We interviewed Kent alumna Beatrice Hyde, who studied Drama and Theatre, about her play ‘Emmeline’, which is showing at The Cockpit in London from 3 – 14 November.
“Emmeline follows the journey of the inspirational leader of the Suffrage movement on her life’s mission to achieve the vote for women. Delving into the dynamics of the Pankhurst family, Emmeline explores the tensions that arose between her and her daughter Sylvia on militant tactics and social values, emblematic of the conflicts that divided the movement. Does the end justify the means? Should the cause come first, no matter the personal cost?”
Tell us about the show, and your inspirations for writing it and producing it.
So it first started when I was actually at Kent doing my BA drama and theatre degree. In my second year I did a theatre in adaptation module looking at how you adapt different sources into theatre, and I was interested in bringing to stage the life of an inspirational historic female figure. I was actually browsing in the University Library, and I came across Emmeline Pankhurst’s autobiography; My own story and I ended up just being curled up in the little corner of the library, reading it for hours because I was so captivated by the story.
In the whole of the suffragette movement, everything that these women went through: their courage, their sacrifices, all the stages from peaceful protests to being force-fed in prison on hunger strike; the police brutality they faced; the different tactics they had to escalate, from windows smashing to arson. I found it incredible.
People generally know things about the suffragette movement, but not the complexities of it and I was particularly struck by the conflict within the Pankhurst family themselves, between Emmeline Pankhurst and her daughter Sylvia, around issues such as militancy and militant tactics like violence and protests. I felt like these issues are still really resonant today in terms of intersectionality within feminism, in terms of violence and protests, which is still very controversial whenever it’s used, and I think particularly for women.
After I’d conceived of the idea I had to pitch the whole idea and write a portfolio about it, but not actually write the play at that point. I then did a study abroad year at Berkeley in California between my second and third year at Kent, and I did some playwriting modules while I was there. In order to get into the class, I had to submit an example of my writing. So, I wrote a few scenes for this play and I didn’t really expect to do much more than that, and I thought I’d just write it to get into the class and then work with something else. But the tutor there who I was working with, Philip Kan Gotanda, told me I think that I should keep working on this idea. Then he said to me, I want to mentor you to finish writing a first draft of the play. I think having that accountability and someone who’s setting you deadlines makes a big difference to help to keep yourself motivated.
In my final year at Kent there was a Summer Arts festival in my last term. There was an opportunity to pitch an idea to put on a production and I pitched this play. I managed to get a slot in the festival to put it on at The Aphra Theatre on campus and I directed it in a very short amount of time with limited resources. It was amazing to get the chance to actually bring it to life and have actors take the script off the page. The props and costume department were really helpful in terms of helping me to create that period feel for it. There was only one performance, but I managed to invite a director of a theatre company called ‘Theatre Lab’ that I’d worked with in the past.
When she watched the production she told me “this is the next play I want to direct with my company”, which was really exciting and she worked with me on a one to one level to develop the script after that.
Then I did an MA Acting and Ed Harris, a playwright, came in to do some workshops with us and I also sought some more mentorship from him on the script and continue to develop it.
I also reached out to Helen Pankhurst, the great granddaughter of Emmeline Pankhurst and the granddaughter of Sylvia Pankhurst and got some feedback from her on three drafts of the script because it’s really important for me to get authenticity. It was a constant balancing act between getting the best dramatic play that will captivate people, and compressing a large timeline in history into a production of two hours, but also to be as authentic and true to what happened.
I was surrounded by books and checking facts and dates as I was writing. During the lockdown I went on a few writing retreats, just working on the play and just getting into the zone, which was amazing. The performance ended up being postponed about three times because of Covid, but it was a blessing in disguise because I had more time to really develop and hone the script. So it’s very exciting that it’s actually opening now at The Cockpit! I’m really excited to finally be bringing it to life for a larger audience in London. And we hope that will have a life after this run as well.
Having studied at Kent, would you say there’s been a lot of support to kick start your ideas?
It was great because during the theatre and adaptation module my tutor, Margherita, gave me a lot of encouragement and really positive feedback on that portfolio. That gave me a sense of the play having some potential. I think that the year abroad, where I then got to develop the play further, that was a great opportunity. Also, the Summer Arts Festival was a great opportunity to pitch my own idea and get to direct it and to have the support and the resources to have a platform to show it; without that I don’t think I would have been able to get this director to be able to come to come and see it.
So, I think that through those opportunities offered by Kent have given me the chance to develop these ideas. Starting my degree I thought of myself as pursuing acting and I never really thought about writing that much . But I was keen to do a drama degree rather than go straight to drama school in order to be able to explore all of those different avenues within the world of theatre and the arts. I think that being given the chance to explore different fields within the creative industry that also enabled me to discover a passion for writing as well as for acting. And it’s great because in this play I’m actually acting in it as well and it’s combined both of my passions!
When you first came to Kent you were very much focused on acting and drama and obviously diversified your interests. So what sort of advice would you give someone coming to study Drama?
I would say just to have an open mind. While you may be really passionate about one career path, like acting or maybe producing, etc. to also just be open to discovering other passions and interests.
I would say to make the most of the societies as well. I did a lot with the drama and musical theatre society and the Film Society while I was at Kent. I found that doing those activities alongside the courses were great practical ways to just be making shows, making performances, making films, not just as a performer, but as a director or as a producer or marketing person. The hey have all these different roles and you could put into practice what you’re learning in theory, during the course.
I definitely encourage people to make the most of the year abroad opportunity if you can. I think it’s a great way of having some time to discover yourself and develop as a person outside your usual environment. I think that it really pushes you to go out of your comfort zone to gain a lot of independence and confidence, which I think made a huge impact on my life and I made some lifelong friends when I was there too.
So what’s next? Have you got any plans for the future?
Yes, I’ve been very focused on this project and I’ve been trying to keep my energies on that, but I do have other ideas for plays that I want to start working on after this.
I’m considering whether to do another MA in playwriting to deepen and hone my craft. We’ve also invited artistic directors from various different theatres, and we’re keen to move this play onto further venues to reach wider audiences; we’re actually keen to take it to Manchester because it’s the birth place of the suffragette movement and the home of the Pankhurst family, where they grew up. We feel there’s a lot of cultural heritage there that the city is really proud of and we would be keen to try and bring that that play to them.