Do you believe in equality? Would you use violence to achieve your aims? Can you make a rosette? Suffragette City asks all these questions and more in a thought-provoking immersive experience in the heart of Piccadilly Circus.
“Life, strife, these two are one
Naught can ye win but by faith and daring”
There’s nothing quite like a moment of theatre that takes your well-meaning preconceptions and smacks you hard in the face with them but that’s exactly what Suffragette City managed to do for me. The nature of immersive theatre sadly means that no two journeys will be the same, you might well not have the same lightbulb moment of startling insight that I had. Then again, you might already be aware of how ultimately shallow considering yourself an ally to an adopted cause can be.
Commissioned by the National Trust in partnership with the National Archives, Suffragette City occupies a place between living history and immersive theatre. Tucked away behind betting shops and shopping centres in the heart of Piccadilly Circus, a little piece of 1912 London has been recreated in the form of the Women’s Social and Political Union’s headquarters, a genteel tea-room, and the dankest of police cells. And in these spaces, we’re asked to consider how just how far we’d go for equal suffrage.
At first, the options seem a little jolly, a little light-hearted. You can learn how to make a rosette, you can pick an alias in case of getting caught, you can learn a song and go marching through the streets of Piccadilly Circus banners aloft. But once the option to take on a mission is presented, a growing sense of jeopardy emerges, the cosiness dissipates. I’m loathe to say too much more apart from it was at this moment that that lightbulb came on, as it became abundantly clear how strong the patriarchy is (even if you’re calling yourself Millicent).
And that’s why I really appreciated my experience at Suffragette City. The attention to detail from designers and directors O’Neill/Ross is second to none, and the company miss few opportunities to gently educate and illustrate throughout. The opportunity to debrief at the end is a masterstroke in this respect, allowing time to reflect on what has passed and to compare to the real-life experiences of Tooting dress-maker Lilian Ball from which much of this is drawn. I did not sample the milk punch though!