Ethel Smythe: Grasp the Nettle is a new play about the life of composer, writer and suffragette Ethel Smythe, performed by actress and contralto Lucy Stevens and pianist Elizabeth Marcus. This timely show celebrates the 100th anniversary of the 1918 Representation of the People Act which was a decisive step in the political emancipation of women in the UK and is touring to Lesbury Village Hall.
Ethel Smyth was the living embodiment of the passion with which Victorian women challenged the “male machine”. As an activist, she was imprisoned in Holloway with Mrs Pankhurst and was a lover of Virginia Woolf. As a composer, she wrote the anthem for the suffrage movement The March of the Women as well as composing 6 operas and many sonata’s, quartets and song cycles.
In 1902 she was the first female composer to have an opera performed at Covent Garden and, in 1903, she was the first female composer to have an opera performed at The Metropolitan Opera House in New York. The next opera by a female composer to be performed at Covent Garden was in 2012 and at The Met was in 2016.
Ethel Smyth – Grasp the Nettle is a whirlwind of Ethel’s exploits and passions interwoven with her songs, the story of her greatest opera, The Wreckers, and her battle for an equal voice. It is Illuminated with anecdotes from her confidants, her letters and her own writing “…which is peculiarly beautiful and all of it rippling with life” (Maurice Baring).
Lucy’s Singing credits include Gotterdammerung at Longborough Festival Opera, Die Fledermaus at Opera Holland Park and Oedipus Rex at the ICA. As an actress she has performed at Liverpool and West Yorkshire Playhouses, Tate Modern, Linbury Studio at Royal Opera House and amongst other roles, has appeared as Andrea in Jerry Springer the Opera.
Elizabeth Marcus studied at Guildhall School of Music & Drama where she now works as a vocal coach and harpsichord teacher. She has performed at the Wigmore Hall, Purcell Room, Queen Elizabeth Hall amongst others and has broadcast on BBC Radio 3 and 4 Classic FM and French National Radio as well as BBC 2 TV and Channel 4.
Following her hugely successful productions Shakespeare In Song and Kathleen Ferrier – Whattalife! (which toured with Highlights in November 2016) Lucy is touring her new show to coincide with the centenary of the 1918 Act for women’s political emancipation and right to vote. The organised campaign for women’s suffrage began in 1866. In 1918 some women – 40% – got the vote in UK national elections but it wasn’t until 1928 that all women got the vote.
The performance in Lesbury will feature members of Alnmouth and Lesbury WIs in full suffragette costume. The musical director of the show Elizabeth Marcus heard how Alnmouth WI ladies as part of another show, “Years to Remember” in 2016, had made a huge impression on the audience as they replicated a suffragette rally marching in with banners and flags, singing the anthem accompanied by bass drum and melodeon. She responded enthusiastically to the suggestion of a similar involvement including Alnmouth and Lesbury WIs in the 2018 show.
Local Highlights representative Mary Hollins commented “This production is quite timely and appropriate as Alnmouth WI has its 100th birthday later this year and is seeing this as a proud part of its celebrations”.