Historical Hip Hop and Heavenly Moves!
“Nothing would induce me to vote for giving women the franchise. I am not going to be henpecked into a question of such importance”.
Winston Churchill 1906
Katie Prince and the dance company ZooNation worked on a dance version of the story of Sylvia Pankhurst in 2018 and felt it needed more work. The musical Sylvia at the Old Vic is the result.
1918 was the date when some women got the vote, those over 30 who fulfilled the owning property qualification. That might have been enough for Women’s Social and Political Union founder Emmeline Pankhurst (Beverley Knight) but not for her younger daughters Sylvia (Sharon Rose) and Adela (Kirsty Skivington). All women over 21 had to wait another ten years but men were given the vote earlier after so many had served in the First World War.
Katie Prince’s production is a mixture of funk, soul and hip hop music by Josh Cohen and DJ Walde, and reminded me of the vibrancy of Hamilton. The dance has so much energy bringing to mind Bob Fosse’s creative interpretation of the storylines in Sweet Charity, Chicago and Cabaret.
Sylvia is the most modern of the Pankhurst daughters in her commitment to working class men needing the vote as well as women and she formed the breakaway East London Federation of Suffragettes led by women but open to men to join. Christabel (Ellena Vincent) was organising the WSPU and men were not allowed to join. Sylvia was friendly with Keir Hardie (Alex Gaumond) founder of the Labour Party which women could not join initially.
This period of history is well recorded and researched and a musical interpretation will be largely accurate but cannot really be expected to be exact. The Churchill family see Winston (Jay Perry) falling foul over votes for women with his American mother Jennie, Lady Randolph Churchill (Jade Hackett) and his wife Clementine (Verity Blyth) supporting the suffragettes. Churchill was opposed in the 1870s, but by 1904 as a Liberal was giving suffrage tepid support.
I am such an admirer of Beverley Knight and she brings Emmeline’s single focus harshness into perspective. Her singing is brilliant. There is a deep bass introduction in the strong opening number “First Steps of a Revolution” set in 1903 “deeds not words” at the founding of the WSPU. The rejection of her illegitimate grandchild is heartbreaking. We are told Emmeline was to stand as a Conservative MP until the scandal broke. Sharon Rose as Sylvia is outstanding with a very powerful voice. Her performance sees her grow in maturity leading to the 1913 family split. Jade Hackett charms as Jennie Churchill with the Churchill family often providing moments of laughter as we feel for Winston living with two such powerful women.
I liked Andrej Goulding’s video backdrops, a flickering film for the death of Richard Pankhurst, Sylvia’s father. Views of the House of Commons. Prison scenes when the women were on hunger strike and released only to be rearrested by the powers of the Cat and Mouse Act. We see the Derby in June 1913 when Emily Davidson runs in front of the King’s horse and the slides are really impressive as the horses rise up and come towards her.
I’m voting for another life for Sylvia! I really recommend this incredibly crafted musical and am going to give it five stars from Theatrevibe, the site that doesn’t do stars!
The First Steps of a Revolution
Did You See Me?
It’s All Good
Women Are Stronger in the Home
Be the Change
Makes Some Noise
Don’t Let Me Down
It’s all Good (reprise)
Look For the Light
Watch the Stars
I’ll Stay by Your Side
Men are Just Better Put Together than Women
March Women March
Be the Change
One of the Doomed
I Know Where You Live
You Can’t Force Us
Catch Me If You Can
I Don’t Want Blood on My Hands
Way DownWhat Have We Become
I Believe in the Golden Age
Audience with Asquith
When the Rich Wage War, It’s the Poor that Die
I Will See You on the Other Side
Hear Me Now Stand Up
Music by Josh Cohen and DJ Walde
Book and Lyrics by Katie Prince
Choreographed and Directed by Katie Prince
Kate Ivory Jordan
Director and Choreographer: Katie Prince
Designer: Ben Stones
Co-Musical Supervisors : Mark Dickman, Leonn Meade
Lighting Designer: Natasha Chivers
Sound Designer: Tony Gayle
Video and Animation: Andezej Goulding
Musical Director: Sean Green
Running Time: Two hours 30 minutes with an interval
Extended and Booking until 8th April 2023
London SE1 8NB
Tube/Rail : Waterloo
Telephone: 0344 871 7628
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge
at the Old Vic
on 1st March 2023