ham.

A simple set and multitasking props are unusual and effective, and on-stage musician Claire Ingleheart's performance and original music is excellent.

The cast's harmonies are superb and I would have loved to join in with the eponymous song but (apart from the fact I really cannot sing) we didn't know it and had no song sheet. I don't quite understand why the Suffragette anthem is not used, or Ingleheart's lyrics sung to a well-known tune.

So, mixed feelings: glad to know the story, but just not engaging enough, despite warming to it as time passed.

- Karen Bussell


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