Cat and Mouse, 100th Anniversary of International Women's Day Reading
The Prisoners (Temporary Discharge for Ill Health) Act 1913 had the nickname of the Cat and Mouse Act, with the Liberal government of the time being the cat and the suffragette prisoners being the cruelly toyed with mouse.
It stated that suffragettes taking part in hunger strikes would be released from prison as soon as they became ill, resulting in a revolving prison door with women being released and re-arrested, and changing their status from criminal to victim.
This rehearsed reading was performed on the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day (8th March) and was a bit more than just some actors sitting on chairs, reading a script.
The audience was greeted with the sweet voices of an unknown Scottish female choir singing suffragist parodies of songs like Onward Christian Soldiers and A Man’s A Man. There was the prop of an iron bed with a chair and a back screen showing prison images with scene titles.
The play is based on the stories of real women, Arabella Scott (Francesca Dymond), a teacher living in Edinburgh with a colonial background, Fan Parker (Meg Fraser) a Cambridge graduate and niece of Lord Kitchener and Maude Edwards (Pauline Lockhart) a bit of a comic and not so pukka, who spent time in Perth prison for the cause on enfranchisement.
Nothing was held back in the description of the process of force feeding with Doctor Hugh Watson (Phil McKee), shown to be a deeply sexist man, apparently being the only doctor in Scotland willing to take part in the gruesome practise.
He was portrayed by McKee like the detached scientist he must have been. In spite of this, he is shown as having developed a relationship with the fierce and indomitable Arabella that was uncomfortable to watch in the context of a celebration of this important step to British women’s liberation, almost proving his theory that all she wanted was a husband.
What was also uncomfortable to watch, was Arabella’s lack of sorority with the female guards, as opposed to her apparent meeting of minds with this cold and very male Doctor. While Francesca Dymond was every inch the feisty colonial, she showed no diminishing sign whatsoever of what would clearly have been a debilitating physical process to experience, so lost credibility.
Pauline Lockhart’s performance was both entertaining and a platform for her skills with accents other than her own. It is a pity the full play was not available for the IWD anniversary.