Green grow the rashes, O
Green grow the rashes, O
The sweetest hours that e’er I spend,
Are spent amung the lasses, O.
One of Burns’ many tributes to ‘the gentler sex’ is harmonised beautifully in the cottage of his birth by Pamela Reid, Annaliese Broughton (pictured below) and Jamie McGeechan (aka Little Fire) in a scene from my new play, CauseWay: The Story of the Alloway Suffragettes. As I sit in rehearsals and listen to the gorgeous melodies, I wonder whether Burns would have described time spent with the lasses being portrayed here as ‘sweet’. He might have been a little bit annoyed at them, since they did try to blow up his house, or he might have been right behind their feminist socialism. This, however, is a question for another time. Whilst the words of Burns feature in our tale this, as we are told by our characters, is not about him.
CauseWay is a dramatic exploration of the story of Frances Parker and Ethel Moorhead, who attempted to blow up the cottage of our national bard’s birth in 1914. Despite a long cycle to get there and some half-assembled pipe bombs, the plan never came to fruition as they were spotted by a night watchman. Moorhead escaped immediately (which means we can never be certain that it was her in the first place), whilst Parker was imprisoned and brutally force-fed for weeks before eventually making her escape just at the outbreak of WWI. So, no doubt a fascinating story with plenty of action, excitement and a little bit of politics thrown in, but why does it need to be told now? Yes, it’s the centenary of the event (and of The Great War itself), but why rake over the events of the past? What does a 100-year-old tale of a thwarted explosion have to do with life in 2014?
These were all the questions I asked myself when I began writing CauseWay. Interested as I was in the story, it was always important to me that it was not just a historical drama – if people want to know exactly what happened, they will always have Wikipedia. So, as I researched what had happened that night, I began to think of this hundred year gap, and how much has changed for British women in that time. It would be daft to say that nothing has improved for women since 1914 – we can vote now, we can do any job or go to any university we want (at least in theory), and we’re no longer told that our place is in the home…for the most part. But, whilst brilliant progress has been made, I wondered whether Ethel and Frances would be happy with where we are now. They had to endure ‘troublemakers’ at their rallies shouting at them to ‘go home and mind the baby’…aren’t women now, 100 years later, judged if they go back to work too quickly after having children? I remember the media’s moral outrage when Holly Willoughby returned to a presenting job weeks after giving birth, but does anyone even notice when a man returns to his job after becoming a new father? And if we are now able to have a say in politics, women have a whole new set of oppressions to fight against. Don’t be too sexy, but don’t be ugly. Work as hard as men, but don’t be domineering or bossy. Have any job that you want, but accept that men will probably be promoted faster and paid more than you. Do whatever you like, but expect to be judged much more harshly than the other half of your species.
As I sat at my computer, these thoughts swirled through my head whilst I tried to find a relevant, modern way to tell Frances and Ethel’s story. It was as I considered the situation of women in this country, which is so much better than it is for so many women across the world today, that I realised how important this story still is. The reason I wanted to tell this story was so that people would stop, take a moment, and think about how much better things have gotten since 1914…and how far we still have to go.
Audiences who come along to CauseWay have a lot to look forward to. As the play leads them through beautiful Alloway, and along the path that Frances Parker and Ethel Moorhead trod 100 years earlier, they will find themselves in a world which weaves the words of Burns with storytelling, live music and theatre. They will find themselves questioning if votes for women really did lead to equal rights – hopefully they will find themselves getting a bit angry. But most importantly they will find a story – a fantastic story that needs to be told today just as much as it was in 1914, and just as much as it will be 100 years from now.
CauseWay, written by Victoria Bianchi and directed by David Overend, will be performed at the Robert Burns Birthplace Museum on Saturday 10th, Sunday 11th and Monday 12th October at 12pm and 2.30pm (60 minute performance.) The play will involve walking (so bring some comfy shoes), and will be performed for audiences of 20 people at a time. Tickets are available from the museum at tel: 0844 493 2601 or online