Theatre review - Sylvia

MY companion absolutely loved this hip hop musical about Sylvia Pankhurst and the fight for women’s rights. I wasn’t completely won over. It’s brilliantly staged but other than the inspired Suffrajitsu, and rousing numbers March Women March and Rise Up, I didn’t find Josh Cohen and DJ Walde’s music (a combination of hip hop, soul and funk) and Kate Prince and Priya Parmar’s book particularly memorable.

The performances, though, are electrifying, particularly Beverley Knight as Emmeline Pankhurst and Sharon Rose as her rebellious daughter, Sylvia.

The show, which in an earlier incarnation came closer to four hours duration, has been trimmed down to two hours 30 including an interval.

We’re given a whistlestop tour through Sylvia’s time at art school, her affair with the first leader of the Labour Party, Keir Hardie (Alex Gaumond), the death of her beloved brother Harry (Razak Osman) and her burgeoning socialism

We follow the small successes of the women’s movement and the tragedies. These include Black Friday on November 18, 1910, when 300 suffragettes marched on parliament to press for voting rights only to be met with violence, and the death of Emily Davison (Kimmy Edwards) at the 1913 Derby after being hit by King George V’s horse.

In 1913, Sylvia split from her mother and sister Christabel (Ellena Vincent), who did not welcome the Labour Party’s involvement, and founded the East London Federation of the Suffragettes. Sylvia endured several stints in prison, where, like many female detainees, she was force fed, and her health deteriorated as a result. She remained steadfast in her support of working-class women.

A lot of love has clearly been lavished on Prince’s production and her choreography is exhilarating. The talented ensemble and live band give it their all. A West End transfer surely awaits.  

until April 8

Originally published by Camden New Journal