Review: No Surrender, the suffragette play, is a tour de force for its star at Cambridge Junction

Emma Spearing in No Surrender at Cambridge Junction

Emma Spearing in No Surrender at Cambridge Junction - Credit: Archant

Lady Constance Lytton was the daughter of a Viceroy of India, born in 1869, so an archetypal, upper class, Victorian young woman.

Her social status precluded her from two careers dear to her heart, becoming a concert pianist and working as a journalist. Neither was considered proper. Other circumstances prevented her from marrying the man she loved.

But one ambition was achieved. She wanted to write about conditions in women’s prisons and she eventually she did - from the inside.

In 1908, Connie became a most unlikely suffragette. So unlikely that the police at first refused to arrest her - and once they had, being a titled lady, she was given special treatment in gaol.

Determined to be treated like other women, she managed to find out what internment was really like by disguising herself as a working class woman she called Jane Warton. Jane was arrested during a protest in Liverpool. She then suffered all the indignities of prison life including force feeding.

The resulting book, Prison and Prisoners, written by Constance Lytton and published in 1914, helped to bring about the end of force feeding and a degree of prison reform.

The play No Surrender about Connie’s life, (originally called Lady Connie and the Suffragettes) Written by Ros Connelly, and directed by Jenny Culank, returned to Cambridge Junction on Sunday, October 14.

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The play toured to acclaim in 2016. Once again, Emma Spearing who created the role, played Connie and conjuried up the world that Lady Connie lived in.

In a memorable and haunting performance, Emma Spearing captures the atmosphere of the period. Unforgettable scenes include her transformation from Connie to Jane Warton (with not much more than a change of facial expression) and a balletic performance when Jane is force fed.

No one else is acting on the stage yet the audience sees the tube going down her throat and the prison officers holding her down.

Spearing is able to tell the story with humanity and humour and people the stage.

A tour de force.