There is a resounding article by Viv Groskop in today’s Guardian about the suffragette play at the National Theatre. I saw a preview last month, and registered my disappointment in a blog post – it seemed to me a play that unwarrantably simplified history and avoided all the difficult issues about the suffragette movement.
When the first night notices came out, I was surprised by how much the critics liked the play. The Independent called it “a deeply affecting and rousing drama”. Michael Billington in the Guardian felt that “Lenkiewicz’s power lies in her ability to recapture the triumphs and tribulations of a historic movement.” The Sunday Times thought that “What makes it work is the undeniable interest of that time — material for a season of plays — as well as its winning humour.”
Benedict Nightingale in The Times, however, while praising the play for “epic excitement”, raised important questions about historical authenticity:
Did sophisticated men really reduce themselves to ugly, callous caricatures in their opposition to the suffragettes? Well, perhaps. Myself, I’d have liked to have seen still more of the crusading women who are so boldly led by Susan Engel’s indomitable old Florence Boorman and heard more of their internal arguments and quarrels. You wouldn’t know from this play that the Pankhurst daughters ended up at each other’s ideological throats.
Nicholas de Jongh in the Evening Standard, wrote: “Despite its fluffy grasp of the politics of 1914 Her Naked Skin does offer a vivid impression of Edwardian society in embattled crisis.” (Fluffy and vivid at the same time? Eh?) He considered that the play’s theatrical excitement overcame any cavils one might have about this fluffiness.
Obviously all these critics found the play more exciting than I did. Well, a lot can happen between first preview and Press Night, I told myself. So I’m interested to see that Viv Groskop in The Guardian, who clearly saw a more recent performance, shares my misgivings. She looks at the play from a feminist perspective, and sees a wasted opportunity. The clichéd Lesbian theme takes over and “The play seems to forget it ever had any politics.”
I came at things from a different angle, but I agree solidly with Ms Groskop’s conclusions.