As the lights dim, the cast of Sylvia step onto the stage to the explosion of the “First Steps of a Revolution.” The musical takes the audience through the development of the Women’s Social and Political Union from 1905-1927 and its fight for the right to vote.
The differences between Sylvia—the socialist—and her mother Emmeline Pankhurst and sisters regarding strategy and direct action are gradually revealed. Emmeline wanted votes for those women who owned property while Sylvia was determined to fight for universal suffrage, regardless of wealth, gender or race.
This culminates in a passionate disagreement between Emmeline (played by Beverly Knight) and Sylvia (Sharon Rose) in the song “You’ve Changed” with Beverley Knight at her most powerful vocally.
Sylvia’s determination to put class at the heart of the struggle for equality and to include both working class men and women in the demand for the vote eventually separates her from her family. She chooses to live in the east end of London and organise campaigns for equal pay, health clinics and nurseries for women.
The production and performance, with the dancers of ZooNation and music by Josh Cohen and DJ Walde, is rapturous. Using hip hop, funk and soul, it made me want to get up and dance and join in on the chorus.
The use of a predominately black cast was interesting as I felt it spoke to the intersection of race, class and gender. Casting Winston Churchill (Jay Perry) and his mother (Jade Hackett) as a Caribbean mother and son using patois is an amusing technique. It seems to acknowledge the place of Caribbean culture in British society.
Choreographer Kate Prince says she was inspired by Alonzo Westbrook who said that “hip hop is an artistic response to oppression”. This inspiring musical leaves the audience in no doubt that the fight for change and equality is worthwhile, individually and collectively.
Sylvia: a Musical Revolution is at the Old Vic, London, until Sat 8 April. Tickets from £12Original post