Theatre in Review

The parallels between "The Good Fight's” retelling of the British Suffrage Movement -  and the Women's March going on in all countries around the globe now are truly uncanny and a little bit frightening. The Women's Social and Political Union (WSPU).British women's suffrage movement coined the powerful phrase “Deeds, not words" in response to the 50-year-long refusal by Parliament to allow women to vote in the UK. 

Babes with Blades latest production, “The Good Fight” is a stark reminder of today’s issues at hand. History is doomed to repeat itself, and in Babes with Blades latest production, “The Good Fight” at City Lit Theatre the already revved up Chicago audience finds a thought provoking reminder of yesterday's issues which are still being fought for today. 

There are many interesting, and also tragic, scenes that are presented well in this production. WSPU members were regularly subjected to police brutality like being beaten and arrested while demonstrating peacefully or simply selling their Women's Press newspaper, "Votes for Women".  The aging leader of the WSPU, Emmeline Pankhurst (Jean Marie Koons), and other members were arrested repeatedly under an actual law with the degrading and disgusting title “The Cat and Mouse Act".

"The Cat and Mouse Act" allowed police to not only repeatedly arrest and imprison members like Pankhurst but also to brutally force feed them while in prison when they chose to go on hunger strikes. As one character in the play mentions, "You are never the same after the force feeding." 

Force feeding was done by restraining the female prisoner on a medical table by her arms and legs then applying metal clamps to her mouth and teeth to open them so that a feeding tube, which often tore open their vocal cords in the process, could be forcibly shoved down their throats in an effort to punish them. This created a hollow appeasement to the public that they were being "fed by prison guards" in order to save their lives. 

Another fascinating and little known story is told about the group of fighting Suffragette’s called "The Bodyguard", a group of specially trained women who learned the martial art of Jiu Jitsu in order to protect their leader from the police brutality and repeated arrests at each WSPU demonstration. 

The fact that these early suffragettes NEEDED to learn to fight using hand to hand combat just shows clearly how violently they were abused by the police and lawmakers at the time. It's too bad this production didn't get a mention in about the South Asian British suffragettes without whom this battle would not have been won. 

Some scenes were real reminders of how male autocrats use physical force to rule over their subjects. Playwright Anne Bertram includes scenes about Parliament arguments over whether to allow women the vote, which included arguments that the women's hats would be too large to see over if women were voted into government. Another argued the stressing of women's physical weakness as an indicator that they must be ruled over because men are born capable of physically subduing women, etc.  

Although this quote is not in the play it was one of these infuriating responses that served to agitate the movement completely when in June of 1908 the WSPU held a 300,000-strong "Women's Sunday" rally in Hyde Park. The suffragettes argued for women's suffrage with the Prime Minister, Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman. The Prime Minister agreed with their argument but "was obliged to do nothing at all about it" and so urged the women to "go on pestering" and to exercise "the virtue of patience".

Some of the women present had been virtuously patiently fighting for their rights for FIFTY years and so the advice to "go on pestering” was felt as an unbelievably patronizing and disgustingly inhumane response from the Prime Minister, which spawned the more militant actions to come. 

One of the most interesting things I did not know about the WSPU and the formation of " The Bodyguard" is that the WSPU members debated  among themselves whether or not to return violence with violence or continue to resist peacefully, doing only damage to abandoned buildings and closed stores in order to avoid using violence to defend their aging leader and other young members from  the  physical destruction of lives through the "Cat and Mouse" torture and release legislation.This production mentions the interesting and bitterly ironic fact that Parliament also passed another legislation protecting it's armed forces that forbade women attending WSPU peaceful marches or protests to wear "hat pins" to fasten their hats because so many police were "poked with hat pins while attempting to arrest protesters that the hat pins were now considered by baton and gun wielding policemen as weapons! 

Hence, the brilliant and necessary formation of " The Bodyguard" which utilized the peaceful art of jujitsu; one of the only martial arts in the world which uses ONLY the energy of an attacker’s momentum to respond to and end the attackers violent actions. 

The essential scenes for this production directed with passion by Elizabeth Lovelady and fight choreographer Gaby Labotka made great use of the relatively small space for so much physical action and complex action scenes. I loved the use of the sumptuous period costumes and official colors of the WSPU. As is stated, “In 1908 the WSPU adopted purple, white, and green as its official colours. These colours were chosen because Purple...stands for the royal blood that flows in the veins of every suffragette...white stands for purity in private and public is the colour of hope and the emblem of spring."

Some of the British accents could use some work because it was a little bit distracting to hear them come and go within a couple cast members. Each member of this ensemble did a great job expressing the fever, excitement and anguish of meeting each day’s challenges and humiliations. 

Emmeline Pankhurst was played beautifully with great wisdom and pride by Jean Marie Koon. Grace Roe, a jailed WSPU member and one of the founders of the movement, was played with wonderful sensitivity and forceful energy by Arielle Leverett. 

I enjoyed watching this play surrounded by Chicagoan's who are right now marching 300,000 strong downtown to protest all GOP of the human rights being eroded by the current Trump administration. 

The fact that in 2018, it has been less than 100 years since women have been given the right to vote and the fact that not only are women still fighting for equal pay, they are also still fighting to keep their rights to abortion, healthcare and protection from career ending sexual harassment while an accused sexual harasser of the worst kind  has been " voted" somehow into the highest office in the land, makes this production a must see for all who are struggling daily to keep up their own energy physically and emotionally to fight "the good fight".  

I highly recommend taking your sons and daughter to see this informative and sadly, still VERY relevant, production to show them how long it takes to win this type of good fight and also that the good fight has not yet been entirely won. 

“The Good Fight” is being performed through February 17th at City Lit Theatre -

Published in Theatre in Review



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