Festival Fringe Spoken Word Theatre

Fringe 2022: Alice Hawkins Review

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Using a combination of original source material and personal anecdotes, Peter Barratt is able to encapsulate a packed room of people of all different ages, genders and walks of life, in a passionate account of his great-grandmother’s remarkable life story. 

Alice Hawkins left school at thirteen and went to work in a Staffordshire boot factory, like most working-class women of that time. Just thirty years later in 1907, her name appeared on the Holloway Road prison record sheets alongside those of C. Pankhurst and S. Pankhurst. This wasn’t the last time Alice would take a trip to “Holloway Castle”, as was its Suffragette nickname.  

Barratt, alongside talented actress Sister Suffragette Ruth Pownall, tells the story of Alice and her legacy in politics. The play takes us on an emotional rollercoaster from the first suffragette meeting in Hyde park on the day of the state opening of Parliament which ended in her first trip to the Castle, right up to the loaning of much of Alice’s suffragette memorabilia to Parliament for an exhibition commemorating the centenary of (some) women’s suffrage. Ironically, this memorabilia was displayed only metres away from the incident that landed on that list of names alongside the Pankhursts’. 

The spoken word performance is illustrated throughout with source material such as her first arrest warrant, hunger strike medal and letters from other prominent suffragettes, but what really brings the story to life is the powerful performance by Pownall, who becomes Alice, speaking her own words from all those years ago. 

Pownall, dressed in a costume she made herself, including an impressive suffragette-purple hat, an outfit which she could be found wandering the Royal Mile in throughout week one of the Fringe.

Sitting in the beautiful and apt Sherlock Holmes Centre, listening to Barratt tell stories of his late great-grandmother, some passed to down to him through conversations with his own mother and grandfather and some shown to him by experts and historians, was the perfect way to spend a Wednesday evening at the Fringe. 

As Alice’s words and achievements become more and more impressive throughout the performance, you become acutely aware that as we approach 1918 in the timeline, although women like Alice Hawkins and other working-class suffragettes built the movement from the ground up and inspired many around them, they were not the ones who gained emancipation in that post WWI year.  

She and many other working-class suffragettes had to wait another 10 years to be enfranchised, despite being a key member of the movement and having had close ties with some of the more spoken-about suffragettes. The show reminds us, as Alice reminded her own daughter “Vera, you must use your vote, we suffered for it.” 

The show is brought to an end with a powerful performance from Pownall, singing a song that Peter Barratt’s own mother remembered being sung to her as a child, “Nana was a suffragette, votes for women was just the beginning, you haven’t seen anything yet.” A powerful reminder that history is more than just the stories we are taught in school. 

Unfortunately, I went to see the show on its last night of this year’s Fringe, but this is the show’s fourth Fringe and they are sure to be back in 2023 when unfortunately the issue of women’s rights will probably be just as important as it was to Alice Hawkins back in 1907. 

Image credit: Great-Grandson Peter Barratt with Sister Suffragette Ruth Pownall, provided to The Student as press material.