We at Vote 100 are full of admiration for Peter Barratt’s achievements on behalf of his WSPU great grandmother Alice Hawkins. Not only has he brought her amazing life story to public attention, but his efforts and perseverance have led to the commissioning of a statue of her which will be unveiled in February 2018 in Leicester. However Peter has not stopped there, his latest venture has taken him to Edinburgh and, we suspect, achieved a first for a suffragette…..
Treading the boards at the Edinburgh Fringe 2017 with ‘Vote 100 – Alice Hawkins – Suffragette’ by Peter Barratt
As a great-grandson of Leicester suffragette, Alice Hawkins, I have always found the account of her campaign for the right to vote truly inspiring and one that needed to be told. So with this in mind for the past ten years I have spoken to many groups, societies and schools and have never lost the enthusiasm. However each August I would put everything on hold and trek up to Edinburgh for the Fringe and seek out comedy, theatre and talks on many subjects. So given this mix it is hardly surprising that the idea came to me earlier this year of participating in the Fringe myself with the story of Alice’s life.
The Fringe attracts visitors of all ages and from all corners of the world, and so it gave me the opportunity to speak of Alice’s life to a wide and diverse audience and what better timing, with just months to the centenary of women’s suffrage here in the UK in February 2018.
And so I arrived in Edinburgh just a few weeks ago, ready to give three ‘shows’ under the Spoken Word section and with the title ‘Vote 100 – Alice Hawkins- Suffragette’. I specifically wished to include the project name that Parliament has given to events supporting the centenary of women’s suffrage, but of course we live and learn and being listed alphabetically in the programme guide, it came near last in the section! Probably a few tickets sales lost there!
The talk was backed up as ever with a power point of images from the rich collection of suffragette memorabilia that Alice collected during her campaigning years and still with the family to this day. But importantly I invited along actress, Ruth Pownall, to read out notes and letters of the day. This proved to be the icing on the cake as Ruth learnt her lines as an actress would and sang as well. More on that later!
And so we both rather nervously set up our first show at the venue, ‘The Sir Arthur Conan Doyle Centre’. Being a fantastic Edwardian building, it befitted the period of history that we were speaking of, and our audience began to fill the room. They do say that audience numbers at the Fringe can be in single figures, but with ticket sales of 80% we felt both relieved and enthused by the take up.
Our show fizzed along with my, as ever, enthusiastic presentational style and with Ruth adopting various ‘characters’ to fit the readings, such as Alice, Emily Pankhurst and an East End suffragette who writes to Alice, Genie Bale.
But I had taken a decision just a few days before arriving to include in the power point an image from the collection of a postcard dated 1916, sent to Alice from a friend inviting her to Sunday tea. With her three sons, including my grandfather, fighting in France for King and Country, the postcard had a verse on the front from the very popular song of the day, ‘Keep the home fires burning’. Not only this, but I had asked Ruth at short notice if she would sing the verse. It proved to be the moment when the spoken word story of Alice’s life became near theatre and the audience spontaneously applauded, as they proved to do for each subsequent show.
The finale came with Ruth singing my favourite song ‘Nana was a suffragette’. We stood up and took the sustained applause, our first show was over and had proved to be a success!
The week seemed to fizz along and before we knew it, the final show was about to start. With a sell-out audience and just a few minutes to go I stepped out of the room to check for last audience members arriving and who should be walking up the stairs with ticket in hand, but John Prescott! Any MP or Lord would have been very welcome, but given Alice’s socialist beliefs and her being a lifelong member of the Labour Party, with John in the audience I felt a strong sense of having made the right decision to be at the Fringe.
Will Ruth and I reprise our story of Alice’s life at the Fringe next year, as they say ‘wild horses won’t keep us away’!