Theatre Review: And Others @ National Theatre
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One hundred years on from women gaining the right to vote, the women’s suffrage movement is widely documented, referenced and discussed as a hugely influential period of female protest. Yet, despite the continued awareness of the importance of the movement, too many Suffragist and Suffragette voices have been lost in time.
This was highlighted in a recent show at the National Theatre which saw talented female actors who were D/deaf and disabled telling the stories of D/deaf and disabled women from the movement.
Images courtesy of National Theatre
On 15 November, Graeae Theatre Company and researcher Susan Croft brought ‘And Others’ to National Theatre, as part of the ‘Courage Everywhere’ series. This one-off show represented the central values and messages of Graeae, emphasising the importance of inclusivity and accessibility for all; whether a director, actor, friend or family member, or an unrelated audience member, everyone in the theatre was allowed the unfortunately rare experience of being treated as equal.
Led by Jenny Sealey MBE, the cast shone the spotlight on historical women whose voices had been lost. The title draws on the unjust tendency for D/deaf and disabled people in significant historical movements to be forgotten and presented as nameless ‘others’.
Among the women’s stories that were brought to life for the audience was Kate Harvey, a profoundly deaf suffragist who was imprisoned after refusing to pay tax in protest of being denied the vote. Her story was told sensitively and powerfully, portrayed through physical acting and sign language.
And, wonderfully, Harvey’s granddaughter attended ‘And Others’. During a post-show discussion, she wished to specify that her grandmother was a suffragist rather than a suffragette, as had been suggested. However, she spoke proudly about the importance of ‘And Others’, and about her passivist but strong-willed grandmother whose efforts in the suffrage movement deserve wider acknowledgement than is currently given.
After leaving ‘And Others’ by Graeae Theatre Company at the National Theatre, I felt warm and inspired by the inclusivity, charm and wit of the writing and cast, but I also felt an undeniable pang of disappointment. While the production itself was far from disappointing, the ongoing issues and inequalities that it highlighted are.
I was disappointed that theatre is still not inclusive enough towards actors with disabilities and D/deafness; I was disappointed that the history books are still failing to effectively represent people who are D/deaf and disabled; I was disappointed in myself for not fully recognising this sooner.
With each production that Graeae presents, these issues are being increasingly highlighted and addressed. In ‘And Others’, the actors portrayed strength and honesty throughout the performance, with a welcome embrace to include anybody and everybody in the audience.
As is standard practice in Graeae productions, BSL interpreters and audio describers were incorporated into the show to ensure it was as inclusive and accessible to the audience as possible.
As an intelligent, funny, poignant and well-produced piece of theatre, ‘And Others’ raised awareness of major issues of underrepresentation both in history and in contemporary theatre. If you have not yet been to a production by Graeae Theatre Company, I recommend that you go.
To find out more about Graeae Theatre Company, visit their website here.
You can read more about the 'Courage Everywhere' series at National Theatre here.