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MUSIC THEATRE WORKSHOPS, July 2008
Citizen of the World: a new music theatre piece about Sylvia Pankhurst. Part of the UK Heritage Lottery Funded project, 'CELEBRATING SYLVIA PANKHURST'

Student trip to the LSE Library Archive to look at Sylvia Pankhurst material

Student trip to the LSE Library Archive to look at Sylvia Pankhurst material Student trip to the LSE Library Archive to look at Sylvia Pankhurst material Student trip to the LSE Library Archive to look at Sylvia Pankhurst material Student trip to the LSE Library Archive to look at Sylvia Pankhurst materialStudent trip to the LSE Library Archive to look at Sylvia Pankhurst materialHLF logo In July 2008, students from Oaks Park High School & Specialist Music College in Newbury Park, Ilford, worked with composer DAVID BEDFORD and director KELLY WILKINSON to create a new work about Sylvia, with the help of Sylvia's biographer Shirley Harrison. Pictured are the performing group, with Kelly Wilkinson and David Bedford following their standing ovation, above and right. Other pictures (right, further down) show the group in rehearsal.

THE WORKSHOPS

In one concentrated week of workshops at Oaks Park High School, 60 students including some from Wanstead High School, Seven Kings High School and Canon Palmer High School (all in the Borough of Redbridge), learned about Sylvia Pankhurst's life and work, selected and researched elements of her life to represent in a music theatre piece; wrote it, and performed it.

They were guided by Sylvia's biographer Shirley Harrison, theatre director Kelly Wilkinson and a number of teachers from Oaks Park including Head of Music Specialism Sue McGuigan and Head of History Patrick Clair – as well as by David Bedford himself, who led the workshops. The result was a dynamic, powerful and moving performance to an audience of 150, with several standing ovations at the end.

THE STORY

The story began with the early days of the Suffragette movement and the part Sylvia played in it, along with her mother Emmeline and sister Christabel. Many issues were represented, from the Suffragettes' joys and successes, to the political and social tensions created by their new role affecting marriage and home life – and their men. There was infighting within the movement as Sylvia broke away from her mother and sister to form her own group of Suffragette workers in London's East End.

Sylvia's career continues beyond the first world war to her arguments with Winston Churchill over the threat of fascism and Italian occupation of Ethiopia – the country where, eventually, Sylvia was to end her days.

THE PERFORMANCE

As well as the extraordinarily beautiful music, particularly memorable moments in the performance were the hilarious antics of two young men pretending to be female cleaners in order to infiltrate a Suffragette meeting to gather intelligence, and later the shocking death of Emily Davison under the King's horse at the 1913 Derby.

A scene from Sylvia's toy factory, with 'live' wooden dolls being handled by their makers, was also extremely effective, as was Sylvia's verbal battering of the owner of Selfridge's till he happily agreed to sell the dolls. The compelling re-creation of her argument with Churchill, first via their respective secretaries and then through a stream of letters was brilliantly choreographed. Theatre director Kelly Wilkinson used remarkable imagination to create continually changing atmospheres for the work – with neither specialist lighting nor props other than a few chairs, a pair of brooms and a bicycle. Her inventive and energetic approach inspired students to surpass themselves with ingenious contributions, meticulously performed.

THE PROJECT

This was part of the UK Heritage Lottery Funded project, ‘Celebrating Sylvia Pankhurst', to promote interest in her as a figure important to local and national heritage. Sylvia lived in Woodford (now part of the London Borough of Redbridge) from 1924 until 1956. Project activities included an exhibition at Redbridge Museum, various workshops for schools and archive trips to important collections, the publication of a new schools’ 20c history book and the creation of this website. Discover lots more about Sylvia Pankhurst