Last week I saw To Freedom’s Cause, a new play written and starring Kate Willoughby about Emily Davison at Tristan Bates Theatre, part of the Emily Inspires! programme of events to commemorate the centenary of Emily’s death.
A fantastic interpretation of the events leading up to Emily’s death, the play also offered a refreshing contrast to the accepted view of Emily as dour and serious, a martyr-in-waiting if you like. Kate had clearly spent a long time researching Emily and her role within the suffragette movement and successfully portrayed a woman who was not only seriously devoted to the cause but also a good friend and daughter. The play was inspired by a letter written by Emily’s mother, Margaret (played by Kay Renner), as her daughter lay in hospital. Margaret’s signing off to her beloved ‘lawless lassie’, ‘with oceans of love from your sorrowful Mother’, was an extremely poignant moment in the play. The effect of Emily’s actions on Herbert ‘Diamond’ Jones (Tim Bennett), the jockey who rode the King’s horse at the Derby that year, was also sensitively handled. Clearly haunted by the incident, Herbert cuts a tragic figure, the death of his young wife leaving him further distraught. There were also some extremely funny moments, most notably by Eleanor Dennison as Flora Drummond. This play is important, I think, because rather than concentrate on whether it was a deliberate act of suicide or not, it focuses on the human story and on relationships, between Emily and her mother and with her friends and between Herbert, his wife and his past.
The last few months have seen much suffragette-related activity and seeing this excellent play made me realise just how important it is for us to keep telling these stories, to re-examine the past and ask questions, and to make these stories relevant for today. To Freedom’s Cause succeeded in doing all of those things.