The most important thing to be said about She Bangs The Drums, a show created by Contact’s Young Company, Sh!t Theatre, and the People’s History Museum in Manchester, is that it’s not just a production that’s ‘great for a Young People’s production!’ No. She Bangs The Drums is just plain great, full stop. So great, in fact, that this reviewer went to see it twice during its limited run.
Located in the bowels of the Station Building of the Museum of Science and Industry, the show is an intimate one, with the audience being circled by cast members on bikes within moments of the lights going up. The show is a powerful one, with fantastic visuals, from the costumes (each member of the cast is dressed in a long skirt and a white t-shirt with individual, hand-drawn slogans) to the dance interludes, during which female cast members illustrate elements of the fight for women’s rights with their bodies.
Skilfully blending stories of the suffragettes from 1918 with issues that women face today, the production tackles issues as light-hearted as the introduction of ‘Lady Doritos’ to well-executed and hard-hitting stories about sexual violence, slut-shaming, and the ongoing hunger strike by women detained at Yarl’s Wood.
It would have been easy to focus on the stories of lauded Mancunian suffragettes like the Pankhursts, or the Pethick-Lawrences, but although a skit centres on Emmeline and Christabel Pankhurst, the show itself highlights the contributions of less well-known suffragettes. We’re made aware of characters like Sophia Duleep Singh, Queen Victoria’s goddaughter, and strident suffragette of South Asian origin and Lady Constance Lytton, who disguised herself as ‘Jane Wharton’, in a bid to prove that once in custody, suffragettes from working class backgrounds were treated far more harshly than their upper-class counterparts.
It’s a show that centres and celebrates diversity: from a focus on the queer composer who composed the March of the Women, to a poignant moment where the same story is translated into different languages, and another, where a story is told by a queer cast member, about being gaslighted by someone who assaulted her.
The show earns its 14+ rating. From shocking scenes depicting the force feeding of women on hunger strike, to a story about domestic violence, and a Town Meeting scene in which suffragettes are brutalised by police officers, She Bangs The Drums does not shy away from the violent nature of the movement and the experiences of women fighting for the vote.
It’s impossible to talk about She Bangs The Drums without talking about the music. Composed by Contact Theatre’s Young Sound Design Team, it fits perfectly with the rest of the show, and the haunting original song ‘My Mother Said’ closes out the show in a suitably sobering fashion, with members of both the cast and audience reduced to tears.
With the show’s limited run over, the only thing to be said is to watch out for all the young people involved, from Contact Young Company alumni to the musicians and composers – if this is what they can do in a matter of months and a minimal set-up, imagine what these young creatives will be coming out with in the future.
She Bangs the Drums played at Manchester’s Museum of Science and Industry on a limited run, until 11th March 2018. For more information see: https://contactmcr.com/shows/contact-young-company-she-bangs-the-drums/