By Emma Silverthorn (@HouseOf_Gazelle)
As the centenary of the Suffragette movement is marked this year and the inevitable backlash from the men’s rights movement is heard, accusing those women instrumental in it of: ‘demanding the rights but not the responsibilities of equality,’ Vital Xposure’s The Disappearance Dorothy Lawrence is a much needed antidote. Dorothy tries to claim both and the reaction against her for doing so is simply put, odious.
Dorothy was the only female reporter on the front lines during World War One and she only managed this via subterfuge. When discovered she paid the price for her well-intentioned deceit. She had embarrassed the authorities to say the least and as such she was punished, interrogated by six generals and twenty officers. Attempting to publish her tale she was heavily censored and consequently lost all credibility (and her livelihood), as a journalist. She was later institutionalised, spending forty years in a North London asylum. The play splits itself between these two times in Dorothy’s life, showing the bold younger woman at war and the aged, weary ‘bandit’ living out her days incarcerated and a victim of ECT.
What the four cast members achieve here though is much more than a piece of Feminist theatre, as director Paulette Randall and writer Julie McNamara focus equally on the wider tragedy of the war. Highlighting the immense loss of young life and concentrating her themes on that of brotherhood, across the genders as it turns out, as well as the long-term effects of trauma.
As is essential in such a small cast all the actors here are top notch, with the scenes between the older Dorothy (Penelope Freeman) and her sympathetic nurse Mae (Suni La) being amongst the most touching. To top off these excellent performances, one of the real boons of Dorothy Lawrence is the beautiful British Sign Language narration that plays out on screen between the actions of the play, as well as the crackling gramophone tunes that accompany.
This is the sort of the play that reminds one that often the real theatrical gems are to be found outside the remit of the West End.
Stage photo credit: Zbigniew Kotkiewicz.